The Conspiracy

What Simchat Torah Taught Me This Year as a Suicide Attempt Survivor

Grammar fact: A semicolon comes at the end of a sentence that could have ended with a period, with finality – but didn’t. Many suicide attempt survivors, including myself, have semicolons tattooed on our bodies to represent that our stories aren’t over yet. Our lives could have ended when we attempted suicide – but didn’t.

“My life lately, like the Torah, has been a series of new beginnings.” | [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Torah is a lot like a never-ending sentence, and each year the holiday of Simchat Torah is our semicolon. We never stop reading. When the stories and teachings of the Torah come to a close, we celebrate and start again from the beginning.

My life lately, like the Torah, has been a series of new beginnings. This past summer I found myself back in residential treatment for anorexia and PTSD for the sixth time. I spent nine weeks retelling my deepest secrets over and over again. I left feeling both broken and stronger than before, ready to use new coping skills to deal with what life would throw at me.

This past week, the week of Simchat Torah, I found myself wanting my story to end. I was slipping – and fast. I stopped showering, changing clothes, and eating. I was done. Life had thrown me for a loop that week, and I could not find the fight in me. I needed to find a way to start from the beginning.

The Torah starts with the story of creation. G-d created Adam and Eve and gave them a home. The story teaches us that we were all made in the image of G-d and are all given a home in our bodies. Here I was preparing to celebrate Simchat Torah, yet I was already ignoring the very first thing the Torah tells us: Our body is holy and we should listen to its needs and cues both emotionally and physically. As the Torah started from the beginning on Simchat Torah with this reminder, so did I.

But starting from the beginning is not an easy process. Starting from the beginning on Simchat Torah means that, as a community, we have read all the portions, studied all the lessons, and agreed that we are ready to read them all over again with a fresh perspective. For me starting from the beginning holds a similar meaning. I began to look at all the portions of my own story this year and how all the parts, both positive and negative, make up a year’s worth of learning. Like the Jews in the Torah’s narrative, my story is not always one of triumph and happiness, but there are bright spots. I now get to read my story with fresh eyes and a new perspective.

In the few days that have passed since Simchat Torah, I have found my fight. I have searched for the things I am grateful for and thought about what I want to be the next chapters in my story. There is a chapter for best friends who text me at 1 a.m. when I am a mess, a chapter for a community who lifts me up when I can’t do it by myself, a chapter for poems read on porches with my dog, a chapter for my new gratitude, and, of course, a chapter for chocolate.

My advice for myself and for anyone else struggling is that you are in charge of your own story. Just like the Torah, there are an infinite amount of new beginnings to be had.

Jourdan Stein is an education major at Drexel University.

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