A Note on Survival

Written by: Olivia Kipling-Brownlow, Recovery Support Specialist

It’s been ten years since I tried to take my own life. I spent years minimizing my attempt, telling myself that I didn’t actually get close enough, that I was just doing it for attention, and that because I wasn’t hospitalized, it wasn’t actually that serious. Now, working day in and day out with people facing similar challenges, I can acknowledge the magnitude of my actions. I’m finding that I am having more complex feelings than I anticipated about this anniversary. Reflecting on the intervening years, with all the growth, changes, recovery, and evolution, I’m finding that while I am overwhelmingly proud of the progress I’ve made, I am also experiencing a lot of grief.

I find that I am grieving the information I didn’t know, the experiences I didn’t have, and the anger that burned in my soul for many of the following years. Grief for that 14-year-old child who felt that she had no other options, grief for a missed childhood instead spent raising those who were meant to be raising me, grief for a lost lifetime of joy. Grief for the horrors I put my friends through, grief for their lost innocence (whatever remained), grief for the teachers that had no idea what to do so they just did their best. Even grief for my parents. Now I know. I know now how much help I should have received and didn’t. I know how much I screamed out for support and was ignored. I know now how even IF it was attention seeking, that is still indicative of a deep wound, an illness, needing to be addressed.

I know now how I got to that place, the panic attacks, the starving, the rumors, the bullying. The instability, the trauma, the loneliness. I know now how to take responsibility for my own actions. Now I know how I need to be loved, how I deserve to be loved. I know now that I am not crazy. Or maybe I am. Maybe that’s not really even the point. I’m still figuring it out. I know an awful lot that 14-year-old Olivia could have really used. And I’m still learning how to give her grace. I’m still learning how to give myself grace. I’m learning how to love people and how they deserve to be loved. I’m learning that this process never ends. I’m learning how to be the adult I never truly planned to be.

My life until now has just been spent trying to survive to the next thing. Survive middle school, high school, college, COVID, finding a job. Now I am at a stage in my life where there is nothing to survive to next, there is only being and becoming. I hope that I am becoming more gentle, more kind, and more thoughtful. I hope that I am becoming a better friend, partner, daughter, sister, community member. I hope that in the next ten years, I become more than 14-year-old me would have imagined. Many people, when reflecting on their past, will say “__ year old me would be so proud of the person I’ve become.”. To them, I say, your younger self must have had a much clearer vision of their future than my younger self did. Because, the thing is, my younger self would probably be horrified by my adult life.

I am a fat lesbian following in the nonprofit footsteps of my parents. I don’t live abroad or alone. I don’t have some big fancy job and I certainly don’t have much figured out. But, to be frank, 14-year-old me was kind of a bitch with very skewed priorities. And that’s kind of the whole point. Because the person I am now is built off all of the mistakes and hard lessons learned by 14-year-old Olivia. Like a prairie, I thrive because it all was burned to the ground before. That was a necessary step in the creation of myself. I am better because of it. I am not grateful for the pain or trauma, but I know the recovery made me a better, kinder person. I’m still recovering, too. Reflection is not the last chapter of recovery, but rather the life breath, the constant thread that informs your path forward. I still have work to do. I will always have work to do. But, I hope in writing this, I am better at acknowledging the hard work I have done and the people who have made it possible.

There are not enough lines, or words, or pixels, to accurately show my gratitude to my community for the empathy, care, and grace I was consistently shown, even when I may not have returned it. Thank you. And to any 14 year-old Olivias that may be reading this- You deserve better. You deserve more grace, care, and attention. The people around you also deserve the same. You don’t have to know about the future, about what you want or who you want to be- you just have to survive long enough to figure it out. And you’ll never have it all figured out. So I guess you’ll just have to survive.



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