Dear Dr. Toni,
I’m a woman in my late fifties. I’ve been a psychotherapist for twenty years. I primarily use a process for trauma in working with addicts called “brainspotting.” I’ve found it to be very helpful for PTSD. I’m writing you because recently my twenty-one-year-old son committed suicide. He struggled with addiction for years. His closest friends are devastated and filled with guilt, thinking they weren’t better friends to him. My mother’s also a psychotherapist and also does brainspotting, but has completely unraveled over this.
I’ve gone online and looked for grief support groups for families of suicide victims in my city to no avail. I’m writing you because I’m filled with so much grief and brainspotting isn’t a great method to use on oneself for this kind of trauma right immediately after the event. Believe me, I’ve tried it. Can you suggest anything for me to do? I’m barely functioning and I’m not eating, though I’ve actually been sleeping better since he passed. He was so tortured the last year of his life and pushed me away.
Anyway, whatever you can suggest would be great.
– Mourning Mother
First of all, my deepest condolences to you. This has to be the most devastating kind of loss that people can be called to bare. You do not mention as to whether you have ever attended any Al-Anon meetings while you were grappling with your son and his addiction. I would recommend going to meetings where you can get group support. Most likely there are people at those meetings who have lost children to addiction. Not only can you get their support, but they may have resources for you on grief support groups specific to suicide survivors.
I do not know much about brainspotting to give an opinion on it, but what I have done with grief in my own life and taught others to do is self-soothe.
Find where in your body you are feeling the grief. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being strongest, how strong is it? Then take your hand and place it there. Now, move your awareness through your breath right into the center of the pain. Keep breathing into it. Now intensify the feeling—make it bigger while holding space for yourself, using your hand as an anchor. Now, while still focusing on the intensified feeling, hold your breath until you cannot hold it anymore, then exhale fully and deeply. At the end of your full exhale, assess how intense the feeling is now. If it is five or less, go back through the steps, only this time, as you feel into the place where the grief is, bring your awareness to the top of your head.
With your intention, open your crown chakra and invite in your higher self, full potential self, or the radiant light of unconditional love. Breathe in this light. Let your brain be filled with it. Focus your awareness on the top of your forehead—where the prefrontal cortex is—and allow this radiant light to fill your forehead, bathing the pituitary, pineal, and hypothalamus. You do not have to know where these glands are, I’m just naming them. You just need to receive radiant light from the universe into your consciousness, letting it fill your heart.
When we go through a death experience, it can either break our hearts or help them open. Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of Omega Institute in New York, wrote a book called Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow (2004) about her grieving process when her sister died. I would recommend that book. I also would recommend The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) by Joan Didion and The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide (2016) by Brandy Lidbeck.
I will hold your heart in radiant light as you move through your process. You are not alone. Hold the intention that you will discover the right support group for you.
Postscript for Other Readers
In the past week, I have heard from three people who have lost children to suicide. This is a national epidemic, much like the opioid epidemic, and I am sure the statistics are related. As a society, we need to create better support systems for our children who are not in church groups or Alateen, especially if they tend to be loners. Nurture whatever interests they might have to find a meetup or nonprofit organization for them to donate time to. Kids who give back to charities develop higher levels of altruism, which stimulates stronger immune systems and stronger recovery from addiction.