The mythology of Rancho Nuevo contains a large number of key characters and elements. They are metaphorical representations that mirror actions taken as well as the range of possibilities going forward. The unconscious, I believe, is a base version of who we are and who we have the potential to become. It is raw, without spin or deception, because it knows all our truths because it is at our core of being. It transmits information to the conscious self in the form of symbols and metaphor. In turn, the conscious self transmits images and experiences from the waking world to to unconscious for base processing. No matter what we tell ourselves and others about how we feel about a situation or person, the unconscious knows our truth.
My unconscious knew what was wrong with me in 1994 when I chose to end my life. It was easy because I wrote a suicide thesis containing bullet points that systematically listed the reasons for this decision. The journey I was sent on was meant as a rebuttal of all those bullet points. I did destroy the suicide note several days after my suicide, being paranoid at the time that someone would learn of my efforts and send me to Arkham Asylum or something. Even without the actual document, I clearly remember most of those bullet points.
In my mad vision of death, which I believe is caused when the body dies and frees one from the trappings of conscious existence, leaving only the world of the unconscious. Therefore, the encounters there were representative of who I had become, which was, at that time, a desert because I had walled myself off from emotional connection to others and had collapsed within my own spiralling depression. There was nothing in my world but anger and resentment. Essentially, my soul had become a desert.
There in the desert was a single figure, sitting on a metal folding chair. The wasteland stretched out in all directions and there was nothing else.
Just some old guy with long hair and a goatee looking mostly unimpressed.
"Do you want to go on?" was all he said. It was a question that cannot be answered because it had two meanings. Go on with dying or go on with life? The way the question was asked was important. Do you want to go on?
It would take time, and the accidental growing of my hair long, for me to realize the figure was myself, just a lot older than I was, and he had chosen to intervene.
Now, I look in the mirror. With all my battle scars, wounds, and the decomposition blues, I look like the man sitting on the folding chair.
"You radiate something that makes people feel instantly comfortable in your presence," I was once told. "I wish I knew how you did it."
The truth is that people in pain or crisis can see your pain. It gives them a window to it. In my eyes they can see all my battles, and all my wounds, and they know I speak from a place of truth. They can also see that my pain does not control me. My scars, to them, represent my resume. They know I am not going to pontificate from on high or recite practiced lines learned from a book or training manual. They also quickly learn that I am only after one thing, helping them get the tools they need to forge a better path forward. Changes in patterns of behavior, I remind them, are not made because someone tells you it is the "right thing to do." Changes in behavior are necessary for survival when that behavior traps you in a cycle of misery, pain, anger...
The man with the folding chair was trying to save his own life, to escape being imprisoned in a wasteland. If I continued on into death, he would have ceased to exist because he represented the potential me.
The metaphor is quite beautiful. I intervened in my own suicide. Over the next 25 years I'd intervene in a lot of people's suicides, but I was the first. You see, I came to understand the suicidal mind, and I have some serious street cred in that area.
Every single battle I've faced since coming back has been training for the mission, which was always to disprove every point of my suicide thesis.
1. I am of no use to anyone, I don't understand people, and all I do is make people's lives worse by being in them.
Yeah, especially that one. My penance for that was to spend the rest of my life being of use to people, coming to understand people, and to, in some small way, help make their lives better by entering into them......
Penance is not a "punishment," it is a course correction. Our crimes against others, and especially those against ourselves, must be resolved or we suffer on the unconscious level, or what some would call the spiritual level. You will not be at peace with yourself while debts hang over you. Those debts must be paid or negiotated so we can be freed from their weight. We can only carry so much weight. Self-hatred and self-destruction, those are debts we must repay ourselves in order to avoid sentencing ourselves to the wasteland.
Thirteen Queens were necessary to make my journey. Each represented a turning point in the journey because each Queen has had great influence over me and my direction, as have many of the other key figures from my narrative and the reflected mythology. The appearance of the Dark Queen, just before I was forced by disability to stop working, was a sign that my penance was complete. I have successfully invalidated my suicide note. The dissertation was never published. This, of course, does not nullify the act itself. That is canon, the narrative doesn't work without it, just as it doesn't work without all thirteen named Queens.
At one time I worked at a facility for developmentally disabled folks who had extreme behavioral issues. It took me two months to turn a group of seven individuals with highly aggressive impulses into a cooperative and functional team. My supervisor then decided to send me the most difficult patients on campus because, as he said, "You could probably de-escalate a charging bull moose at fifty yards."
Once of the gentlemen I had in my group was highly aggressive and had superhuman strength. The dude was Kryptonian and had difficulty with speech. He'd ended up institutionalized after throwing both his parents, who he loved dearly, out a second story window. He felt deep regret every time he attacked people, but he couldn't control his impulses. After he had bitten through someone's arm, his feeling of guilt and regret led him to pull out all of his teeth with nothing but his fingers. This was someone who could kill you within five seconds. The Kryptonian came to love me after I found his wavelength, and it reached the point where none of the other patients would dare to attack me in any way because the Kryptonian would intervene. There were several patients that every other patient was terrified of. The Kryptonian was one of them.
A new patient was transfered to me who was six-foot-seven. He immediately told me, in advance, that he miht try to kill me and he was terribly sorry about that. The thing about these patients was, as aggressive and violent as they were, their actions always caused them pain and regret. They were processing instantly what took me years to process, the need to make peace with oneself and to pay one's debts.
One day, the new patient was highly agitated, and this gigantic man kept telling me, "I'm going to hit you very soon. I don't want to, but I can't control it."
The Kryptonian came over to us, grinning, and gnashing his gums at us. "Man, what happened to your teeth?" the new patient said.
"He pulled them all out with his fingers, but he still has the jaw strength of a gator. The Kryptonian is saying you need to lie down now until you can calm yourself. You don't want to attack me and he doesn't want to attack you, but it is going to turn into battle royale in here if you don't lie down."
I heard a patient say to another as they watched this unfold, "We're all going to die."
People used to ask me at that job how I managed to restrain the patients in my group so easily, usually getting them to lie down on their own when they became aggressive.
"I don't tell them not to attack. I tell them I'm helping them to avoid feeling bad later."
That is one of the keys to living within the moment, being aware of the results of your actions, and those patients were acutely aware of the results of aggressive and violent acts. They knew they always felt guilt, sorrow, and regret afterwards because they had been through it so many times.
This was what the man with the folding chair did when I tried to achieve death in 1994. He showed me the results of the choice and offered me a better option, which is also one of the keys to working with the suicidal. You have to offer a better option because every suicide believes they are out of options.
Those options are many. Once you have decided to end your life, everything is possible because even the craziest, scariest, and most difficult things can be attempted because, well, you can always die later.
The man with the folding chair is a metaphor for future possibilities.
The thing about suicide is that it generally works in concert with depression. What the suicidal mind is unconsciously aware of is that because they have decided to end their life, it is now possible to attempt absolutely anything before taking the plunge. Why not? Run into a field of sheep and start screaming out the lyrics to your favorite song. It doesn't matter. You're dead already, even before you go through with it. What depression does is eliminate awareness of this. Depression teaches us that nothing is possible and everything is pointless and terrible. Even if it looks good now, it will turn to shit later. Depression is a total asshole. When I talk with a person who is suicidal, I don't address the suicidal impulse, I address the underlying depression. It is all about the antecedents. The suicidal impulse is a side effect, it isn't the disease. Depression, fear, hopelessness... whatever the root cause of the suicidal impulse, that is what you address. If you find their wavelength, you can find out what really matters to them, what brings them joy, or what motivates them. The same is true of de-escalating someone whose anger or frustration is causing them to become violent. If you aren't able to determine what led them to this point you won't be successful.
And, as I learned working with aggressive patients with limited impulse control, you may also need to show them the map and point out where the path forks. One path is that of taking the action, the other is of not taking the action. Where does each lead? What will be the consequence of the action and what is possible if the action is not taken.
The man with the folding chair was delivering a single message. "I am possible."
Then I saw my existence through his eyes. The endless wasteland or venturing into the unknown, those were my options when I reached that particular fork in the road. We remember the future in a different way than we remember the past. The past is complete. The future is undecided. We are unconsciously aware of all the possibilities, but sometimes the messages don't get through.
"You've been dead and come back," I used to say to motivate myself in the months after my suicide, "everything else is easy."
Don't die. You'll know when the time comes that the time has come. The time is not now.
Something is still possible. You've just forgotten.