May 19, 2015

Shadows Before Suicide

I've always found the theme song from M*A*S*H to be darkly compelling. Beautiful and melodic, it is an oddly seductive paean to ending it all. Reading the latest from the marvelous Gaby Petris, it occurs to me that for many people, Teal Bosworth Scott Swan's relentless obsession with suicide has a similar allure for many of her followers. She is far more dangerous. When she speaks of suicide as, not only painless, but blissful, she does so without tongue in cheek. Hers is a kind of siren song pulling her many suicidal followers closer and closer to the rocks.

I want to show you a precarious vortex that is massing around the teacher Teal Swan. Within it suffering people seeking an answer are circling. I want to communicate a sense of its dangerous undertow. That pulls people in. And under.

I first became aware of Gaby's writings, when her first post on this topic was recommended to me in a comment on my last post on teal. It is also must reading. When I learned that she was working on a more in-depth piece, my only question was, how can I help? Together, Gaby and I sorted through screenshots we've both collected of Teal Tribe discussions about the suicide option, and about the 22 year-old triber who recently took his own life.

When I really delve into the patterns of teal's communication with her flock, the picture that emerges always proves to be so much worse than I'd thought. I am eavesdropping, I know, as I look at these snapshots of Teal Tribe conversation. I am not a tealer or a triber. I am an observer, a rubbernecker, watching accidents occur in slow motion. And it is an awful thing to see the train coming and be so unable to stop it.

Teal Tribe is brimming over with creative, intelligent, even brilliant, people. Many are also wounded and vulnerable. And, far too many are suicidal.

I don't call teal the Typhoid Mary of Suicidal Ideation for no reason. The author of the new book on self-love from Hay House, Shadows Before Dawn, seems by her own account to have long struggled with the impulse to do herself in. Though she now claims to have moved beyond her longing for death, it was her back-up plan, should life become just too intolerable.

It may sound grim from where you are sitting today reading this, but suicide had become my exit strategy. I lived through each day by reminding myself that I could always kill myself tomorrow. I found that this allowed me to really focus on what I could do today to feel better. I did whatever I could to feel better and made feeling good the most important thing in my life

So I dedicated myself to winter sports, experimented with cooking, found places to live that felt safe, and started meditating. Slowly I found that the mantra changed from "I can always kill myself tomorrow, so what am I going to do today?" to "I can always kill myself in a week, so what am I going to do this week?" Then it became, "I can always kill myself next year, so what am I going to do this year?"

Eventually I realized that I didn't really want to kill myself anymore. Even though I struggled on occasion with suicidal feelings, those feelings were temporary instead of a permanent fixture of my life.

This is a strategy employed by many addicts. My father once explained to me that it was how he bargained with himself to quit drinking and, after he was diagnosed with throat cancer, smoking. He would tell himself, I can have one drink, one cigarette, but that one will by my last ever. This negotiation with eternity helped him to stave off drinking and smoking for the rest of his life.

Is teal a suicide addict? Is she really recovering? Or, is she dry drunking death? She still seems to be far too enamored of the idea. In teal's hands, suicide becomes not only a perfectly legitimate response to depression, but a panacea.

In one of the noncasts, I wrote about her tea thing on negative spirals. (page search: scooby) In that teacast, teal explains, between bouts of manic laughter and loud, punctuating claps, why it is that it "feels so good to die."

A lot of people who commit suicide, they get in one of those negative spirals, so they're desiring things so extremely and they're not letting themselves line up with that thing they're desiring so extremely, so that the only way that can fully line up with it is through death... Everything they desired. That's why it feels so good to die. [emphasis added] You have basically accumulated in what a lot of people who teach law of attraction [read: Abraham-Hicks] would call "vibrational escrow." It's essentially that every time you experience something unwanted you broadcast what is wanted and that becomes the vibration of your eternal self. Your eternal self, which has no resistance, adopts that vibration exactly, so that when you die you line up with it and you become that... So when you die it's like lining up with the best food you've ever eaten and the lover who you've always wanted and I mean I could list this whole thing, everything you've ever wanted from your life, you line up with.

Get it? So, if you're starving, there's a banquet waiting for you upon your death. If you're poor, there's massive abundance. If you're lonely, there's the lover of your dreams. Your "vibrational escrow," all payable at the exit from this life. So, why wait?!

She caveats that it's better to "line up" with your desires in life, to serve even greater "expansion" for yourself and the universe. Okay, fine. But, now imagine being a teal follower whose "manifesting" isn't going so well. Imagine your misery just drags on and on and that this LOA thing, about which so many promises have been made, just isn't working out for you. How much more attractive might that Publishers Clearing House grand prize you're going to claim at death start to sound?

For as much as she may claim that her own suicidal ideation is a thing of the past, she is too fond of death, romanticizes it even. This thinly-veiled desire to end it all spreads like a virus amongst her followers. Or, perhaps one might say, she sure has law-of-attracted a lot of suicidal people. At least two have decided "not to be."

There seems to be a party line in Teal Tribe that the admins adhere to. They will not condemn suicide or even work too hard to discourage it. It's not ideal, but it's a valid option. This is frequently framed as a way of preventing suicide by not being in "resistance" to it. Here, for instance, is admin Derek advising a member with a long history of suicidal comments.

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And that is one of the saner, more grounded exchanges I've seen.

In another bizarre conversation, a triber asks why this group is so open to suicide? Answer: because teal.

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But, by "open to suicide" it turns out the triber means that another member pressured him to kill himself. Well, says another, that's "silly."

Ummmm... Yeah... Silly... That's the word.

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I hope I never reach the point in life, where thoughts of suicide are comforting. It seems obvious that this would be an indicator of serious, recurring suicidal ideation. And, there is some preliminary research data attesting to that.

It seems fairly clear that teal is a magnet for people in profound psychological distress. Yet, she does not have mechanisms in place to address this. As Gaby points out, she claims to be fielding an average of 10 suicidal messages per day, but she doesn't want to take time out of her hectic schedule to try to help these people. Teal Tribe needs a referral system to address the need: hotline numbers, recommendations for actual psych professionals, not catch as catch can guidance from admins who tell them suicide is a reasonable, if less than optimal, choice.

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When I first read that comment, I thought it was hyperbole on her part, a wrongheaded attempt to deflect responsibility. After spending some time poring through more screenshots from Teal Tribe, I'm starting to think it may be accurate. She has too many followers threatening suicide to just wing it.

Many of these people want, even demand, her personal attention. Rarely do they get it.

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Others long for her ministrations only to find that when she does respond it's not actually that helpful.

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On very rare occasions, she descends from Mount Olympus to give some member of the tribe unsolicited advice... really scary unsolicited advice.

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That it doesn't resonate at all for the triber in question doesn't matter. She's too frightened by the implied premonition to question it.

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When all's said and done, maybe it helped. Hard to say. How do you judge the effectiveness of a solution to a problem you're still not sure ever existed?

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When a young man wrote that he was seriously considering suicide, teal was nowhere to be seen.

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Members, including his mother, tried to talk him down. But, hours after the last supportive comment from a triber, came the comment from his mother announcing that he had taken his own life.

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On April 18, admin Yona Curtis got 'round to making an announcement. Fly, be free, says she, suicide as liberation. An image of the young man suggests flight, but at the same time, of someone poised to take a header.

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Conspicuous by its absence, throughout this unfolding tragedy, was any comment from teal. But, she's been clear. She cannot respond to all the suicide threats from the members of her tribe – not even when people make good on those threats. She has other business to attend to, like posing and posting on Instagram.

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In her new book, teal makes reference to a client she calls Linda. I'm assuming that's not her real name, but boundaries and ethics aren't exactly teal's long suit, so who can say. There are some troubling things about her story of Linda, like the way she reports telling this woman what she's feeling in such stark, damning terms. Was that an on the nose intuition or teal projecting something very disturbing onto a client too submissive to question it? Without the full context it's hard to say, but having seen teal in action, I really wonder.

After I explained to her that her reaction of wanting his affection, despite being scared, was a perfectly normal reaction to sexual trauma, I asked her how she felt about herself.

"I'm okay," she replied.

"Do you want to know what I think?" I asked. "I think you hate yourself and wish you were never born." Again, Linda started sobbing.

"Yes, you're right," she admitted. As is common with so many abuse survivors, the blame is internalized, and  self-loathing becomes second nature.

. . .

Over the next hour, I informed Linda of every perception I had about her and proceeded to tell her that she was correct about the feeling that she was dying. I explained that when someone doesn't really want to live because his or her life so hard, the body begins to give out. It is a form of passive suicide. On top of MS, her body was slowly starving itself to death.

. . .

Linda's problem was self-love. She had none. And because she had none, she couldn't accept love from other people either. On an energetic level, living without love is like the body trying to live without water. Together, we designed a manageable program with a day-to-day practices around the core of self-love. Maybe because she was ready or maybe because she was desperate, Linda saw me every other week for six months. She applied every process I have outlined in this book. She learned to base every decision on self-love. And just one year later, she was like a different person. Her entire life had changed.

What struck me most, though, about teal's rendition of Linda's progress under her care, is that she reads like the the polar opposite of a client we know to have been real. That client took her own life.

As initially discussed in this post, teal told the story of her late client during a workshop.

I actually, interestingly enough, lost my first client to suicide this last year. And this was a woman who was absolutely miserable. I'm talking every moment of her life was a nightmare. And so we had that very serious sit-down talk where we had to say, alright, we're either committing or not committing to life because every time I gave her a suggestion she'd stop in two days doing the suggestion. So then we have to ask the question do we really want this to work. And what's interesting is that when she asked herself that question the answer was, "No. I'm done." There's nothing that any healer could ever do for that type of vibration which is totally fine. From  source energy there's nothing wrong with death from that perspective. So, she chose to commit suicide.

So, where Linda committed to teal's program and followed all her recommendations to the letter, the client we now know to be Leslie didn't. Linda miraculously turned her sad, disease addled life around in a year – a prospect that sounds just a little too good to be true. And Leslie is dead after teal determined that her client's unwillingness to do what she wanted her to do meant no one could have helped her.

Every time I read or listen to that statement from teal, my impression is the same. It sounds like she knew her client was suicidal, like she may have even facilitated that decision. She did nothing to prevent it. She has been consistent on this point: Suicide is a reasonable solution to depression. Her Teal Tribe admins have gotten the message, as have many members.

What's so wrong with that, more than a few tealers have asked me?

Well, it might just be illegal, for a start. Certainly, psych and medical professionals have an affirmative responsibility to prevent suicide attempts. Are people in our line of work held to the same standard? The legalities are bit more vague. But I do know what my ethical responsibility is. And it's not to sit idly by in the face of credible threats of suicide. It is definitely not ethical for me to advocate for suicide as a perfectly valid option. Even in the case of elderly and otherwise terminal people, in most places, the laws do not support suicide. I may not agree with that, but the law is what it is for today.

Suicide attempts can also fail. Those injuries can leave people maimed for life: spinal injuries, brain injuries, disfigurement, and disability. I know I would not want the loss of a person's any hope for quality of life on my conscience.

Meanwhile, teal waxes on about the pleasures of death, the comfort of knowing that suicide offers a path out of emotional pain.

"The ultimate example of what most people consider to be a false prophet is Jim Jones, leader of the People’s Temple. Long story short plastic cups, Flavor Aid packets, and syringes, littered the area where the 909 bodies were found at the largest revolutionary suicide in modern history after Jones urged his followers to die in support of apostolic communism. Do not believe for a second that Jim Jones thought that he was harming people. From his perspective, he thought he was helping people. He was convinced that life on the other side of death would be the only way they could all be free." ~ TEAL

"I would have been a revolutionary in the medical field as well. Revolutionary doctors end up in jail like Dr. Kevorkian." ~ TEAL

Where is all this going?

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