By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)November 15, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- "When I talk about suicide, it is the only time I allow myself to feel," said David Rauls, a civilian employee at Fort Sill.
National Suicide Survivor Day is Nov. 17, and David and Michelle Rauls know the pain of being survivors: their son, Nicholas, 13, took his life Feb. 7, 2010.
Those feelings rise to the surface whenever he talks about the devastating loss of his son. Fortunately, through sessions with a counselor and discussions with other suicide survivors, he has found a measure of peace from which to move forward with his life.
"Just because you lose someone to suicide, it doesn't mean you have to give up on life," said Rauls, who works here as the Network Enterprise Center video teleconference administrator. "You can be happy again and have a good quality of life."
Before losing his son, Rauls was a tough-as-nails Army noncommissioned officer who withheld his emotions. Since that terrible moment, though, anyone who has been to one of his talks with Soldiers knows, he isn't afraid to let his feelings pour forth. It's part of how he continues to grapple with being a survivor and finding a way toward recovery.
"Many Soldiers won't cry in public or when talking with a friend, but they will cry when they're with a bottle of alcohol in their room," he said.
Rauls said professional counseling has helped him take control of his grief process and gave him other ways of dealing with stress and addressing his feelings.
"Counseling kept me grounded in the process where I could stay away from trying to deal with my issues with drugs or alcohol," he said. "You can't drown your sorrows."
He believes survivors can overcome the pain of suicide and the answer starts within.
"The most important word in this process is 'choice,'" said Rauls. "Everyone can choose to learn from suicide, accept it and move on with their lives."
Once someone chooses to seek help, Rauls said community involvement is necessary to break cyclical behaviors, such as withdrawal, that many survivors deal with.
Every quarter since the middle of 2010, Rauls tells his story to Soldiers and anyone else who will listen.
"I will stand in front of a group of Soldiers and tell it like it is. Yes, I often cry, but my whole aim is to help someone move from being isolated in their pain to talking with someone - a combat buddy, someone in his or her unit, a chaplain or a doctor. They have to break that cycle of thinking no one else can understand, so they can recover."
Suicide only compounds the loss many Soldiers have experienced losing battle buddies to the continuing War on Terror. Rauls said Soldiers often approach him after one of his talks to tell him of losing a buddy to suicide or combat and how they, too, have considered taking their lives. Some ask him to speak with their spouses who are experiencing troubles.
"All these people either have experienced a significant loss or know someone else who has," he said. "Sharing my story with them has been a very rewarding experience."
Before he found the courage to tell his story, Rauls tried shutting the world out and finding his own answers the first year after Nicholas died. For him, the answers didn't come from within. Instead he repeatedly experienced good, bad and in-between days falling into what he called cyclical behavior. Like a hamster on an exercise wheel, his search for answers would have been endless.
Then, he met other suicide survivors, listened to their stories and learned from them. In his recovery process, Rauls credited Carol and Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, for whom the Graham Resiliency Training Campus is named, for helping him heal.
"Suicide survivors come together, share their stories, cry, hug and sometimes laugh," he said. "A lot of people doing great things because they have lost family members to suicide, and those get-together sessions can be very beneficial."
Although he said dealing with suicide gets easier with time, to see the anguish in his eyes and hear his voice crack with that expansive reservoir of emotion, one realizes "ease" is a relative term. Perhaps only those who have experienced that type of loss can understand. Though he continues to relive that moment and miss his son, he said the recovery process can return survivors to a dynamic and meaningful life.
For Rauls, part of that quality comes from interacting with his other son, Jacob, age 12. The family started Jacob on counseling the day after his brother's suicide.
"That was probably the most significant contributing factor to him being functional today -getting some things addressed, talking and venting with a trained professional," said Rauls.
Like anyone dealing with grief, Rauls said Jacob experiences periods of sadness and loss, and he can see that in his son.
"We talk about what he's experiencing, address it and move on from it," said Rauls.
Calling the loss of his son, "the most significant growth experience of my life," he has learned being happy doesn't have anything to do with forgetting Nicholas.
"It's easier to have more of a quality of life and think of the good times I had with him; I believe that honors him more," he said.
Through continued growth and change, Rauls is optimistic about his future.
"I don't care where I'm at as long as I'm happy, healthy and my family members are safe," he said. "Wherever I am, I feel I have an obligation to my employer, my family and to Soldiers I will continue to speak to."
In its 14th year, the awareness and remembrance day brings survivors together to learn from each other and move toward healing. The national day seeks to help both those who considered suicide and those who lost someone close to them to suicide. More than 300 U.S. cities will hold conferences and workshops to help survivors.