Jesus, Easter, Suicide and Me
This column was written by one of the best reporters I've had the privilege of working with in 48 years in this business. It is raw, personal and very revealing. It lays bare a low point in a person's life when they contemplate the worst. But, Easter is about new beginnings. It is a time when we celebrate the fact that the the sacrifice has already been made, and we are the beneficiaries.
We as an organization, have been involved in working to stem the rising tide of suicide in this state. If Tom's personal battle can help, then it has been worthwhile.
On this blessed and joyous day, it might be useful to contemplate that considering this act, is to dismiss the promise of Easter.
Regional News Director
My how time does fly.
I wrote this column in the first weekend of April 1998, 20 years ago while I was a reporter at the Casper Star-Tribune and 15 years after the suicide attempt. Some of you may have seen it before.
Some things are better now than 20-30 years ago. Some things are the same or maybe a little harder. There's been a lot of life since then.
This has been edited slightly from the original.
Thanks for giving it a read.
Jesus, Easter, Suicide and Me
Today is Easter, the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus -- the event proving that he made atonement for our sins.
Today marks my own resurrection of sorts.
Fifteen years ago this weekend, I tried to kill myself.
Unlike a lot of people, I lived to talk about it. I was in my last term at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary -- founded in large part by Billy Graham -- and was attending an Easter Vigil service in 1983, when circumstances, addiction and will converged.
The circumstances were ripe for a suicide attempt. I had recently endured a terrible break-up with a woman. That April was probably the last I would spend in New England. I didn't have a job after four years and a score or so thousands of dollars on a good education to be a minister -- which I then knew I wasn't cut out for.
And I was staring down an impending 30th birthday feeling that I hadn't done much with my life, other than chasing a desire that drove me away from family, friends and people in general.
The addiction, if that's the right word for it, was to spirituality, Jesus, religion, theological education and anything that could resolve the Big Questions of life. Other people have their own addictions: sex & drugs & rock 'n' roll, gambling, materialism, or whatever they give everything for that doesn't give much back -- other than a crutch or a high that leads to a low that spurs the quest for another high and so forth and so on.
So it was with my relationship to God. For most people, piety offers hope, healing and community. But for some, it functions as a drug and harms them as they try to live someone else's idea of a relationship with God. Instead of following my heart, I followed the advice of others -- some well-meaning and some, not so.
What should have been a healthy relationship turned dysfunctional. This "faith" took my money, my personality, my youth, my relationships, my hopes. It exacerbated a very real clinical depression. Through years of devotion, I came to equate the love of God with self-hatred. More piety meant more hatred. I became imbued with a deep and terrible shame, a stranger to myself, my family and what friends I had.
And I hit bottom.
At the Easter Vigil that year, circumstances and addiction merged.
My will took over probably about 10 p.m. when my former girlfriend walked in with some friends and sat down a few pews in front of me. Whatever else was in me vanished. My world went black, and I began my exit. I blew out the flame on my little Easter Vigil candle, walked to the back of the church and handed it to the usher.
I drove to a liquor store, bought a bottle of whiskey -- it seemed to me to be the strongest thing available -- drove home, swallowed every pill I had and drank half the bottle.
Mother Nature got to me before Old Man Death. I threw up half of what I ingested.
Nevertheless, my sole intention was to make this the last night I would lay me down to sleep.
But miracles still happen.
I woke up.
I went to church. I had lunch. I finished a resume.
I had a two-day buzz like you wouldn't believe.
I began to realize the horror of what I had done.
And I told my ex-girlfriend. Suicide is one hell of a way to try to get revenge.
I told a few others. Some of them, including a counselor and a physician, told me that what I did should have fried my brains at the least.
But over the past 15 years, I've not told many beyond that. So why now?
Because I know I haven't held myself to the same standard that I hold those who are sources for stories I write. For example, in recent years, I've covered multimillion dollar securities scams, some of which have had the complicity of local churches.
People who've been suckered by them say they are embarrassed, ashamed and sometimes destitute. I tell them that these frauds, as well as domestic violence or institutional corruption, thrive in silence. If people speak up, they may be able to help someone else avoid being taken, or beaten, or abused by individuals or corporations or governments.
But I've come to realize that I'm a hypocrite for asking people to come forward with their stories of being financially scammed, when I won't talk about the biggest scam of all -- suicide.
On a person'l level, it may solve your problems or my problems, or so we think. But those who solve their problems in this way inevitably leave behind a legacy of heartbreak.
I also feel ready to discuss my story at this time because Wyoming has one of the highest suicide rates in the country especially among youth.
And it's got to stop. It's wrong. It's irrevocable.
We all have our own dark nights of the soul, the tragedies that, no matter how common, are still intensely personal -- and unbearable alone.
It can seem easier to yield to the temptation of prematurely embracing the significant other of death. And that significant other to me is beautiful.
For me, Lent and Easter are still the saddest times of the year, although they're getting easier to bear.
Of course, it's better not to have taken whatever road that led us toward self- destruction in the first place.
But we can retrace our steps on the wrong road. We can't do that buried at the crossroads.
If I had succeeded in my own self-destruction 15 years ago, I would have failed at everything else. I never would have known what it was to struggle and maybe triumph.
I never would have interviewed Lech Walesa on the fifth anniversary of the crushing Solidarity. I never would have known the ugliness of Southeast Texas culture or the exhilaration of living in the West. I never would have learned ballroom dancing. I never would have inhaled the intoxicating perfume of lilacs growing in my own back yard.
I never would have known the pain of joblessness for 17 months or the joy of finding work I enjoy. I never would have known the reconciliation with my family, the fondness for my cat, the shelter of a house I can call my own, and the rare joy that something I write might actually cause change in society or another person.
There are some things I haven't known. At the age of 44, I often still wonder what "normal" is in terms of desire, bonding with people, goals, and love.
I haven't worked through those Big Questions I thought I could through knowing Jesus and attending seminary and practicing devotion.
But I don't worry about "normal" or Big Questions, because in time I'll find healing, just as I've found healing over time in so many other areas of my life.
And I do know that I have the opportunities to recover what I lost.
So do you.
A lot of life is beautiful. A lot of life sucks. Most of life lies somewhere in between. But you cannot know the extremes or the great gray middle when you're dead.
Don't give in.
Call a friend, a counselor, a hot line.
After all, it's Easter.