This is my view everyday at my office. It has been for years. The picture of my wife, Laura, and our daughter, Olivia, on the right was taken 20 years ago at our home in Tacoma, WA.
I'm not pictured with them, because I was an hour away in Seattle, trying to gain the courage to fight for my life. I'd gotten to the edge of despair enough times for several months prior, that Laura and my counselor had run a real-life intervention and checked me in to a hospital - the psychiatric care ward. Laura had this snapshot taken the day I entered the hospital and brought it to me. She was only able to see me a couple of times for family group therapy sessions during my eleven-day stay. I was not able to see Liv at all. But she brought this picture to me, so I'd know they were "with" me when they couldn't be with me.
I was uncertain how I'd spiraled into such an abyss. And honestly, I really didn't care. My wife and my baby girl had witnessed my irrational outbursts of anger...as well as my stone cold isolation. Laura couldn't reach me. She had tried and tried. Liv, in all her adorable cuteness, was incapable of penetrating my wall of despair. I was buried. Digging only dropped the bottom of my apparent grave deeper.
Shame had convinced me I was rotten to the core. Its death-grip held me prisoner to the lie that I was not lovable, that I did not deserve to be loved. Shame had taught me that I was the only one who could fix me...and really, even I was incapable of that. Shame did what shame does: it creates a prison inside one's own world. I was locked up.
Shame and fear are ugly cousins; a ruthless family of dysfunction and tyranny. I feared every day for months, maybe years, that people would find out the "real truth" about me. That they would discover the sham, the lie, the poser that I was. I was riddled with shame. I was bound by my sense of hypocrisy and worthlessness. I began to think that the only key that could turn the lock to freedom was suicide.
Laura listened to what I wasn't verbalizing. Guns and medications were removed from our home or monitored by someone else. My counselor heard enough to interpret the urgency of my free fall. So, together, they ran a literal intervention - the kind where there are no options. They loved me into a white-walled hospital room with ice-cold tile floors, a simple bed and a toilet.
I didn't want to be there but, strangely, I knew I had to be. Or did I? By day two the self-inflicted cuts on my wrists, engraved with a pushpin, nearly got me kicked out of the unit - and admitted into a facility with tighter controls. I was in a hellishly, dark place.
Over the course of the first few invasive days into my pit, I slowly began to face the deep sense of hopelessness that had gotten me to this place. When I finally began to see myself with any clarity at all, I was able to see the pain I'd caused the people in my life I really loved the most and the guilt overtook my insight, stoking the fire of self-hatred. And I was back.
And yet, through it all - through every heart-wrenching step, soul-ripping confession and pain-filled request for help - I began to understand the truth with new clarity: I could not fix myself. I needed the acceptance of other human beings, right where I was. Not after I was fixed, but while I was broken. In fact, the point wasn’t so much about about being fixed as it was entering my brokenness and there – only there – experience grace. I began to accept the help that was being offered to me. I could not have imagined that I needed these fellow weary souls, these complete hospital strangers. My sojourners from the debilitating darkness of shame to the liberating light of true sorrow.
Back home after eleven days of treatment, the people I'd shut out were the people I needed most. First my wife, and then a few close friends became closer than I’d imagined possible. They sat with me. They listened. They held me. They walked with me through more sorrow…and into experiments of happiness that have turned into experiences of joy.
That picture – of Laura and Liv – is a marvelous gift still. It is a gift of life and love, a picture of what was true then, and is true now: I am loved.
I kept living. I kept living because Love intercepted my life-defying spiral. I kept living because Love was demonstrated by action. I kept living because God’s love was real through people who loved like he loves.
I kept living…and in less than three months I’ll walk my baby girl down the aisle to her groom, Jacob, a man who loves her unconditionally, who cherishes her as the treasure she is. She’ll stand with my wife, Laura, her mother – her matron of honor. And I’ll help Jacob and Olivia make their vows of marriage to each other: “…in richer and poorer; in sickness and in health; for better or for worse.”
Laura, thank you for honoring those vows to me. And because you did, I am able and committed to keeping those same vows to you. I kept living because you showed me how.
My journey is far from over. It's called life. There will still be better and worse...and probably worst. I'll keep taking my meds. I'll accept the challenge to stay in the light when I'm moving into isolation. But ultimately, I'll not journey alone. I can't. I'm not able on my own. But I am able to journey. Certainly with those traveling with me, but also with others who need someone to love them on their journey
There is hope. Take a step. One. Make a call. Talk with someone.
Or maybe you need to offer hope to someone. Help them take a step. Move toward them. Offer to listen. Be the someone they need.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255