It’s a taboo subject to talk about taking one’s own life. I never have before, talked about it, that is. It’s become something of an enigma in my life, lately, but I believe I’ve unlocked a few doors and understand myself better. This post is about me. It’s for me. I do, however, hope anyone who find it gets something useful from it. Who am I, though? I have no degree or expertise in this field any more than the average person has in the intricacies of making pasta. I am just some guy. I have few close friends. For more than ten years, starting in high school, I had a best friend named Dan. Dan took his life two weeks ago. He shot himself one morning citing stress at his new job. He was 42, divorced with no kids. He was very close to his 2 brothers, sister, nieces, nephews and his parents. He still spent time with several of the friends we rolled with in high school. He saw some monthly, some weekly. They helped each other remodel their homes and they shared meals and drinks frequently. He coached his nieces’ and nephews’ soccer teams. Damn he was a great soccer player. He had recently realized his dream and bought a wicked Corvette to race his brothers at the track. He had a zest for life and the kind of character that you would never question. He was never dull. He and I always had a good time, pushing the edge of what was acceptable, but always stopping short of causing anyone any harm. I have incredibly fond memories with Dan. He taught me that living is not what you are given, it’s what you go after.
My wife and I had a fairytale relationship from the start. We fell in love and the two of us celebrated with an intensity that Dan would approve of. We quickly were blessed with a child and married to start a life together that was anything but what either of us imagined for ourselves. That lasted for several years. We had a fight I’ll never forget. It had something to do with my mother but that’s all I can remember about why. My wife, however, turned into something she’d never shown me before. She told me I was mentally ill and she was going to have me committed and take my son. She started dialing the phone. It was not the woman I knew before that moment but I would be seeing a lot of this side of her in years to come. We saw our first marriage counsellor. She and I sat threw a grueling session. The therapist spoke to each of us individually and, after my wife emerged, she was fixed. The hatred was gone from her eyes. I don’t know what was said but that was a turning point away from disaster. During this time, however, I felt something I’d not felt in a very long time. I wanted to die.
My childhood was not a happy one. My mother was psychologically unwell. She emotionally abused me. I came to learn, after she died, that she abused my siblings and father equitably. She had a terrible childhood, herself. She was sexually and emotionally abused. The stories she told are difficult to interpret. Some of them are certainly true while some of them were fantasy. Regardless, she became an incomplete person and never resolved her pain and disfunction. As a result, I grew up in a home without trust or safety. We all did. I don’t know how my siblings responded, when they were young, but I went deep inside myself. I hid from the world. I cannot remember much of my childhood but I clearly remember wanting to take my life. I remember rage. I remember sadness and I remember cutting my wrists with razor blades, hoping someone might notice and help me. I remember looking through the medicine cabinet in search of something lethal. I remember standing on the side of the highway, watching dump trucks and wondering if they would be as effective as the train that raced past my house. I was hopeless, lonely and without a reason to live. I lacked a purpose. I was desperate. When I was around fifteen years old, after much practice thinking about suicide, I found the bottom. I reached that place where you realize there is nothing further down. The feeling is something like choking, when you can still sip air but each breath burns like fire and everything else simply ceases to exist, only the pressure on your throat. In this case the feeling centers on your heart. On that day I loaded a twelve gauge slug that I’d gotten from a friend, Dan ironically, into my brother’s shotgun. I chambered it and put the barrel in my mouth. I’ll never forget that moment. I can still remember the comforter on my bed, a lion print, it was crumbled toward the left side. The pillow was to my left and my feet hung over the right side of the bed. Out the window, to my left, the sky was grey and melancholy. It was winter and the air outside was cold. My guitar amplifier sat directly in front of me, cable still plugged in but neatly looped and laid on top of the amp. My guitar was in its case, lovingly polished and protected from the possibility of scratches, nestled between the amp and my five foot tall, six drawer dresser. The barrel of a shotgun is shockingly long when viewed down the bridge of your nose. It tastes like metal mixed with suffer and smells sweet and rotten and feels icy cold on your lips. The feeling against the edge of your teeth is alien. The realization that it is a hair trigger away from exploding should be terrifying. It wasn’t. The concentration of emotion that had been centered on my heart was now in my head. As my physiology went into fight or flight and I was fully ready to execute myself, my heart squeaked a desperate beat. “This can’t be it,” whispered a strangled voice, “there must be something more.” More? Better? Different? Just different would be enough. I’d run away, many times, but there was never anywhere to go. I wouldn’t run away but maybe, just maybe, I could find somewhere to run to. I spit the gun out of my mouth, ejected the unspent shell, and sobbed. Once I’d sufficiently cried it out, I committed to finding a destination to run to. A short time after this moment had come and gone, I was speaking with a psychologist, one of many my mother dragged me to to try to “figure out what was wrong with me”, who happened to be there brother of her long time Psychiatrist/Prescription pusher. He told me, “there is no way to say this except bluntly. Focus on graduating from high school as quickly as you can. Then get out of your mother’s house. Get a job and an apartment, go to college, anything. Just focus on getting out of that house. Do it on your own. Do not expect anything from your parents, distance yourself. Once you do, you will be OK.” I did. I moved out a week after I graduated high school.
Leaving home freed me from my pain. It did. I had friends, I had youth and I had infinite possibilities even while I lacked resources. But a resourceful young man I was and I crawled and clawed my way up, one awful job at a time, until I stood on my own two feet and saw that I wanted more than I could see from where I stood. I moved south. I was twenty two.
How the story unfolds is interesting and relevant but long and not critical to the subject matter. I experienced many successes and failures along the way and continued my slow crawl toward a better life. The worst of it, before I started my family, was after I’d been fired from two jobs in a row, my roommate had abandoned me with a two bedroom apartment I could not afford and I had no options in front of me. I had a glorious audio system in my beat up old Toyota pickup truck. I remember sobbing as I drove home from the emergency job I took while I listened to Dave Matthews sing “Dreaming Tree” during my hour long commute to my empty apartment and unpaid bills. But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live! I simply didn’t know how to do that. I sold things I didn’t want to part with to cover the bills. If only I could go back and give myself a pep talk, back then, because I laugh now. I had no debt, no responsibilities and nothing holding me back. I should have sold everything and gone West. But then I wouldn’t have met my wife. I was twenty four.
For ten years I remained optimistic that I could overcome anything. I proved time and again that impossible was just an invitation to prove it wasn’t. Meeting my wife was one of those times. I had dreamed her. I had imagined her in every detail and had put that dream behind other dreams. I made my other dreams my plans and I began my plans to do something crazy. Then she was there, standing in a restaurant bar where I’d been invited by a friend who loved to experiment with social diversity. Whether it was a chemical explosion or a cosmic seed planted forever ago, everything changed on that day. The arrival of our son was an unexpected revolution in my life. I love being a dad. When my wife’s sister was unable to get pregnant, I agreed to lend my wife’s uterus to them and we birthed our own twin nieces. We were an amazing team. We could handle anything …or so I thought.
On the day of that awful fight, when I realized that my wife was now threatening me in exactly the same way my mother did, my heart shrunk in my chest until it was like silly puddy dripping from the kitchen table. That night, as I worried about what this meant for my future, desperation crept back into my consciousness. I didn’t want to die but the idea of ending this fear and pain was truly powerful. I didn’t realize it but this was the end of an era and the beginning of a new struggle. I was thirty.
We came back from that event fairly adeptly. I learned a lot about my mother and how to set boundaries so that I could maintain a healthy relationship with her and break the cycle of running away and hateful rejection that my mother and her family had always exemplified. There were ups and downs on the rollercoaster of life, of course, but as two grown adults, we seemed to have a handle on life. When my daughter arrived, my son started having his first social challenges. School became an adversary. We rolled with it and were able to work together like an olympic doubles tennis team and I had no reason to think we wouldn’t continue. Somewhere along the way, we began spending more than we made. I’d never carried debt and my first action, immediately upon getting married, had been to pay off my wife’s credit cards and her previous debt consolidation plan from her prior infractions. She had repeatedly accumulated a hefty credit card debt. It was a really dangerous habit. I just didn’t recognize it then. I agreed, on our therapist’s advice, to use credit cards to supplement our income while she finished her residency. It seemed like reasonable logic. Unfortunately, it would start a landslide that would become unmanageable and should crushing in a few years. The promise was to pay it off as soon as her income tripled. Instead, her spending exploded.
Our fights became more intense and less rational. We fought about anything, everything and nothing at all. We ultimately pulled our son to homeschool him, to save him from the system that wanted to pill him into compliance, and I took responsibility for his education. The plan was to get my wife through her residency and then she’d support me as I built a great business. Instead, I continued hourly work and adjusted my schedule to accommodate my son. The expense of this was immense and we did it poorly. We made bad choices together. We went further into debt. My wife continued living as though she was making some future salary. The promise of guaranteed income growth is incredibly dangerous to someone who has no financial sense. “I want it!,” is a phrase I have learned to despise. We traveled with people who expected us to keep up with their family money. We bought her a new, expensive car every two years. We maintained two homes to accommodate our families needs so that we could stay in the city. We kept a full-time nanny and paid her three times the typical salary hoping it would make her never leave us. All of these were her brilliant ideas. I agreed to them. We really fucked up. The fights got worse. The debt continued to grow. The nanny turned into an entitled, selfish, manipulative freeloader. My wife’s parents leached on to our perceived limitless income and found themselves gainfully employed by their daughter. Her sister regularly needed bailout money to cover her bills. I struggled to meet expectations as a father, husband, home school teacher and software professional. My time became my most precious commodity and it was never mine. I disregarded our financial bleeding because I was desperate to find the time to breath. My home was filled with people sucking at the teat. I had no privacy, no authority, no respect and no support. My wife developed the habit of holding a grudge against any frustration for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. The periods between her hateful dagger stares became shorter and less frequent with each passing month. I left job after job in hopes to find something that would allow me to manage it all. Each time my job became an unbearable burden to my wife. My obligations inconvenienced her and infuriated her. She became less and less reasonable with her expectations of me. Her character degraded and she began taking pills to escape. She would swallow a few Klonopin and drink a bottle of wine and have a complete psychotic break. She would put herself in tremendous physical danger and not remember a thing about it. She would deny ever having done anything wrong. She became hung-up on being blamed for anything such that it became impossible to have any conversation. The debt grew to over one million dollars (including a house worth three hundred grand) and we couldn’t pay our bills. We were underwater. Her family blamed me. They were in my home everyday, charging by the hour to wash our clothes and clean our kitchen but also to sit on the couch and talk to the nanny or on the phone. But they hated me and they made that unmistakably clear. This was when I reached bottom.
Each morning, I awoke, and realized I had been dreaming and this was reality. In my semi-lucid state, when your subconscious still has hold of your imagination, and your thoughts come unbridled into being, I had the same fantasy. As I lay in bed, facing another day, my imaginary self went to the closet, removed my Sig Sauer from the gun safe, inserted the clip, returned to the bed and placed the business end against my forehead. I pulled the trigger. I imagined the blazing heat as the bullet entered my brain, the blinding light, and then nothingness. Bliss. Release. Nearly every morning, for years and years, I acknowledged this fantasy, then rejected it. I would replace the violence with my children. I’d picture them in my mind’s eye and let my love for them fight the pain back and lift me off the rocky bottom of an ocean of hopelessness. I scolded my self for having such a useless thought. I then dismissed it and let my day begin. I’d get out of bed and start after it again. Days when I did not wake to this ideation were rare and I considered them a gift. Occasionally my wife and I were on the mend and it was wonderful. I was worried about this, though, and I researched and found “suicidal ideation” was the term used to describe this. It’s different from critical risk of suicide but I may have been selective in my research because I determined it was OK. I was OK. I didn’t need to concern myself with it. I definitely didn’t need to tell anyone about it.
My children are my saviors. They are my reason to carry on. For them I can endure . They are worth it. They give my life purpose.
My wife was a partner in her practice and made enough money that, with the addition of my lucrative software contracting work, we could pay the interest on nearly a million dollars of debt plus maintain a stupidly expensive lifestyle. In truth, we should have been living like kings. Instead, we lived like village idiots. We had many blessings, namely our kids, but the rest of our lives were a joke. I had periods of abusing alcohol, usually broken either by too many weekday hangovers or some alcohol escalated quarrel with my wife. My wife maintained a near constant bottle-per-day-mixed-with-Klonpin habit. I maintained my daily morning practice of dismissing my desire to die.
I demanded we fix our relationship or divorce. We were on our sixth marriage counsellor. Begrudgingly, I agreed to take divorce completely off the table, knowing that meant there was no consequence for non-action. Nonetheless, a miracle landed. My wife sold her practice. We paid our debts. We moved from the city to give the kids more space and freedom. We bought a lot and started building a house. We agreed on the requirements of this change. She had to continue working. We bought her a Tesla so that it’s revolutionary auto-pilot would lesson the burden of her hour long commute. I would handle the kids and their needs, be involved in their schools and our community, and take care of details at home. At some point, when time allowed, I’d start my career over but everything I’d built in the city had to be sacrificed. I could no longer base myself there and that meant opportunities would be slim. We took a huge risk that the two of us could handle it so that we could give our kids the best childhood possible. The move brought us what we hoped for. The kids fell right in and their lives were simplified and richer. We made real friends, good friends, and found a home where we were more than an address. Everything seemed to be going well. We weren’t able to continue marriage counseling in the city so we stopped going. We knew that there was still much work to be done but we thought we could handle it. We were wrong.
My wife lasted a few months before the commute became a daily drone of complaint. Despite that she could, and did. watch copious TV while the car handled the driving, she was wearing out. Her attitude toward work was becoming toxic and she brought that home with her. Our relationship degraded, once again, and soon were were disgusted with each other. Then one day we had a typical fight where she wanted to bring a very expensive bottle of wine I’d been saving for a special occasion, for years, to a casual neighborhood gathering and I did not. She refused to go, a frequent behavior she used to punish my non-compliance. I went without her and bought an appropriate bottle of wine from across the street, on the way. I had a good time and over indulged on Bourbon. When I returned home she sunk her teeth. I don’t remember anything other than I was just tired of her bullshit and told her so. She sent one of her thousand word texts explaining how terrible I was and that we’d “never be the same.” I didn’t remember saying anything unusual, or untrue, and she refused to elaborate. From there the fights got nastier and nastier until, finally, she told me I had become my mother and she would no longer consider me capable of normal, rational thought or seeing reality as it was. I was delusional and insane and she would have to just deal with me as such. She knew this was the lowest blow she could deal. It was ironic since she had learned to torture me like my mother did and I had felt, for years, that I was now married to my sick mother. So here we were, living in an amazing place, with amazing people, churning amazing hatred and spite. She was back to popping Klonopin and drinking a bottle of wine and holding a grudge for weeks or longer. I was unable to say anything to her without it being taken as an assault. The thoughts of death returned.
I’d spent the last ten years, more really, reading books on philosophy and personal growth, trying to improve myself, trying to fix things from the inside out. I learned and adopted principles and practices that made me healthier, stronger and more capable of dealing with the world. Frequently my reading encouraged me to evaluate the people around me and remove myself from those people who consistently brought everyone around them down. My wife is that person. She has become an emotional black hole and there is nothing anyone can do to convince her to pull herself out of her tailspin. After that fight, that argument, that deep and unforgivable insult, I was done. I remain true to my commitment to take divorce off the table but now I too have no skin in the game. I have no reason to see trying to fix our marriage. This has released me from my fantasies of suicide. My children would certainly lose the most, should we divorce, so I stay. It’s a cliche to remain married for the kids. However, I don’t want to give up my time with them. Selfishly, I can’t imagine every other weekend or whatever arrangement would be made. I don’t think they would thrive. So I stay in this failed relationship. I have given up intimacy. I have given up on romance. I’ve given up on ever feeling like I did when I met my wife and we fell head over heals for each other. But I haven’t given up on love. My children give me all I need. And love is life so I can hold onto what I have.
When the news that Dan had killed himself reached me, I was shocked. Dan?! My wife’s mother had, a couple weeks prior, made a cry for help in the form of swallowing too many Zanex. Her family erupted with drama and then my wife and her sister had a fight. The story goes that her sister told her she’s always hated me and I was an awful person. She reported some stories of moderately rude actions that were, in fact, faults of her other brother in law. She stated that she tolerated the two of us but no more. There was no mention of the fact that my wife carried her first two children and I endured a fat, pregnant wife for an extra turn. Nonetheless, the two of them stopped speaking. In the midst of this, with my in laws boldly reporting that they deeply despised me, and my wife treating me to fresh, daily torture while drinking herself into a haze each evening, I received the phone call that Dan was dead.
Dan didn’t have kids of his own but he had everything else. His girlfriend seemed unhealthy for him and he supported her but, in the end, there was nothing that wasn’t a reasonably easy problem to solve. There also, tragically, was nothing that really made it all worth doing. There was no meaningful reason to go on. Dan had no purpose. He was loved, valued, important, needed, talented, capable and unencumbered. But he was missing the thing that Victor Frankle identified when he emerged from the concentration camps. He was missing his purpose.
If you can’t relate then you’ve never been that low. There’s a place deep inside that an old friend of mine referred to as, “grinding the gears.” He was specifically talking about talking so many hallucinogens that you weren’t sure if you’d come back and you were sure you’d permanently broken something, but it’s pretty much the same place except for the emotion involved. If you can’t relate to that, then you’ve never been that low. We all have the capacity to fall and fail to flourish. However, we all need the same thing to prop us back up when it happens. We need purpose. Kids are the universal purpose but that’s not necessarily everyone’s muse. Some people might find it in service. Some may find it in expression. I can tell you it is not found in money and it will never be found in status. Purpose is more ancient that titles or commerce. It starts with the struggle for life. We have evolved beyond that struggle. We humans are no longer affected by Darwin’s laws. We need to fill the void that is left when the world loses it’s deadly teeth. We need to find a reason to carry on. Our children deserve to have us at our best even if our best is a sad shadow of what we dream. Our children grow up and they need us less when they do. We need purpose that transcends this change. We need something that compels us to carry on, even when we yearn for a sharp release from our pain. I’ve stopped wondering if I’d be better off separate from my wife. My kids wouldn’t. My relief from turmoil would harm my most precious gifts. So I will endure until either they grow out of needing me or another miracle brings my wife back to me. In the mean time, I will seek another purpose that will carry me through the darkness. I know I’ll be seeing my ghost again. I know I will continue to acknowledge, reject and dismiss – so long as my kids are near. No one knows what the future holds but I believe one thing: there must be something more than this.