When I wanted to kill myself 12 years ago, I found hope in an unlikely place.
The bottle in my hand began to slip as I slumped on the edge of my paisley red bedspread. I’ve always hated paisleys. They remind me of a tacky redneck bandana, and now they were part of my bedroom apparel. “It’s Pottery Barn though!” my ex had exclaimed. As a guy with zero interior decorating skill, I couldn’t argue myself out of a Pottery Barn defense, so I relented. Once she left me though, I got to keep the stupid bed cover.
I laid back on the bandana bedspread and stared at the ceiling. So this was it. The big moment everyone in life wrestles with. Do I kill myself or keep living? That’s the odd part about suicide ideation. Part of you wants to live and the other part wants to die. The head and heart disagree while running in opposite directions, which makes you feel further torn in two. To compound my depressive thoughts, I knew I was an absolute surgeon with a weapon, so the process would be quick and painless. But the aftermath for everyone else? Hmmmm.
I weighed the pros and cons.
- Con: I have no friends in this town. My ex took most of the money I saved. I have to move out of this house and have nowhere to go. I don’t have a job. I’m alone.
- Pro: I have a cat.
With my options looking more bleak by the moment, I closed my eyes and tried to keep from crying. It didn’t work. Instead, I sat up and reached for the beer bottle now on the floor. Then — without warning — the epiphany hit. It was like the moment in The Matrix where Neo downloads fighting skills and exclaims, “I know Kung Fu.”
I slammed down the rest of the drink, crawled into bed, and fell asleep. I knew what I had do.
Shortly after my epiphany, I moved to Austin, Texas. I knew one whole person in the city and got an apartment by myself. This was a first, because in college and the military, I had always lived with someone. This new situation, however, would force me to face my loneliness head on. I ended up talking to my cat a lot like Tom Hanks chatting up Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away. I ate dinner alone and watched TV alone. But I had resolved to live despite the hardship and hurt. When I felt myself slipping, I remembered my epiphany from the evening on that awful paisley spread: I would keep fighting because it strengthened me.
The night I lost hope, I also found hope in the unlikeliest of places by dwelling on how much pain and heartache I’d already been through. I’d made it through two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and buried friends. The person I loved the most had left me. Somehow, I was still alive. Bullets and bombs hadn’t killed me, and neither had the trauma. If anything, I was more grizzled, seasoned, and adjusted to fight through obstacles. Plus, if I killed myself — after surviving several attacks by al Qaeda — I’d give them the win they wanted all along. My ex would also find love again, and I’d be worm food. She’d move on when I couldn’t. I realized that if I kept living through the hardship, one day I’d be able to point to this time period as the defining moment that I grew stronger by facing my adverse situation.
In life, we often look to the future or current hardships as insurmountable. Yet, when we reflect at the moments when we’ve grown the most, it’s been through adversity. Ask any person about the toughest moment in their life, and they’ll likely tell you they’re stronger and wiser for having battled through. That’s because growth happens in a crucible, and like gold in fire, human beings are refined by adversity. There has to be a breaking down and regrowth for the new strength to emerge. Though we don’t think about it, this is part of the natural order to life.
When you exercise, tiny tears occur in the fascia muscle tissue. They then repair and your muscles grow stronger, leaner, or larger. This process continues to happen every time you work out and is why you get sore after a particular brutal day on legs. Outside of the gym, if you help a butterfly as it’s struggling to emerge from its chrysalis, you’ll do permeant damage. They must struggle to get the proper fluid into their wings to fly. If you hunt, you’re aware that in order to loose an arrow, you must draw back and create tension on the bowstring. The string must be stretched and the more you create tension, the further the arrow flies. But that’s the double-edged sword in all of this. Struggle, tension, and pain makes us grow the most.
Now that I’m some twelve years removed from initially believing I was better off dead, I’ve grown exponentially. I made friends, found love again, and can say, “it was worth it to endure.” At the time, it didn’t feel like it was worth it to endure and disrupted my comfort a lot, but hindsight is always 20/20.
Most everyone right now is in a season of disappointment and hardship with this ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. How we choose to respond will determine a lot. We can grow or give up. Currently, I’m right back where I was 12+ years ago. My family and I are moving to a new city, we don’t know anyone, and things are sketch because of this virus. I don’t know what the future holds, and that’s scary. It’s far easier to give up and stay comfortable, but perhaps that’s the gift Coronavirus has given us: our comfort is disrupted and it’s forcing us to reevaluate our lives.
Today, if you’re wrestling, hurting, down in the dumps, depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, I can’t help fix what you’re feeling, but I can encourage you. Like gold, you’re going to be forced through the fire. But it is through the fire of adversity that we emerge brightest, and I have great hope that you’ll emerge refined.
Hold fast. Stay strong. Persevere. I believe in you.
“Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.”
Questions to Answer:
- What is one lie that you are believing about yourself or your life lately?
“I have nothing to live for, and I should kill myself.”
- What are three reasons to ignore that thought and press on?
“If I killed myself – after surviving several attacks by al Qaeda – I’d give them the win they wanted all along.”
“My ex would also find love again, and I’d be worm food. She’d move on when I couldn’t.”
“…one day I’d be able to point to this time period as the defining moment that I grew stronger by facing my adverse situation.”
- What’s one thing you can do to persevere even if you don’t feel like it?
“I moved to Austin, Texas…This new situation, however, would force me to face my loneliness head on.”
BONUS: Print the graphic below. Post it somewhere you’ll see it, and keep it there for a full day.