Today is the last day of both National Suicide Prevention Month, and National Recovery Month. The fact that these share the same month resonates with me on so many levels. I’m a survivor of an abandoned suicide attempt – and on that same December night in 2009, entered my journey of long-term recovery from addiction. I still battle with depression and anxiety – but the hopelessness that once gripped me has lifted.
This month, I rode in Indiana’s 10th Annual Recovery Ride – with close to 100 motorcycles in a police-escort around I-465, and down 38th street to a downtown park. I still get goosebumps when I see the police motorcycles whip past our stream of motorcycles to leap from exit to exit, traffic signal to traffic signal, waving cars to pull over and wait…wait…for us, a group of former addicts and alcoholics, riding past in a victory celebration of life. I go back to remember – to celebrate – to show my gratitude to those who stood by my side and have loved me through my shadows.
I lost my mother to untreated alcoholism and have attended several other funerals for those who lost their battle to hopelessness and addiction. So for me, having National Recovery Month and Suicide Prevention Month are personal reminders of the how grateful I am for my life today – for each precious day. They aren’t all peachy keen, rainbows and unicorns. But, had I not paused for that one fateful moment and reconsidered my decision to end my life on December 21, 2009, I would have become another tragic victim of addiction.
As I reflect back on my darkest days of addiction, I clearly recall the shame and stigma I felt for being a meth addict. I had a middle-management career at Eli Lilly – I “had it made,” by all external signs. But, I can remember the fear that gripped me on many occasions when I thought about getting help. I literally was worried to get treatment, because I thought insurance would then know about my addiction, and my employer would find out, and my parents would know – and that fear of rejection held me back from getting help. Sounds stupid to write today – but it was very real for me. I had already faced years of rejection and shame around being gay. For me, that paled in comparison to what people would think if I told them about by rampant and self-destructive “double life” as an addict.
I had tried to “get clean” on my own several times. I had even tried NA once – I still remember my first meeting on 30th Street at the Bethlehem House. But, in my experience, meth isn’t something you just walk away from. So, when I chose life on December 21, 2009 – I called 911, because I wanted to put into motion a series of events that I couldn’t stop. I wanted to get into Fairbanks for help – and having just turned away from ending my own life, that fear, shame, rejection from “what others would think” fell away. I made essentially what was a “call for help” – a call to a suicide prevention line. And it opened up a whole new life – a life of family, friends, community, and most importantly – hope.
I could have chosen to be Arvin – or I could have chosen life. Thankfully, I chose life…
Since then, I’ve found nothing but an amazing outcry of support.
- My pastor and 5 friends drove from Indianapolis to Greenfield that grateful night to meet me at the hospital and make sure that for the next step in my journey, I wasn’t alone. I shared my story at church, and received a standing ovation from the congregation at Broadway.
- My dad and sister came and stayed with me for several weeks, overlapping to ensure that my dogs were taken care of when I was at Fairbanks, and helping me “re-enter” life after in-patient treatment. My dad even came to two IOP sessions at Fairbanks with me. I’ll never forget that gift of time he shared with me.
- For several years, friends joined me on January 1st for the New Year’s Resolution Run/Walk in downtown Indianapolis – a tradition that helped me brave each new year with sobriety, surrounded by friends.
- In June of this year, my fiancé came with me to pick up another year token in my long-term journey of recovery from addiction. He held my hand, put his arm around me, and kissed me on the cheek. I wasn’t alone.
- Just this week, my sister sent me a thank you card for her birthday present – and in it, thanked for me “choosing life” that grateful night.
- Because of that choice, I’m able to celebrate my nephew’s birthday next week. I was able to take senior photos for my niece and nephew this Labor Day. And, in June, my three siblings and I all celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday together. The last time we were all together was for my mother’s funeral in 2013 – so it was a momentous occasion of family.
None of this would have been possible if I had given up – if I didn’t somehow believe, deep down inside, that somebody else cared for me more than I did at that moment of desperation. When I couldn’t love myself, others loved me with abandon – they met me in my home, invited me to brunch, allowed me to crash at their place so I wasn’t alone. For those friendships and family ties and acts of generous compassion, I’m thankful.
I chose to write this because I wanted to do something more than copy and paste a chain letter about Suicide Prevention Month. On December 21st, that wouldn’t have made a bit of difference – if anything, it would have been insulting. “You don’t even care enough to pick up the phone, to stop by and hold my hand, to sit with me in silence as I just sob. See, I am unloveable and useless in this world.” For me, those posts are a slap in the face to my struggle – and more importantly, to those simple acts of grace and compassion that so many have shown me over the years – the time they took to stop, to care, to show up, to be present.
Instead, I hope someone reads this and finds a little hope from their struggles – and realizes that reaching out to ask for help will bring relief. “Everything will be alright, maybe not today, but eventually.” Or maybe someone else reads this and calls their friend to ask how they are doing today – or visits their brother, just to be with him, hold his hand and listen. Do something with your time and presence to plant a seed of hope – to help us see there is no shame or stigma in whatever struggle we are going through. And the more we talk about this, as my friend Mike always says, the more we give others permission to tell their story…
I also chose to write this so on those days when I struggle with darkness, I’m reminded of the light that shines through – that bells still can ring…
Keep tellin’ the story!