My Personal Thoughts on Suicide Prevention & Recovery

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…

Lesson in Light

Keep tellin’ the story!


Social Media Apps Are Asking The Wrong Question: Why “likes” are so dangerous in today’s times!

I’m realizing that I’ve been conditioned to think “Do I like this _______?” Fill in the blank – it starts with “post,” or “idea,” or “belief,” and in some cases, the person!  Whoa!

I think we’re asking ourselves the wrong question. “Likes” encourages us to see the world as black and white, right and wrong. “Likes” teaches us that agreeing or not agreeing is more important than listening. “Likes” wants us to judge first, instead of seeking to understand and be understood.

Life has taught me how dangerous this can be. And with the recognition of “social media bubbles,” it’s even more critical that we find ways to break out of our bubbles. Surrounding myself with ideas and people I “like” is one of the reasons we’re here as a society. President Trump isn’t the problem – he is the symptom. American society has become more and more divided over the years – and it’s that division that has helped lead to the “perfect storm” that got Trump elected. So, impeaching him or waiting until 2020 isn’t going to fix our underlying brokenness. He’s just a symptom or easy target – not the cause nor the solution.

In general, we’ve become too worried about self-preservation and taking sides that we’re shutting ourselves off from the very thing we are craving — connection, intimacy, community.

I can choose to be right, or I can choose to connect with others. I choose to connect.

How would our conversations change if, instead, we had the choice to mark “I hear you.” Or, as I learned from my friends Mike Mather and De’Amon Harges, what if the checkbox simply said “Sawubona” – I see you. (Google it 😉

All of a sudden my focus is no longer on do I agree with this person or not. It’s not about judging them as “good” or “bad” – “conservative” or “liberal.” My focus instead becomes, did I pay attention to what this person has to say – or was I figuring out first how to counter their point? Did I hear their story, and ask questions to help deepen my understanding – instead of finding ways to challenge or prove them “wrong.” Did the other person feel heard, value, and listened to? If so, then I should be able to check the box “Sawubona” – and in response, they can respond with their own check – “Sawubona.”

What a different place Facebook would be, don’t you think!?

This all came about because I was talking to a friend about the current state of our world today – but particularly about Charlottesville and North Korea and Washington DC. I had seen another mutual friend’s post, commenting on white privilege in the aftermath of Charlottesville. I wandered if my friend had seen the post – but really was curious to hear what he thought about it. In other words, was it “good” or “bad” – was my discomfort and ill-ease because the opinion expressed was “right” or was it because the person was “wrong?”

My friendly gently pointed out that I was asking the wrong question.

I don’t have to agree with you to listen to what you have to say. And these days, I think this approach would encourage more conversation, more community and more healing.

Please don’t “like” or “not like” this post ;). Just listen…to the next person you hear speaking up. Listen – and ask questions. See what happens…

And if you know anyone at Facebook or Twitter and want to help start a cultural revolution, let’s see if social media apps would remove the “like” buttons and replace them with “Sawubona.”

Embracing Option B: A Fresh Perspective on Loss, Adversity & Change

Something clicked for me last month. It was a combination of conversations, experiences and ultimately, coming across a book in the airport. It’s all given me a fresh perspective on how I’m living life today – and facing the future. That fresh perspective is bringing about greater confidence, hope and inspiration.

A year ago, I made a decision and commitment to pursue my passion for photography as a business, with the goal of being profitable in 2-3 years. As I’ve shared before, that is a big step for me – and a big departure from the first half of my life, where I spent my working time in corporate America. But even with that decision, I’ve struggled to see this step as anything other than a step down – something less than – not as good as – my “first option” – the career path my education and early choices led me into.

It’s also been hard to fully embrace this path because it comes on the heals of a significant loss and setback in my life in 2010, when I lost everything I had been building, because of my addiction. Even though the loss came because I got into recovery and started dealing with the underlying issues that led to my addictive behavior, it has been hard at times to fully accept the loss and change as healthy and in a better direction overall for me. I know it sounds crazy. But in addition to losing a well-paying job, house, and friends – I lost much of my identity, because it was largely wrapped up in my career – and the material things and money!

This journey I’ve been on since 2010 has been about rediscovering who I am, what I believe and how and where I find my identity and purpose in life. And although it came from a dark time of great loss, I can already see that I’m not just getting by, or surviving in this new way of living – but I’m actually growing as a result. This became even more clear as I read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

In her book, Sheryl Sandberg shares how she deals with the unexpected and sudden death of her husband. She “combines her personal insights…on finding strength in the face of adversity.” She shares the moment of truth she faced just weeks after losing Dave:

“Option A is not available. So let’s kick the shit out of Option B.” Live is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shout of of it.

She shares a lot of amazing research and studies, along with her personal insight. Some of the highlights for me are (with credit going to Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant):

  • How people deal with setbacks:  personalization (the belief that we are at fault), pervasivenss (the belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives) and permanence (the belief that the after shocks of the event will last forever.)  from research by Martin Seligman
  • As psychologists have studied people who have endured all kinds of trauma, they most focused on two possible outcomes of trauma: those who struggle, developing PTSD, depression and anxiety or had difficulty functioning or those who are resilient, bouncing back to their state before the trauma. More recently, research has revealed a third possibility: those who are resilient, bouncing forward, finding post-traumatic growth. This manifests itself in five ways:
    • finding personal strength
    • gaining appreciation
    • forming deeper relationships
    • discovering more meaning in life
    • seeing new possibilities
  • Parents can build resilience in their children through opportunities and relationships – with a focus on four core beliefs:
    • we have some control over our lives
    • we can learn from failure
    • we matter as human beings
    • we have real strengths to rely on and share

As I reflect on my journey and how this concept of an “Option B” plays out, I can more confidently each of these elements at play.

I have been guilty of the “three P’s” as Sheryl calls them. Her insights and tips have helped me already reframe thoughts that come to mind about my situation.

I can also see where I’ve been stuck in PTSD mode – perhaps hoping to “get back to where I was.” But, I now see that where I was was still unhealthy, steeped in addiction, lack of connection or community, and unresolved loss back to my childhood. Now I see a third possibility – and know more clearly that this last year of so has been about taking steps towards “post-traumatic growth,” seeing possibilities in all the areas Sheryl mentioned.

I’ve also added these new “core beliefs” to my earlier post, where I’m collecting beliefs as I work through this journey of rediscovery.

So, this book not only gave me tools and insights I was missing before, it underscored the work I’m already doing! and helped me frame where I am in a new, fresh light. So, thank you universe – and thank you Sheryl Sandberg! To learn more, I encourage you to read her book, and check out her Facebook Groups related to Option B (which is also the name of a non-profit she started, with all of the proceeds from her book being used to support this broader effort of finding post-traumatic growth.)