by Dan Clark, CSP, CPAE
Have you ever found yourself down and out in a seemingly helpless situation where your life has spiraled so far out of control that you thought the only solution was suicide? I have. Psychologists tell us that most of us will at some point in our lives become so distraught that we will consider giving up and taking our lives as the only solution to our pain. So the question is: why do some decide to complete their suicides and why do some decide that killing themselves is not the solution?
I love powerful, inspirational, life-altering quotes. For example we all know Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” May I add to this a few of my own: In two more days tomorrow’s yesterday; today you’ve never been this old before, and today you’ll never be this young again, so right now and every right now matters; you can’t always control what happens, but you can always control what happens next; pain is a signal to grow, not to suffer. Once you learn the lesson the pain is teaching you, the pain goes away. Which means that in life, there are no mistakes, only lessons. And yes, all of these suggest that no matter what our past has been we have a spotless future.
Interesting truths that you think would keep somebody from taking his own life and hanging himself with a belt. Apparently, they don’t work. At least not unless we do!
As we all attempt to make sense of our lives and search the universe for answers to why we even exist in the first place, what is the purpose of life, where did we come from, why are we here on earth, and where are we going when we die, I feel it is everyone’s human duty to share what we know and why we know it with one another, especially in times of testing trials and tribulation. In the shadows of the tragic death of one of my heroes Robin Williams, whom I’ve had the privilege of laughing and swapping stories with on three magnificent memorable occasions, I am compelled to weigh in on the international conversation that continues to permeate every channel and genre of media. No, I can’t explain why Robin took his own life. No one knows how he felt or why he decided to end his not so tragic life. But I do understand what will keep you and me from following in his footsteps.
With all due respect to the so-called experts, it’s not what you think. There are no big words or medical terms or quotes and case studies by famous psychotherapists that we are accustomed to hearing. My offering is foundational and real and raw and taken from the message in a dream where a genie appeared to a man and explained that because he had lived a noble life, he would grant him one wish. The man thought for a moment and replied, “I wish that peace and love and prosperity and happiness fill the whole earth.” The genie smiled and said, “That’s a wonderful wish sir, but we don’t deal in fruits here, we only deal in seeds.”
This essay is my humble attempt to plant and water and fertilize and nurture some seeds that you can grow and harvest in your own time and place, challenge the status quo, and fulfill my civic and moral duty to share the wisdom that I’ve personally garnered and experienced during my lifelong quest for truth, real purpose, self-acceptance, enduring happiness and significance.
I purposefully use the word wisdom because of a biblical scripture that has always given me direction found in James 1:5 (KJV), “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Note that it doesn’t say, “If any of you lack knowledge or information.” The dictionary definition of wisdom is, “applied knowledge; the practical application of information learned through experience.”
At the end of the day we don’t learn to know, we learn to do. It doesn’t do us any good to know how to read a book if we are never motivated to pick one up and read it. All of the information in the world is not going to make a person successful. It’s like the guy who has three PhDs: one in philosophy, one in psychology, one in sociology. He doesn’t have a job but at least he can explain why! Reason leads to conclusions but it is emotion that leads to action!
A lot of people know that smoking is harmful to their health but they smoke anyway. A lot of people know that their lack of exercise and horrible habits of eating deep-fried food with gobs of saturated fat causes obesity and may give them diabetes, but they over indulge anyway. And of course, we all have heard their lame and amusing excuses that explain away their lack of self worth, which causes their vacillating self-discipline and sketchy self-control: “My weight is a medical problem – obesity runs in my family.” Yes, for some this is the true prognosis. For most, the reality is that the only medical problem they suffer from is that their bodies retain too much chocolate fudge cake, and no – no one runs in their families!
Yes, some of us laugh, some think these comments are insensitive and politically incorrect, and some see it as tough love. But if someone you care about is over weight and having chest pains, and your sweet, politically correct attempt to get him/her to take better care of themselves is not working, what should you say and do?
It is in this context of tough love that I offer my thoughts and experiences to help you better cope with the tough side of life. With so many Make-A-Wish kids battling a terminal disease and fighting to live one more day; and with so many soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines willing to give their lives so we can be free to dream and laugh and love and live and experience the ups and downs of living, there are no reasons or excuses for anyone to cut short his/her life through suicide! All suicides can and should be prevented! Without going into personal detail, I ask that you trust me because I know what I know.
According to the World Health Organization, the United States of America ranks 34 out of 110 countries listed in the number of suicides per 100,000 residents, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Because the official calculations for death by suicide usually lag behind by one to two years, the most current statistics available for this Blog are 2011, where someone in the U.S. took his/her own life every 13.3 minutes. In 2011, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (16.9) occurred in those 85 years and older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. Adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 11.0. For many years, the suicide rate has been about 4 times higher among men than among women. Of those who died by suicide in 2011, 78.5% were male and 21.5% were female. Why?
I’ve read the theories and clinical explanations. We all have. My take is that in my 50+ years on this planet I have noticed that too many people are living their lives hoping to be happy, but because they only hope, they never really are. For some reason they are saving themselves for the Senior Prom and have never taken the time to learn how to dance. They hate their jobs, and only look forward to Friday instead of Monday, because they think they are paid by the hour, when in reality they are paid for the value they bring to that hour. And when asked if they are happy and fulfilled in life they say they are bored. Seriously? Usually when someone says they are bored they are admitting that they are boring, and expect their coworkers and family and friends to entertain them. When it doesn’t happen, they just sit around and complain.
I even see this mentality in our youth. When you ask teenagers in a small town if they like living there, they usually say no. When asked why not, they always reply, there is nothing to do. Where did we get this convoluted idea that it is our community’s responsibility to make our lives exciting and rewarding?
Am I taking this tough love too far when I remind us that it’s time and never too late for any of us to start taking full responsibility for our every thought and action, which means we must release all thoughts of blaming. Ask yourself, do you ever enjoy a brisk rampage of blame on the government, or the terrorists, or the Chinese, or the oil companies for high gas prices, or McDonalds for our obesity?
Although you are a leader, manager, mentor or coach, imagine yourself as a therapist, and a young woman comes into your office and starts to yell and cry and whine that the reason her life is out of control is because of her father; that her dear old dad is the cause of her pain and misery. What council would you give her? Would you suggest bringing in her father so you could begin treating him? It is only logical that if he is the cause of her woes, if you cure him, the effect would be that her pain should go away?
When you stop and refine your thinking to take 100% responsibility, you realize that you’re either participating in creating that situation or allowing it to continue. This means that as you stop blaming you should also release all of your complaining. Why? In order to complain, you’ve got to have a reference point of something you want; an item or a situation that is better than what you have now or more desirable than what someone else has – something you have not been willing to risk creating. So you feel entitled to complain about it instead.
Perhaps you have been complaining about your job, which means that you believe a better job than the one you have exists somewhere out there. And if you are complaining about your spouse or your partner, it means you believe there is a better spouse or partner somewhere out there waiting, looking for you. When someone is complaining about something it means they know there is something they can do about it, because people don’t usually complain about the things they cannot change.
The ironic truth is that complainers usually whine and voice their complaints to those who can’t do anything about the issues. Therefore, the next time you hear yourself complaining, stop and ask yourself, “what would I rather have, why do I want it, what will it cost me in time and resources to get it, am I willing to pay the price now so I can enjoy the prize forever, will I actually want it when I get it, and what is my first step to getting it?”
Great questions, eh? And I belabored this point because of the hundreds of interviews I’ve had with people from every socioeconomic background who have told me that all they really want in life is to find happiness. Great, but happiness is not discovered at a destination that is impressive, it is created during a journey that is important. The purpose of a dance is not to end up on a specific spot on the floor, but to enjoy every step along the way until the very last beat of the song.
In fact, the premise and title of my newest book, The Art of Significance – Achieving The Level Beyond Success, comes from this understanding that was illuminated for me in an observational experience with one of my football teammates. He was drafted out of college into the National Football League in the second round and became an instant superstar. However, after only four years in the league and at the height of his career, he walked out of practice and quit, never to play again. Why? He loved being a football player, but he hated playing football. He loved the celebrity perks, fame and fortune that allowed him an existence we all think is successful, but because his inner voice and true purpose were misaligned with what he did, he would never be able to enjoy a life of significance.
In a more intimate illustration, one of my daughters is a prolific songwriter who has written with many of the biggest names in Nashville. When she goes to Nashville she is in high demand and the stars want to write with her. She is smart, beautiful and talented, possessing every quality required to get what she wants. Consequently, when she first arrived in Music City, some of the lead singing bad boys of the bands were attracted to her, which attracted her to them. As a conservative father I quickly counseled her to make sure she didn’t just go after what she wanted, but that she should occasionally stop long enough to evaluate whether or not she was wanting what she was getting. To my chagrin, it was like water off a ducks back: “yea, yea, yea, I know, I know.” I never got through to her.
Then one day I had an epiphany. I told her she was no different than a dog chasing cars, and asked her that if the dog finally caught the car, what would it do with it? Would she just let the car drag her down a road she never intended to go down and let it beat her up and abuse her until she finally let go, only to recover to the point where she could chase another loser like the one she just got rid of? Luckily I finally made sense, she got it, and stopped dating the wild stallions who would never have given the stable spiritual family life that she had always significantly wanted, planned, prepared and prayed for.
With all due respect for the dead, I believe in my heart of hearts that if we could somehow interview everyone who has killed themselves, most would confess that yes, they got what they wanted, but because they had given up what really mattered most for what they thought they wanted at the moment, and had gained the whole world but in the process had lost their souls, there was no way they could ever want what they got, and therefore caved into the temptation to run from their unhappy, unfulfilling results, relinquishing their reason to live to dying with their song unsung. In a real sense they had been fed with the “fast food/instant gratification” things of the world but had not been nourished with the necessary healthy “food groups” of positive self-worth, and service through participating in something larger than themselves.
A true-life example of this happened in my backyard in Utah. One winter we received so much snowfall that the deer population was forced down from the mountains into our neighborhoods in search for food. Because the deer were stranded in cul-de-sacs and in parks, the wild life management organizations brought in truckloads of hay to feed the deer. However, within a week there were over 100 dead deer lying in the fields, yards, parks and streets around my home. Why? When the veterinarians performed the autopsies they found that each of the dead deer had a stomach full of hay. Yes, they had been fed, but they had not been nourished!
Bottom line. Successful people feed themselves and get what they want. However, individuals who are striving to live lives of significance do everything in their power to make sure that they want what they get, and are fed what they need so they don’t die with their music still in them. They know that if the things they believe in and think deeply about are different than the things they do, they will never be truly happy. Successful people kill themselves all the time. However, I know of no individuals who are living lives of significance full of enduring happiness, whose “why” for living and purpose for persevering has hit a low enough point where they don’t believe their lives matter any more, and choose death over life. Do you?
Have you ever felt alone in a crowded room, or lonely in a loved ones arms? I have. Have you ever had a friend encourage you to “go find yourself?” I have. And where do most people go find themselves? Yep. Boulder Colorado! If we could all meet up somewhere and board a bus and drive into Boulder together, we would actually see people walking around in the bushes with backpacks on looking for themselves: “Hey, you, come out from behind that tree, where have you been my whole life, it’s finally nice to meet me;” acting like they can play hiding-go-seek with themselves: “I finally see you, come out and play!”
No, no, no! Self is not discovered, self is created. Which means that you don’t see things as they are, you see things as you are. When two people in Los Angeles are looking out the same window at the same rainstorm and one says it’s a horrible day, and the other argues that it’s a wonderful day (because the rain has dissipated the smog so he can see what he is over paying for in LA), the weather did not change! You must first get yourself right, before the world can ever be right. And yes, you are worth all of the time and every resource necessary that it takes to get yourself right!
You are somebody completely unique from every other soul in the universe. You are more than a mortal being, living on a small planet, for a short season. You are an eternal spiritual being having a physical experience having come to earth to gain a body and to walk by faith, in the wisdom that nothing happens to you, only for you, to give you experience and develop your character, that will rise with you and give you advantage in the world to come. For this reason, you should be you – the very best you, you can be, excepting the fact that you are human and are supposed to make mistakes.
From a religious perspective, God isn’t disappointed in you when you screw up, sin and make a mistake. That’s what this life is supposed to be about: trial and erroring and failing your way to success and significance. If you are not failing a few times it means you are not pushing yourself hard enough. God is only disappointed in us when we don’t learn the lesson and get back up and go again! He always forgives us, so we should always forgive ourselves! And if you are a member of a religion that requires that you confess your transgressions to an ecclesiastical leader in order to get yourself right with God, remember that discipline is to teach, not to punish – you cannot increase a person’s performance by making him feel worse – humiliation immobilizes our behavior – a is right twice a day, never give up on anyone, especially yourself! We can hate the sin and still love the sinner!! My dad always told me I should always be me – because I will make a lousy somebody else. You too. If you spend your whole life trying to be somebody you are not, who is going to be you? And if you give up on yourself, it’s even tough for God to help those who are not willing to help themselves!!
J. Stone wrote: “The most significant beings are those artists whose medium is life itself. The ones who express the inexpressible without brush, hammer, clay or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt. Their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being fully alive.” This is my personal goal – not to live forever, but to create something that will and to leave a legacy of leadership behind so everyone with whom I came in contact was inspired to also be an “artist of being alive,” so everybody leaves him and her saying, “I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again!”
Using the amalgamation of these observations, anecdotes, analogies and quotes as the preamble to the “practical application wisdom-filled experience” that I now share, it is my prayer that you will be able to find and feel the in-between-the-lines messages, knowing that my credibility comes only from my own personal expert eye witness account that taught me two life lessons that I definitely know to be absolutely true:
1. Psychologists teach that the average person talks between 400 to 800 words per minute, and yet we think between 800 and 1200 words per minute. Which means no one ever knows everything we are thinking, or everything we are feeling, or everything we really want to say. Author Henry David Thoreau is correct when he wrote in his book, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I experienced this first hand and relate to everyone else who has.
2. Some of you who are reading this blog have been clinically diagnosed with a chemical imbalance causing bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and real depression. If not, you know a loved one or friend who is struggling with some mental challenges whom I pray you will encourage to read this essay. Regardless if it is you or someone you care about, it’s okay to need prescribed medication, and we will give you non-judgmental friendship and unconditional love and support. God bless each of you with the strength and confidence to overcome the social stigma that seeking help somehow suggests that you are weak or unworthy and uncool. This is the furthest thing from the truth! Personally I honor you and look up to you as an example of THE STRONGEST OF THE STRONG because you are seeking help! We love you and will stay by your side and help you get the help you need. As the REM song says, “Everybody Hurts Sometime!” Untreated mental illness is the number one cause of suicide in America.
Having said this, let me point out that when I was paralyzed playing football, and sixteen doctors told me I would never get better, and my heart was broken and my dreams were shattered, and my career was over leaving me paralyzed both physically and emotionally in “quiet desperation,” I hit rock bottom and didn’t think I could go on any more. Consequently and understandably, I thought I was depressed. And what happens when you think you are depressed? You are depressed. And what happens when you tell an irresponsible physician that you are depressed and he doesn’t test your blood for a true diagnosis? He gives you a prescription for Prozac or another anti-depressant medication, which flattens out your emotions so you no longer authentically feel highs or lows, which literally numbs your desire and ability to scramble and fight, which stifles your inherent human spirit of resiliency to overcome obstacles and survive. This is ludicrous!
I live in Utah, and through research I discovered that our psychiatrists prescribe 400% more Prozac than any other state in America! Are you kidding me? You cannot convince me that we have 400% more depressed people in Utah than in any other state! Obviously some of our doctors are sicker than the patients they are supposed to be helping to heal!! And no this medication does not help heal anything! It is simply a medical procedure that gives the doctor and family members some relief from the intense care required of them as care-givers, and a Band-Aid for the patient with the hope that he/she will somehow endure! Not acceptable! Someone needs to sue these lazy quacks for malpractice and I have a personal case with my mother-in-law who experienced this very thing in a rehab center that I will gladly attach to the class action suit if anyone feels the need to corral this corruption and file!
When someone goes through the loss of a loved one, or experiences a devastating divorce, or the loss of a job, he/she doesn’t suddenly have a chemical imbalance that requires medication. He/she is sad and they have a right to feel sad. When I got hurt playing football and hit rock bottom, yes it was a physical injury, but it affected my entire life. In one moment I was the king of the world as a projected number one draft pick by the Oakland Raiders into the NFL. Yet in the next moment I was struggling to find my identity. You see, I thought I was a football player, when in reality that is not who I am, just merely what I did. And when we identify ourselves in terms of what we do instead of who we are, we become human doings instead of human beings – unacceptable if significance is what we seek. It wasn’t until I separated the person from the performance, and realized failure is an event, not a person, that I started to recover. And it wasn’t until I discovered that there is a huge difference between being depressed and being disappointed – a giant difference between being depressed and being discouraged, that I had the required desire to face my fears, persevere through the pain, reinvent myself and do whatever was necessary to get back up and go again.
Are you digesting what I am saying? My injury didn’t suddenly create a chemical imbalance in my body. I was not suddenly depressed and in need of medication. I was simply confused and needed to have someone remind me that “I couldn’t quit, it’s a league rule;” and that if I “got knocked down seven times, I needed to get up eight.” I needed to be reminded of the power of purpose and the short and long term ramifications of dreaming another good, clean, pure, powerful, positive, mighty and meaningful dream! As I share in the details of my complete recovery story, the reason I stayed paralyzed for fourteen months is because I was asking the wrong questions. I was asking the doctors “how” to get better, when I should have been asking myself “why” I should get better. Once we answer why, figuring out the what and the how-to are simple. Not easy, But definitely simple. If it was easy everybody would recover from everything. We need to learn to do hard things.
You don’t take down the net when you play tennis. You don’t lower the basketball hoop so everybody can easily score. The opposition of the blowing wind is what keeps a kite flying in the sky. The only way an athlete can get stronger in the weight room is to create discomfort by fatiguing and tearing down his muscles through strenuous weight lifting exercises and repeated resistant movements, and then to take a day off to allow the muscles to recover and build more muscle upon muscle. In physical therapy you have to stretch before you strengthen, and all of the strengthening occurs in the area past the point of discomfort. You know you are a champion only when losing hurts worse than winning feels good. The hard in everything is what makes it great!
Because of this reality, my football injury is clearly one of the very best things that has ever happened to me. No, I don’t mean the accident was a good thing – it wasn’t. But who I became as a man and what I learned about priorities, which transformed my life from successful to significant as a result of going through the setback, makes it one of the most important experiences in my life. Adversity introduces us to ourselves. No one will ever know how strong and courageous and extraordinary we really are, or ever reach our full capacity and potential as a human being, until we are tested!
The Promised Experience And Solution To Suicide Prevention
The whole truth of the matter is that while speakers and doctors and therapists are quoting statistics and case studies and conducting seminars to point out the “warning signs” of suicide and encouraging us to be on the look out so we can be our “brother’s keepers,” many of our family members, coworkers and friends who never had a suicidal symptom or showed one of these warning signs, went ahead and killed themselves! Which then takes the conversation to the lame response: “He/she seemed so happy and had good health, money, fame, healthy children, great relationships. How could this have happened? What could I have done? Why didn’t he/she confide in me?”
For starters, when a person feels he has lost control of his life and gets quiet and introspective to the point we worry about him, and then suddenly is back to his old chipper self, and then blindsides us by taking his life, it is a clear indication that when someone finally decides to complete their suicide it gives them a sense of control again that they have been missing, and in a strange way empowers them to go through with it. This is why watching someone giving away personal possessions and/or suddenly wanting to be recluse are not reliable red flags of what is to come. When it gets to these points, it is usually past the point of prevention, and can only be addressed in a rehabilitation mode. How sad and unacceptable if you really want to stop suicide. The following experience explains why, what, when and how to prevent suicide.
Between 1983 and 1989 I was the main guy in the Ronald Reagan White House who took Mrs. Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program to the high schools and junior high schools throughout America. In those seven years I spoke to over six million teenagers in thousands of schools in all 50 states. During those same years we also had a suicide epidemic that was sweeping across America that effected every socioeconomic demographic in the country, from super affluent areas in Texas, California, New Jersey and Connecticut to small mid-western towns in Iowa and South Dakota. Thirty days prior to me coming to one school to do an assembly and community program at night, they had one hundred suicide attempts. One girl died (the head cheerleader) and the rest survived. Most of them were on the honor roll. Six were elected student body officers, three were cheerleaders, three were football stars, and three were musicians – with each of them getting a lot of attention and praise for their exceptional performances. The alarming truth is that each of them told us they appreciated winning their respective popularity contests and loved the recognition, but they still had a hole in their hearts. Something was still missing and they were crying out for help. They all said that they lacked “commitment” relationships in their lives. Do you?
According to the dictionary, a commitment is a two-way relationship where both parties do what they say they are going to do for the betterment of each another. In the most meaningful relationships, love is a commitment, not a way of feeling. Romance is not love. Romance comes from a Greek word that means erotic (so I don’t even want to talk about it). Think about it. If I love you because you are beautiful, that’s romance. But if you are beautiful because I love you, that’s real love – a value creating love that inspires us to be the very best we can be.
For this reason, the single most important commitment oriented words in the world are not I love you. They are “I need you.” Proof?
I was asked by a good friend to write a song for his wedding. I said yes. He told me that he loved me and asked me to sing it. I said no. With more passion he responded by telling me that he really needed me to participate in his special day and needed me to sing my special song to him and his bride. I couldn’t say no. I wrote the song. Two days later he called to explain that the band had cancelled and would I fill in for them with forty or fifty songs that I could practice and perform. Had he said, “I love you” I would have told him no, and given him the number of a band. But he said, “I need you!” What a jerk. I couldn’t say no, and I don’t think you could have turned him down either.
His wedding reception rolled around on the calendar and he gathered al of the guests to listen to me sing my first love song to him and his bride. But as the crowd dispersed to have their refreshments and socialize, suddenly the band showed up. There was a miscommunication. Now I didn’t want to sit and sing anyway. I wanted to eat and hang out like everybody else. So I helped the band set up their equipment. When I arrived, I had arrived with the attitude in mind that I was needed, and was planning to stay for four hours and play all of my songs. But when the band showed up, realistically I was no longer needed, they could do without me, so why hang around, and I didn’t. I left the reception. We can fool others, but we can’t fool ourselves.
For this reason, the most provocative question in this essay is not do you lack commitment relationships in your life? It is, “Are you truly needed?”
This is the message I learned all those years ago from high school students who had attempted suicide and survived. At the end of our long day of putting on a motivational assembly and conducting a teachers in-service training in that one mid western school, we invited in the healthcare professionals, school administrators, and school counselors and interviewed each of the students who had attempted suicide to find out what they were thinking and feeling and why they thought taking their lives was a solution to their pain. Every one of the surviving ninety-nine students told us that they knew they were liked, they knew they were loved, but they didn’t believe they were needed. And when we don’t feel we are genuinely needed, why hang around.
Do you think Robin Williams knew he was liked? Obviously yes. Do you think he knew he was loved? Absolutely. I wonder what would have happened if he had firmly believed that he was genuinely needed?
So again I ask, are you needed? If not, why not? And if when, why not now? And if now, the how-to is the easiest, most powerful, and most effective suicide prevention solution in the world. Because of the way our society is set up, we can’t afford to wait for someone else to tell us or show us that we are needed. It might never happen. Therefore, we must do something on a daily basis to prove to ourselves that we are needed. This means that the kicker word in commitment relationships is to “participate” and get involved. If you don’t feel like you are genuinely needed by your spouse or significant other, participate more and get involved with what matters most to them. (What matters most is what lasts the longest). If you don’t feel you are needed in your children’s lives, participate more and get involved in their schools and hobbies and recreate together in wholesome activities as a family. If you don’t feel needed at work or needed in your community, participate more, get involved in planning training sessions and conferences, volunteer in charity work, get involved in a political campaign, join your local Kiwanis/Rotary, commit to mentoring some young people, volunteer as a coach.
Guaranteed, when you commit to participating more and getting more involved, you become an expert in time management, realizing that when you are doing something positive you never have time to do something negative, which means your positive thoughts and actions automatically say no to the temptations of the world for you.
Tragically, we had 98 suicides in the U.S. Air Force in 2013; triple that in the Army and Marine Corps. But for the record, our brave and amazing men and women serving in the military who have tragically taken their own lives, have completed their suicides for the same reasons people outside of the military kill themselves. Suicide is not more prevalent in the military than it is in the civilian world. Resiliency in recovering as a wounded warrior and healing and dealing with PTSD are specific to the military and require specialized therapy and rehab and deserve our unconditional love and financial and emotional support. But the other major causes of sadness and feeling disappointed and getting discouraged including infidelity and working through an ugly divorce with a messy child custody battle, and bouncing back from hard financial times, plague everyone of us in and out of uniform. The good news is that the way we deal with these tough times is to always approach them in humility by seeking professional help, being unafraid to ask for and expect sustained support from loved ones and friends, and by getting fully engaged in something larger than ourselves that makes our lives matter and worth living.
And because it is always so obvious, I must also remind us that alcohol, prescription medications and illegal drugs are nothing more than numbing substances, which are usually present in the body or in the room when someone decides to complete his/her suicide. Among the many suicides that I have researched and the accompanying suicide notes that I’ve read, I cannot site more than a handful of suicides that did not involve the use of alcohol, illegal drugs, and/or addictive prescription drugs such as the brutal Oxycontin, which is at the route cause of the deaths of two of my close friends.
For this reason, if you or anyone you care about is suddenly caught up in and adversely effected by one or more of the SEVEN EMOTIONALLY DISTORTING ATTITUDES AND CONDITIONS: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Sad, Disappointed or Discouraged, which can naturally spawn a suicidal thought or two, immediately recognize the cause of this condition and do something to circumvent it from continuing in yourself and in others.
Eat something nutritious to give yourself real energy so you don’t have to deal with the sugar blues when the sweet sugar high of a candy bar goes away. Let go of your anger and learn to forgive with the realization that when you get mad and hold a grudge, it’s the same as you drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Call up a family member, friend, coworker or neighbor and talk through your loneliness. Take a nap to recharge your batteries – fatigue makes cowards of us all. When something makes you sad, let yourself be sad. It’s okay to cry. Big boys really do cry. If you have a success and a win and experience the thrill of victory in your life and you don’t want to cheer and phone everybody you know to tell them about it, then you didn’t work hard enough to achieve it. It means very little to you. And if you stumble and fall or fail in a relationship, and/or experience the agony of defeat in school or sports or music or in business and you don’t cry and feel low, down and out and emotionally drained drip dry, and you are ashamed for anyone to find out, then you didn’t work hard enough to achieve what you just failed at. It really didn’t mean as much to you as you thought.
Again, it really is okay to feel. You shouldn’t try to control your feelings – this causes insanity and blocks your opportunity to be vulnerable, and your ability to be emotionally available, which is a requirement to develop meaningful loving relationships. You should only control your actions. If you are mad don’t hurt someone else. If you are sad don’t hurt yourself.
After you engage in these real and immediate fixes, it is critical to now focus on the longer term strategy of getting fully engaged in doing something – any one exhilarating thing of your own free will and choice, and begin again to push yourself everyday to be a little better physically, mentally, spiritually, financially, socially and within your family, that you may create real, authentic and significant happiness along your way. As simple as it sounds, attitude really is everything – when your attitude is right, your abilities will always catch up!
Remember: Happily-ever-after is a day-at-a-time proposition. What you’ve been in the past does not make you who you are today. What you plan to become in the future makes you who you are today! Know there is a God and be still enough to feel His influence, with the firm conviction that this life is the time for us to prepare to meet Him. Hang in there. Never say never. Hold on! You can’t always control what happens – but you can always control what happens next! Do something today with your commitment to service before self to prove to yourself that you are genuinely needed. You can get anything in this life that you want if you are willing to help enough other people get what they want. Keep smiling. Re-read the ten quotes in this essay and share this simple suicide solution with your family and friends. And if you feel so inclined, keep in touch with me and like me on Facebook at danclarkspeak. God bless you.