The other day I landed on the East Coast and was heading to the hotel when I checked my messages. I had a text from Angelia, The Pilot Wife Life bloggess who’s been pursuing her passion to create a community of pilot spouses to give them a positive support network where they don’t feel like they’re alone. In fact, she just launched her new TPWF app that she designed herself! Such a great idea to keep the community connected without relying on the algorithms of social media.
Her text was short and simple. “Checking in on you my friend.”
Of course, my response was long winded. A trait I’m still working on.
Her reply took the breath out of me. A fellow pilot in our aviation community took his own life.
That evening I felt oddly detached. Angelia knew how hard I’ve struggled over the years. She’s also aware that recently life has been harder as I’m no longer hoping to salvage my marriage nor am I pursing my wife. I’ve accepted my divorce and I’m going through the tough process of grieving the loss of our marriage, the changing of our friendship.
I assured her I was ok and thanked her for her concern.
The next day I was working out listening to Super Soul Sunday with Cheryl Strayed who was discussing her book Wild and her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I remembered the movie starring Reese Witherspoon. This book has been on my read list for quite some time.
Cheryl took up the challenge to help her heal from the self destructive path she was headed. Her 94-day, 1,100 mile backpacking trip was a transformational, self-healing adventure.
When I watched the movie, there was a part I had gotten wrong. For some reason, I thought Cheryl’s husband had cheated on her. I saw her as the spouse of betrayal. This was probably because of where I was in my recovery, my own societal biases that it’s the man who is unfaithful, while holding tightly to the shame and guilt of what I had done to my wife.
I didn’t realize that Cheryl was the one that had gone astray; that she had slept around with others trying to find some sense of connection battling the grief of losing her mother. I didn’t remember that she had turned to heroine and sex to medicate her pain. Where I had thought she went on this trek to escape the trauma and pain of someone she loves hurting her, this was what she needed to heal her personal loneliness and despair.
Oprah asked Cheryl, “What did heroin feel like to you?”
“I hesitate to say. It felt pleasurable. What it did was make everything OK. It made all of the facts of my life OK. It made it OK that my mom was dead. Nothing has ever made it OK. It’s still not OK. My Mom’s been dead 21 years. It’s still not OK…Heroin negated that sorrow…it was actually like a cure. It was a cure for pain…The other piece of it is, and I can only say this in retrospect, I was just looking for attention.”
Oprah reads a quote from Cheryl’s book.
“But walking along a path I carved myself what I hoped was the PCT was the opposite of using heroin. The trigger I pulled stepping into the snow, made me more alive to my senses than ever. Uncertain as I was, as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something. That perhaps being amidst the un-desecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I too could be un-desecrated. Regardless of what I lost or what had been taken from me. Regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself. Or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this. The wilderness had a clarity that included me.”
As I listened, I was transported back in time to my addiction.
I flashback to my own need for attention. That my self-worth was tied to what people thought of me. That any distance I felt in my marriage meant I was unworthy. I believed that when my wife found out who the monster was that she married, she would soon leave.
I remember how lost I felt. How small, insignificant and alone I was.
I remember how angry I was at God for taking my parents and my grandfather, then in recovery, my grandmother was taken from me. I had lost my primary caregivers and at the same time I was watching my marriage crumble at my fingertips.
I remember how much fear I had when I first went to treatment for my sex addiction. How I felt like I was in a fog and would never see the light of day. I remember my panic attack when I was taking a weekend grief course and our assignment was that we had 60 minutes to live and I needed to write a final letter to my loved ones. I did not want to lose my wife. I did not want to lose my girls. I was going to do whatever it took to get better and be the man I was supposed to be!
I saw myself when my wife first asked for separation and how it felt like a ton of bricks had fallen on top of my head. All my fears that I had in our marriage had now become reality. I remember only getting 2 hours of sleep a night, being so exhausted I would fall asleep instantly when my head hit the pillow, then jolt wide awake in 10 minutes. I wasn’t eating and all I could do was focus inward on my own pain.
I flashed on the anger stage my wife had, when she would take off with her male friend every evening when the girls fell asleep leaving me alone to ward off my demons of insecurity and jealousy. I felt the despair and pain that was associated with her staying out till one or two in the morning, when she had made sure she was in bed by 10pm while we were together. And I could see and feel the hatred that came out of her glaring eyes whenever we communicated.
What a toxic environment I lived in for almost a year. That pain was sometimes unbearable, but somehow, someway, I knew I had to endure it.
For it was me who caused it all in the first place.
In my addiction, I had medicated my pain so I wouldn’t have to feel.
And in recovery, I had to learn how to manage it.
Then I flashed on the fellow pilot who had recently taken his own life. I remember flying with two pilots I had known at my previous airline that also had taken their lives; I know one was due to divorce, but I’m not sure about the other. I see my older daughter struggling with depression thinking I know how to help her but stumbling along the way, fear clutching me every day that I might do or say the wrong thing that could become a tipping point for her.
~ Rascal Flatts (2009)
“Oh why, that’s what I keep askin’
Was there anything I could have said or done
Oh I, had no clue you were masking a troubled soul, God only knows
What went wrong, and why you’d leave the stage in the middle of a song”
I flash on how easy it is to get to such a low point, that to surrender and give up, feels like the easiest way out of the pain.
My discomfort is nowhere near what it used to be. It still lingers, haunting me in the background. And yet, it’s manageable. I have learned to ride the rolling surf of emotions.
Suicide and Loss
The tears started flowing down my face as I benched dumbbells, alone, in a hotel gym. I think of my fellow aviator and those who have taken their own lives. The wake of destruction that they left others to pick up.
And then I think, how close did I come to following suit?
What would have happened had I not had the support network of recovery peers, my therapist, my close friends, my blog, and my tools from program to help me?
Even though she was hurting and going through her own pain, what if my wife had not tried to keep our relationship amicable? What if instead of her not only working around my crazy airline schedule so I could be an influence in both our daughter’s lives, she had cut me off from them instead? What if she didn’t want me to be an active parent in their lives and did not have the faith and belief that I was at least still worthy as a father?
Would I have run away like my dad did? Would I have taken my own life?
I say my daughters have kept me alive because I cannot and will not do to them what my biological father did to me. I will not abandon them. But it was much more than that. My wife, my friends, and my recovery kept me alive.
The tears started flowing harder now.
I was blessed because of what was given to me. I have been given so much!
And yet, there are others that don’t have anything to lean on when the going gets tough.
I flashed on one of my close friends who held me up over four years ago and has still been there for me to this day. I remember that he, too, was contemplating suicide. I never chastised him for his decision. I listened to his pain and supported him the best I knew how. Even though I told him I didn’t agree and that we don’t know what life will bring, due to a medical condition, he was slowly making arrangements for what he was going to do with his assets. He got so close to the edge.
I let him know I was there for him whenever he needed me and I just kept praying.
My friend today, is happily married. He went in for surgery and, as far as I know, his medical condition is no longer a problem. He’s still flying and literally is enjoying life. I remember when he had just about given up, but he preserved and pushed through.
He told me recently, that I saved his life.
He didn’t give up because I was open with him. He watched how hard I fought for my marriage, how I never gave up, how I was so far in the dumps, and yet, he watched me grow and change through my ordeal. He followed my blog and explained how much he appreciated my openness with my struggles in my writing.
My fight gave him courage to fight his own demons.
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on)
(Hold on) if you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life
Well, hang on
‘Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Don’t throw your hand
Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you’re not alone”
I hear Andy Stanley stating in one of his sermons that the reason we go through pain in life is so that we can be there for others when they are struggling.
This is the meaning of the 12 steps; to give courage, strength, and hope for those who are stuck.
There are days when I’m so down about the dissolution of my marriage. Days when I miss my wife and I miss our conversations. I miss her smile and how her eyes light up when she’s happy. I sometimes feel guilty that I have pulled away as much as I have. However, I know it’s what we both need. She does not desire me; nor does she need me pining after her.
I still have trouble separating friendship from something that means more. Spending time with her gets me back into hope. So, I desperately struggle to keep those boundaries in place.
The feeling of loss I’ve had the past few months is a continuous, dull, ache in my heart.
And then I change my story….
My divorce saved a life!
Sharing my candor about the ups and downs of my relationship and my battles with parenting allowed someone else to not to give up on his interpersonal conflicts.
If I had to do it all over again, I would. I would endure these past four years. As I have said, there’s something beautiful on the other side and my friend’s marriage and life is the beautiful gift the Universe has given us.
Have my stories helped my Fledglings too?
I pray you can find hope in my words.
And if you do find that hope, I need to change how I look at my divorce.
Is my divorce a painful reminder of how I screwed up in life or can my divorce be a catalyst to help others through their pain?
The goal I had when I first started my blog was to help others. It’s where I came up with the domain name.
Together We Can Heal.
We cannot do it alone.
I not only saved a life, but I saved someone who was close to me. In addition, this person saved mine. We freed each other. We pulled each other out of the fire.
God has a plan. I truly believe He has a path for us. Belief that I have been forgiven for my sins and that God can take away my character defects, that I can change and grow, is what has sustained me and kept me going.
I have a story that has yet to be written.
I can sit here in my pain, ruminate about the past, and stay miserable, or, I can take what I’ve learned and pass it on.
That just took me back to my first blog entry January 9, 2017: Rafiki Didn’t Crack Me Over the Head.
“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”
– Rafiki, The Lion King
“You’re Only Human”
~ Billy Joel
You probably don’t want to hear advice from someone else
But I wouldn’t be telling you if I hadn’t been there myself
Sometimes that’s all it takes
We’re only human
We’re supposed to make mistakes
But I survived all those long lonely days
When it seemed I did not have a friend
‘Cause all I needed was a little faith
So I could catch my breath and face the world again
Suicide is the 10th highest cause of death in the United States and the 2nd highest cause of death for ages 10-34 . People feeling suicidal see death as the only way out of their pain, missing the fact that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary state of mind.
~ Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Why is it that when we’re becoming more aware about mental health, we’ve also seen the rates of suicide increase?
What can we do to those who are hurting?
Stopping Suicide With Story
I had the honor of listening to Dr. Sally Spencer Thomas at the International Pilot Peer Assist Conference. Such a compelling story to hear her explain how her brother took his life and how she has spent the rest of hers researching suicide, while also raising awareness and building resilience around it.
I highly recommend watching her TED Talk.
“Stopping Suicide With Story”
~ Dr. Sally Spencer Thomas
“You are the light in the darkness…Here’s my call to action to you: Be the beacon for people who are struggling and bring other people into this movement. We need everybody here. Illuminate the way for those whose ideas of mental health and suicide prevention are in the dark ages. And if you are struggling, dig into yourself and radiate that resilience. And if you cannot find that resilience in yourself, let your light be held by someone else until you can reclaim it. So be the light or hold the light because light is life.”
~ Dr. Sally Spencer Thomas
Interesting thought about perception. Even though I felt as if I was in stuck in a nebulous, pitch-black cyclone, I was my friend’s light in his darkness.
You never know when you will be someone else’s light.
Our first step is to stop the stigmatism around depression. We need to accept that life is hard and not judge those who struggle.
We need to learn to remain open about the pain in our lives. Our life is not the pretty pictures everyone posts on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. For many people, that’s the façade of the life they want others to see. It’s our masks.
We need to pull off our masks and let others see our scars.
Our scars are our beauty marks, our confirmation of life. That we’ve died and become reborn. That we can persevere.
We need to step away from the ledge.
~ Third Eye Blind
“Wish you would step back
From that ledge my friend
You could cut ties with all the lies
That you’ve been living in
And if you do not want to see me again
I would understand
I would understand”
As Dr. Sally says, one suicide will touch and affect others; the friends, family, and co-workers who knew the person. Suicide has a ripple effect in our communities.
My prayers go out to my aviation brother, to his family and his friends.
I pray that we can rally together to help teach each other how to parent our inner child.
We need to learn how to parent and nurture ourselves with love, acceptance, and understanding.
We need to learn to love ourselves. We need to love ourselves, so we can rise from the ashes.
We CAN be reborn from our pain.
The fire burns. Let me tell you, it’s scalding!
No matter how much it burns, never give up.
Keep remembering, there’s something beautiful on the other side. Through pain there’s growth.
Think of a dragonfly.
Think of a butterfly.
Think of a Phoenix.
We CAN transform. We CAN heal. We CAN be reborn.
Let’s Rise from the Ashes.
Let’s Soar with the Eagles.
Together We Can Heal
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States
1-800-273-8255 Press 1
The Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line connect veterans and service members in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text.
This free text-message service provides 24/7 support to those in crisis. Text 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor right away.
United Suicide Survivors International is an independent international organization that serves as a home for people who have experienced suicide loss, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts and feelings, and their friends and families — collectively known as people w/ lived experience with suicide – to leverage their expertise for large scale change.
United Survivors hosts free monthly webinars. Join US for upcoming webinars or watch ones that were already offered.
The Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide were developed by leading experts in suicide prevention and in collaboration with several international suicide prevention and public health organizations, schools of journalism, media organizations and key journalists as well as Internet safety experts. The recommendations are based on more than 50 international studies on suicide contagion.
The Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) is the nation’s public-private partnership for suicide prevention. The Action Alliance works with more than 250 national partners to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. Current priority areas include: transforming health systems, transforming communities, and changing the conversation.
The Framework for Successful Messaging is a resource to help people messaging about suicide to develop messages that are strategic, safe, positive, and make use of relevant guidelines and best practices.
It was created by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention(link is external) as part of its focus on changing the public conversation about suicide(link is external)