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Awakening

I still have the bullet - the one that didn’t kill me - it reminds me of where I was.

I wasn’t looking for an awakening. I wanted to disrupt the second suicide attempt. The awakening was an unintended consequence.

I had a dream job, literally. On the day I failed high school, looking up at the results board, the ballooning weight of a planet sinking to the bottom of my stomach, the anticipation of the wrath of my mother, I created a story that I would hold onto for three decades. The story that would help me, one day, prove them all wrong. The dream job that would impress them all. The job that would validate me, that would make me worthy of their love and admiration.

On the outside, I had everything. If I could have met my teenage self, he would have hugged me tightly, and thanked me for helping us make it. The money, the cars, the vacations, the women, the absolute freedom, and outright validation. But I was a mess on the inside, miserable and lonely. I knew I had to change, and I thought quitting drugs and alcohol was the answer. I was a high functioning addict, an asshole, and wholly unprepared for change. I thought quitting everything cold-turkey would work, would make things better, but it didn’t, and things got much worse.

There was a problem at work. I had challenged someone on some technical point. He felt the need to defend himself, and carried out a smear campaign to discredit me. A reasonable response for some. I needed to talk with him, calm the attack, negotiate, but he rejected my calls. It was the Friday before Memorial Day, close of business, and I would have to suffer in silence over a long weekend until I had a chance to restart my efforts the following Tuesday.

My mind got the better of me, spinning a story that I wasn’t good enough, an imposter, with a definitive conclusion that suicide was the solution. 

The day started at 8 am, and as planned, I went to the garage, laid on my back, and put the gun in my mouth so that the bullet would end up in the floor and not my next door neighbor‘s kitchen. 

Just as I was about to pull the trigger a voice in my head said, “Hang on, this doesn’t make sense, does it? Does this make sense?” I stopped. I went upstairs, and within 45 minutes, I had convinced myself that the solution was to go to the garage as planned. This happened nine times. Each time I inched closer to pulling the trigger beyond the point of no return. 

At about 4 pm, the cycle was disrupted with the thought that it was Tuesday, that everyone was at work, and that they would have had time to find out that I was an imposter by now.

I turned the laptop on. There was a torrent of emails and instant messages, and I lunged like a warrior into battle, furiously responding with razor sharp attention. After a few hours, the brunt of the actions had been taken care of. There was a sudden silence. It was dark and the only light was coming from the laptop. I was sitting at my dining table in my underwear and otherwise naked, covered in dirt from the garage floor, sweating, unshaven, exhausted, and starving hungry. My jaw was aching from the size and weight of the gun barrel in my mouth. 

The doctors advised me that a second attempt was likely, and that it was imperative I remain on medication permanently. I had used chemicals to manage my mind for decades, and had faced my demon. I knew that the problem was in my mind. I knew the key was in the repetition. In the words. In the story. There was a cycle. There were nine of them. I developed a procedure to replace the medication, and disrupt the second suicide attempt. And then, I waited.

We were both right, the doctors and I; there was a second attempt, and the procedure worked.

The mind has a voice that uses words. These words form stories that the mind repeats and adds to, slowly building and encouraging the next decision. These stories contain patterns of memories and beliefs, with certain triggers that cause certain behaviors, repeatedly. Inside these stories is meaning. If the mind were a gold mine, then meaning would be the gold. We can extract this gold by writing our thoughts and analyzing them, just as a therapist would, using talking, or cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Writing these thoughts out, stream of consciousness, and stepping back, from the fragments, and from the typos and bad grammar, was in-part, a crucial step in disrupting the second suicide attempt.

But what emerged, unexpected, was an awakening. As the curtain was pulled back, I could ”see” my mind working against me. I saw the fallacy of the illusion that I needed validation, and with it came the dissolution of my fear, and the evaporation of my anxiety.

If you want to do something for yourself, then discover the story in your mind. Look at it in the cold light of day, and ask yourself: how much of “this” is worth holding on to?

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