The following was posted by me on July 28 after reading a former shipmate’s suicide note on Facebook. I am happy to say he was found safe and is back with his family, but this piece might shed some light on why and how people get into a suicidal mindset:
A former shipmate of mine attempted suicide today. He posted his suicide note here on Facebook. After a harrowing day for those of us who know him and a horrible nightmare of a day for his family, he was found and is, currently, safe in medical care.
His note listed thousands of “failures,” all of which were either non-existent, or else simply the results of the bad choices every human makes during their lives. Some “failures” were not even failures, but psychological and emotional injuries inflicted on him by others and by his service as a firefighter/EMT.
He said he understood now why people like Gregg Snaza take their own lives. One might argue his public note was cry for help; that he didn’t really want to die. I agree, but the issue is not whether he WANTED to die; the issue is that he, like Gregg Snaza, Paul Tusai, and Shawn Hussong believed they that they DESERVED to die.
I know. Unlike my former shipmate, I left no note in August 1998. Everything I wrote I mailed, ensuring it would not reach anyone until I was dead. I had no wish to die, but, you see, I had no right to exist on this planet anymore (as I could see it). I was in Spain at my first duty station after joining the Navy, and I had just been caught out as being gay…by misusing government computers.
The computer issue was bad enough; but what convinced me what I wanted (to live) was unattainable was that being gay *AND* having trouble adjusting to Navy life (being unable to cope with everything alone) removed my right to life. What I wanted was irrelevant; what I “deserved” was all I could see.
My shipmate was rescued. I was not rescued. I was found. The next morning when I didn’t report to work they found me in my barracks room. I’m not sure why I woke up alive; but I did. Blood toxicology said I still had a lethal dose of sleeping pills in my system when they got me to the ER. By rights I should have died. But waking up alive and NOT being thrown out of the Navy for being a “queer” (remember, this was the days of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”) and my command supporting me (even to putting me through a proper disciplinary process for the computer violations — just like any “normal” Sailor) taught me that I a RIGHT to exist AND to be human.
Knowing I have that basic human right — existence — kept me alive during my divorce. THIS time around I BELIEVED I could reach out and get help and talk to people. Knowing that I had this basic human right helped me as, during the divorce, I came out publicly as a gay man and dealt with the life-altering ramifications of THAT.
And THAT is the key to understanding why people take their lives, or try to. Living with any kind of unending emotional pain slowly, inexorably warps your perception of reality. Imagine what heat does to glass windows; it warps them and distorts the image. The unending pain and guilt and shame slowly, steadily, do that to your “windows” to the world — the perceptions you have of reality. The blowtorch of suffering continually heats the glass until you truly believe you have no right to exist, that you are a failure for things you have NOT done, that you let people down simply by feeling pain.
My shipmate might have been making a last ditch cry for help, and he was rescued. He and his family have a VERY long road ahead, but no one should castigate him for being selfish. Rather the reverse was happening: in the distorted world in which he was trapped (as Gregg Snaza, Paul Tusai, Shawn Hussong, and I were), the RESPONSIBLE thing to do was remove himself and thus NOT be a burden on his family. He was not being selfish; he was trying to be a man and take care of his problems himself.
When the glass you see life through is so warped by unending pain, up becomes down, black becomes white, and you are unable to believe anyone REALLY wants you around.
I left no note. I truly believed simply being Nathanael Timothy Wayne Miller was a sin. I could not believe anything else at that point in 1998. So I did the only thing I could that was, in my world, responsible: I would remove the problem from everyone else…and end my own pain the process.
As I woke up alive and went forward over the next 18 years, I discovered that I’m not even allowed to be a “survivor.” Rape survivors are “survivors.” Abuse survivors are “survivors.” Cancer survivors are “survivors.” But in the world of suicide the term “suicide survivor” is normally used to refer to people who LOST someone to suicide (in that case, I *am* a survivor three times over). But those of us who attempted to end our lives and were saved (like my shipmate) or got lucky through Divine Intervention (like me) are NOT survivors. We get no special word that connotes a need for support, understanding, and help. That alone was a significant factor that kept me from talking about it for a lot of years.
So we call ourselves those who “woke up alive.”
My former shipmate was saved. I do not know if he actually inflicted harm upon himself as I did. Even if he didn’t, he has “woken up alive.” But it will be a long time (if ever) before he or his family can talk about this and he can answer questions.
Hell, it took me nearly 17 years before I started to talk about it myself.
I hope this has helped you understand WHY people attempt suicide. It is not weakness, though we believed ourselves weak. It is not selfishness, though we believed ourselves selfish for wishing someone would help us and even “rescue” us. It is not cowardice though we believed ourselves cowards…but, come one, how cowardly were we? We faced mortality itself and chose to leap into the greatest unknown there is. What we all lost, each of us, was hope. Without hope you lose the ability to believe in your very right to exist.
My shipmate cannot speak or answer questions right now. I cannot speak for him or his circumstance. But I can speak for the general circumstance of those contemplating, attempting, or who have attempted suicide. He can’t answer; but I can. Talk to me. Ask questions to me if you wish.
Any please, God, if ANYONE out there is reading this and is lost in that downward spiral of hopelessness — call someone. Please call someone. I KNOW WHAT YOU FEEL and I KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE, but I also KNOW what reality actually is. Don’t risk NOT waking up alive.
Anyone and everyone is welcome to share this post around and contact me if they wish to. I and those who woke up alive like me might not be “allowed” the word “survivor,” but, God dammit, we ARE literal survivors. And we need to reach out as best we can to ensure there are no more “survivors,” but rather there are only struggling friends, family, and shipmates who get help and avoid this dark experience.
You have a right to live. No matter what.