"My first association with suicide was when one of my high school classmates ended his life the day before our graduation. He was facing some serious legal trouble and the police were going to arrest him.
I didn’t know him very well, but we went to school together for 12 years, had many of the same friends, and his death cast a dark shadow on an otherwise joyous time for most of us.
We were young adults with many years ahead, and it made me wonder: 'Why?'
My life was also not easy when I was growing up due to personal experiences that I had no real control over.
The next time suicide affected me occurred within a year of the first death. One of my coworkers died playing Russian roulette--a common thing that he did for well over the year that we worked together.
We shared a lot because we mostly worked as a team at night by ourselves. I kept telling him that life was precious and that we had it good. His death was hard because I tried to be uplifting and show him that someone cared; I never realized at the time the feeling of such despair could cause one to want the pain to just go away.
I, too, would have times where I felt lower than others, and I didn’t realize that my mental illness had become seemingly normal, as it was recurring in regular intervals. I then experienced a time in my life where there was significant loss, but not any suicides for the next six years.
I joined the United States Marine Corps (1984 - 1989) and served in the infantry and life seemed pretty good, but I was still dealing with my recurring mental health issue and heavy alcohol use.
I was my Company's Training NCO at the time, and my First Sergeant--who had great trust in me--asked me to be a Platoon Sergeant of those who were being kicked out, in trouble, or simply needed extra guidance.
That is when I was tasked with helping a Lance Corporal who got married against our advice, and his wife later left him while he was on a training exercise. We deployed again in August of 1987, and he started acting out.
I referred the Lance Corporal to get a mental fitness evaluation after witnessing his attempt at chopping down a large tree using only his e-tool. I was able to go back with him to our duty station and he was cleared by the shrink, but we knew he was struggling. We got a 96-hour pass to leave, and he went shooting with two other Marines and then returned back to his house off-base.
The three men started to clean their handguns and drink.
I was spending time with my baby daughter when I got a call from my First Sergeant that my friend, the Lance Corporal, had killed himself... and I was needed to go handle things.
I immediately felt like I failed him and as a leader. I took charge with dealing with the police, ensuring that my fellow Marines were OK, and waited for NIS to arrive. I took the other two Marines back on base and met with my leaders to file a report.
I will never forget the blood and brains sprayed on the wall, and his personal .45 Magnum pistol laying nearby.
Drinking more alcohol was my way to deal with all my new, painful feelings. I had to escort his body back to his mother and return quickly to deal with the base General’s investigation. It was there that I lost my cool when the shrink denied that he missed any suicidal symptoms or warning signs.
It was the first time that our Battalion did not hold a funeral for a Marine who had passed away.
While I was there, we lost others in training by illness and car wreck. I soon realized that suicide was taboo, so I just poured myself into work, drinking heavily, and exercise.
Soon after his death, I got a call from the furniture rental place asking for their goods back, money owed, or family contact information for the deceased Lance Corporal. I went off on the caller and told him to never contact the Lance Corporal's family or seek funds. A couple of days later, the number called and demanded the items once more. I asked them if they really wanted the rented couch since he died on it.
The company answered 'yes.'
I borrowed a truck, loaded the couch on it, and delivered it still covered in his blood and brains while customers were there. I then cleaned his apartment and drank myself to sleep.
I never dealt with it properly.
Alcohol became more than normal to deal with my feelings and the loss. I learned a lot about leadership and it has made me the leader that I am today in many ways, but that was not the end of this journey.
After my divorce, I was not able to deal with my mental health and substance abuse correctly. These painful events forced my life to personally miserable but professionally, I was doing very well. I moved to New York City with a lover, but our personal life was spiraling out of control and I was left alone, again, after I cheated. Later on, I found this person's diary and read where they had been cheating on me since we had become a couple.
I was so low that I sat in the window which was over 100 feet above the sidewalk below. I kept thinking about how life wasn’t worth it, as I edged farther out on the ledge and then slightly back in so I could continue to drink, snort, and ride my emotional roller coaster. Finally having enough, I moved back out and was readying to end my pain, but then I took out my wallet and looked at a picture of my daughter.
I fell back into the room, crying.
But my risky behavior continued until I moved back to Dayton. I kept up the risk-taking, living a dual-track life (personally a wreck and professionally sound), until my private unhappiness forced me to acknowledge my issues.
My past came back to visit.
Now, I was upset about both my life and my job, so I went out and got very drunk and attempted to drive off the road toward two utility poles that were close to each other.
The pain was way too much. I got my second DUI that day.
Feeling as though I was failing in every phase of life, I had never learned to deal with my issues--my past just kept haunting me.
On a Sunday in January of 2002, I received word that my former lover who had lived with me in New York City had died by suicide. This terrible news sent me into a dark place, as I wondered if I could have loved anyone since I never really loved myself.
Not caring anymore, I went on a long drinking spree combined with more risk-taking. I moved from Dayton to try and find peace. I found it for a while until my life, again, spun out of control.
October of 2006 signaled my physical decline.
Learning that my body was ill, I worked up until May 2007, and then began my journey of recovery.
I went to a VA clinic in November 2007 to get relief for my painful joints and they screened me for mental illness and substance abuse to discover the correct medicine I needed to address my demons.
My personal recovery journey began as I slowly became a leader on the Dayton VA Veterans Mental Health Council and learned to advocate for my fellow veterans.
I was heavily involved with volunteer peer support and facilitation. When my daughter visited me later on, we talked, and she shared that she attempted suicide in 2001 as a teenager when I moved back to Ohio.
It was the worst day of my life because I knew that all my self-destructive behavior had caused her pain. I felt that I failed as a father.
We were having this conversation because of how I was able to turn my life into a positive and all the hard work I had done to be a voice for those in pain. I finally came to the point where I loved myself enough that I was able to deal with my daughter's revelation in a healthy way.
In my road to becoming an advocate for the mental health of veterans, I embraced the painful past by helping with suicide prevention efforts--such as 5k walks and information tables--to further highlight awareness.
Veteran suicide awareness is very important to me since I have been affected in all phases of my life.
I have turned my experiences into something positive, and I have embraced finally telling my story so I can help others and, of course, my fellow veterans.
I would never imagine that someone who guards his privacy would eventually be able to talk so openly about his personal journey in recovery.
I hope that my story encourages someone seeking inner peace so that he/she, in turn, discovers hope in seeking help.
We all are special in our own way."