By Jackie Thomas, Fort Bragg Garrison Public AffairsSeptember 16, 2019
Reader discretion advised: The following article shares personal details of one's struggle with suicidal thoughts. The experience is shared in an effort to spread awareness of a sensitive topic and how one overcame their battle.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - "I beat it, I didn't drink it," said a 60-year-old Fort Bragg senior-level civilian, with a sense of victory in his tone. Although he said he still has dark moments and has to keep himself in check, he would never contemplate suicide again. He said he has a purpose in life -- everybody does.
His battle with suicidal thoughts and a couple of attempts started as an adolescent. Low self- esteem was the root cause.
"Growing up, I never felt like I fit in," he said. "I got bullied a lot at home by my brother and outside of the home by the neighborhood kids. Honestly, I was an easy target -- geeky and unpopular."
However, in the next breath, he stressed he holds nothing against his brother and his relationship with him has gotten better over the years. He said that after both went their separate ways, his brother did some self-reflecting and chalked up his bullying and mean-spiritedness toward him as jealousy.
"My brother told me when I was born, he was no longer getting attention from our parents and didn't want me around, so his only recourse was to pick on me," said the Army veteran who has been married for 17 years. "When I was in my 20s, I realized I couldn't blame my brother anymore. If I still allow this to bother me then I have no one else to blame but myself."
In addition to being bullied, he said he grew six inches while in the second grade and towered over some of his classmates and teachers. Although some would think that was great, a future basketball prodigy was in the making, for him it was the complete opposite in the form of being -- uncoordinated.
"I was the epitome of someone who couldn't walk, chew bubblegum nor breathe at the same time," he said with a hard-belly laugh. "People would tell me to try out for basketball, which I did and got laughed off the court. Yep, everybody wanted me on their team for my height until they saw me play. I looked like a windmill in a tornado."
The constant harassment, being picked on and the butt of jokes caused the local hometown kid to become lonely, withdrawn and eventually saying to himself 'life is not worth living anymore.'
"I really considered suicide a number of times while in my teens," he recalled. "My dad had a gun, and I knew where he kept it. I remember putting the gun in my hand and pointing it at myself, but didn't pull the trigger. That was when I was 12 years old."
But the closest he came to ending his life was two years prior at the age of 10.
"Even to this day, I remember vividly it being a drain cleaner," he said. "It was pink, it smelled like a peppermint, and I thought this is going to taste so good when drinking it. I put it up to my lips and, as I started to take a sip, my lips started to burn and that made me stop."
What role, if any, did his parents play in getting him off this path of self-destruction? He said his mother took him to counseling, but his relationship with his father was never strong.
"My mom recognized I was becoming more and more withdrawn, but I was too young to really understand the therapy sessions," he said. "As far as my dad, my brother could do no wrong. My lowest point with him was when my mom went out of town for a conference and she said dad was going to take me to the officers' club for dinner. As a Family, we would always go there on Sundays for dinner. When I asked him if we were going, he scowled at me and said 'we're not going, I'm ashamed to be seen with you.' I turned and walked away, what else was I to do. I was 15 at that time."
He said it wasn't until he got a job at the age of 16 that his self-worth started gaining momentum. People seemed to like him. High school was a much better experience than elementary and junior high -- he felt like he mattered. No longer did he have to use humor to get attention.
"Because I was socially awkward, I always tried to get people to like me by being the class clown when I was in elementary and junior high school," he said. "I still have that trait at times; it's my defense mechanism."
Fast forward to college, and when he got commissioned, he said his self-worth and confidence really propelled, especially in Army Ranger School.
"At Ranger School, people would gravitate toward me to help them get through," he said. "That's when I started putting suicidal thoughts behind me, and I found my place in the Army where I stayed until I retired in 2004."
In 2005, he took a huge punch to the gut. That punch was the death of his sister, whom he had a special bond -- her death shook him to the core. She was the one who would come to his defense during the bullying episodes at home. However, even with her death, the thoughts of suicide were behind him.
"I'm not afraid of death, but it doesn't mean I'm racing for it or trying to find it anymore," he said. "I am comfortable with it because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior."
While the thoughts of taking his life are no longer swirling around in his head, he acknowledged he does suffer from depression and takes medicine for it daily.
"It's not something I talk about, but I don't shy away from it either," he said. "I will share that I suffer from depression if someone brings it up. I don't think of it as a handicap, it's part of who I am."
When asked what he would say to someone who has suicidal thoughts, he paused for a moment and said, "I would listen to them first, I can't make assumptions because they're not me. If it's a sense of self-worth, you've got to realize that no matter how small you think you are, there's a reason you're here. You have the opportunity of doing good -- even if it's just being nice to someone who hasn't had anyone be kind to them. No matter how deep or dark you may think your life is, there's a purpose for you being here, each of us are unique in our own way."
He added when people get help they have to learn to help themselves as well. The battle is within the mind and that battle can be fought and won.
"There's an answer to everything, use your imagination and turn a 'can't' into a 'can,'" he said emphatically. "Every time I see a can of drain cleaner, I smile and say 'I beat it, 'I didn't drink it.'"
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, contact one of the resources available that can help you through your struggle:
• 24/7 On-call Fort Bragg Chaplain: (910) 396-0371
• Crisis Hotline: 800-273-8255
• Military OneSource Online Chat and Resources:
• Speak with a friend or chaplain