Sitting in his truck, intoxicated, Sgt. 1st Class John Reeves, cranked his music, held his pistol in his hand and hoped he would be approached by law enforcement. He knew if he positioned his gun just right, he may be able to end his life through suicide by cop.
This is just one of the multiple plans Reeves, now the 1st Cavalry Division Ready and Resilient Coordinator, has had over the years to take his own life.
Reeves said his struggles began more than 10 years ago when he came home from a hard deployment. His wife had left and he felt disconnected from his leaders and unit so he started drinking and admiring handguns.
“That became my coping mechanism,” he said, “drinking copious amounts of alcohol and playing with guns.”
When he encountered a stressful situation or experienced a bad interaction at work, he would treat his problems and feelings of seclusion with alcohol. It is during these times that his suicidal ideations began to manifest.
“When I am sober I can handle most of those things okay,” Reeves said. “But once alcohol becomes a variable, that is when I would lose control.”
He said alcohol was always involved in his suicide attempts.
“Suicidal thoughts don’t mean that you’re a suicidal person,” Reeves said. “Suicidal thoughts can just simply be a coping mechanism. But suicidal thoughts, plus alcohol, or drugs, or whatever your vice is, that is when suicidal thoughts become suicidal actions. I think that if most people, at the suicidal thoughts stage, go and get help, and avoid vices, that alone would save so many lives.”
Fortunately, Reeves has been able to pull himself out of these thoughts – though it has taken work.
“If I just wait it out long enough or if my wife intervenes, I will start to realize how catastrophic I am thinking, because there is always something else,” he said. “There is always something else to look forward to – you just can’t see it when you’re in that moment.”
He also said that his daughter has played a huge role in helping him get out of those catastrophic thoughts.
“Children of parents who have committed suicide are greatly more at risk of committing suicide,” Reeves said. “There have been a lot of times where I’ve thought that my daughter would be better off without me. But when I think about that statistic alone, that is usually something that will pull me out of it.”
But even more than that, he said, if he can stop and think about his daughter, his wife, and all the people he would leave behind and the effect his suicide would have on them -- that makes a difference for him.
Reeves doesn’t just encourage others to reach out for help, a major part of his recovery has been utilizing the resources available to him and getting help for himself.
The first place Reeves reached out for help from was Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care. SUDCC’s mission is to “provide Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care, including assessment, treatment, rehabilitation, aftercare, for service members within an integrated medical and behavioral health model to enhance health and readiness,” according to the TRICARE website.
Reeves said he benefited from this program because not only was he able to see the same provider consistently and build a relationship with him, but because the SUDCC program is more than just alcohol treatment. SUDCC is integrated with behavioral health and is part of a larger comprehensive plan to address a Soldier’s overall behavioral health needs.
Reeves and his family also relied on Military Family Life Counselors through Military OneSource, when they were worried about privacy, “because they don’t keep records and their schedule is flexible,” he said.
But Reeves knew he needed something more than medication and counseling, he wanted to do more – so he began volunteering.
“I volunteer at a ranch that has a program for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers to learn how to ride horses,” Reeves said. “I have been doing that for two years now. Between that and also animal shelters, [volunteering] gives me that one thing to look forward to each week, which is enough.”
Today, Reeves takes other Soldiers who are in crisis or having suicidal thoughts to the ranch in hopes of getting them past their negative thoughts.
Reeves said he still struggles, has good days and bad, but he hopes that by sharing his story he is able to encourage someone else to seek help and to know that their life matters.
“I know that there is someone who feels alone in a full room,” he said. “I know that there is someone who doesn’t feel like they have anything to look forward to tomorrow. And I know there is someone out there that feels completely worthless and that they are a burden on their unit -- I want them to know they are not.”
If you know of someone in a crisis, the Military/Veterans Crisis Line is confidential and free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and available to all Service members, Veterans, and their families, including members of the National Guard and Reserve. Seek help immediately by contacting 800-273-8255 (press 1), online chat (www.militarycrisisline.net), or text (838255).
(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part series chronicling the experiences of Sgt. 1st Class John Reeves as he treated his feelings of isolation with alcohol and considered ways to commit suicide. He now helps others as the 1st Cavalry Division Ready and Resilient Coordinator.)