It was on a sunny and warm June morning some 25 years ago that I was going to turn the gas on and not light the stove. At the time, I was living in the Belmont Shore section of Long Beach, California. The “poor man’s Newport Beach” is what I called it. I had a small apartment across the street from the beach. Two blocks to the East were numerous hip places to eat and drink. For a newly single guy in his early forties, Belmont Shore was paradise. Except for me, on this morning, it was anything but idyllic.
“Who would miss me?” I asked myself in a blind fit of self absorbed pain. My kids would miss me. I knew that. On this morning, they were the only “obstacles” standing between me and oblivion. My divorce had been final for three years. My bankruptcy was declared a year before. And, I was six months beyond yet another failed relationship. I was empty. I had lost hope. I had failed at life.
On this morning, my condition was as serious as a heart attack. Yet, as serious as I was, I was vaguely aware of a gnawing fear in the back reaches of my mind. I dismissed it as common for anyone who intended to kill themselves. Although it never occurred to me that I had ever talked to anyone who had been, you know, successful in a suicide attempt. It didn’t matter. In the house of mirrors that was my mindset, I was once and for all going do something courageous in my life: I would end it.
When he knocked again I knew there was someone at my door. “Who is it? I said in a voice that sounded oddly clear and lucid. “It’s me, Mike” said the voice. Mike, Mike I had trouble figuring out who Mike was. Then I remembered: Mike was a friend of mine. I opened the door and saw his lips moving. Before I knew it, we were at one of the many hip coffee places on Second Street sipping coffee on a patio awash in sunlight.
Mike was a minister who also had recently finished a graduate program in counseling. For a minister, Mike was as imperfect and as conflicted about his theology and religious beliefs as I was about myself and who I had become. Therefore Mike, it turned out, was THE PERFECT person for me to have coffee with that day. On that sunny patio, I did something I had never done before: I poured my heart out. I came clean about what a fraud I believed I had become. I had occupied space on the planet for over forty years and on this morning I made a startling realization. I did not know who I was. All I knew was the gnawing dis-ease of whom I feared I had become.
My “crash” resulted in some unintended consequences. Among them were the discoveries I began making about myself. One of the important discoveries I made resulted from acknowledging that I had been sprinting through life with no clarity about where I was running to. I began to experience freedom by slowing down and opening my eyes. As I did, I started enjoying everything more. Food tasted better. Conversations with friends were more fascinating. I found myself more adventurous. Most importantly, I enjoyed my children and my part in their life far more than I ever had before. With time these discoveries grew in significance. I started to learn the value of acceptance and the meaning of gratitude. And to this day, I am forever grateful for my children and for Mike. Their presence in my world saved my life.
In the morning I was ready to end my life. By mid afternoon, I began embarking on a transition from human “doing” to human “being.” The first step was to acknowledge my suffering. I examined, painfully at first, the legacy of having been raised by an alcoholic mother and a father who had skillfully mastered the subtle “art” of enabling. I came to acknowledge my upbringing had rendered my relationships dark mysteries. Mysteries at which I failed consistently by bringing a false self to each. I grieved the loss of the relationships and the people I had pushed away due to feeling un-entitled and a profound sense of unworthiness. I learned I could at once hold the pain of those failed relationships simultaneously with the joy and gratitude for having endured the pain of every failure. At last, I forgave myself.
I had a lot of healing to do and, in the ensuing months that’s what I did. As my healing process went on, I began to feel pulled or perhaps called to help others with their relationships. As time wore on my desire to contribute to others grew stronger. So strong my desire became that it no longer could be ignored. So almost as if I had no choice, I returned to school to become a therapist. I wanted to help others with their relationships. I learned then and have now come to firmly believe that as our relationships go, so we go. When our relationships work, we work. When our relationships do not work, we suffer.
Finally what started that morning while sipping coffee on a patio in Belmont Shore, continues to this day. At last I am truly grateful for all that I am and for all that I am not. Grateful to be doing what I do for a living. Grateful for the love of my wife which I attempt to earn every day. Grateful for the love of my now grown children and their partners. Grateful for the presence of a little grandchild who I excitedly look forward to watching grow. I am forever grateful for all that I have gone through to get here and excited about what will be. I’ve discovered that even though the years seem to pass more quickly with time, my spirit remains young because I allow myself to be, like Mike, an imperfect human being.