I left home that Sunday night knowing it would be the last time I would see my wife and baby boy. When I didn’t show up for my assignment the next day, my client started making phone calls until eventually someone reached my wife. She was dumbfounded.
The police and paramedics opened the hotel room door and found my body. I was lying on my back, covered in vomit. The scene was gruesome; vomit coated the bed, the floor, and had projected up the wall behind me, covering a massive picture that hung behind the bed. Those who found me thought it was a murder scene. The pink Benadryl pills, plus thousands of other milligrams of prescriptions I took, made the vomit look like blood. I had been unconscious nearly twelve hours. They thought I was dead.
One flash I have of coming to is being transferred by the emergency room personnel from the gurney to the hospital bed. Everything was foggy white except the navy of the nurses’ scrubs. I remember them counting “1…2…3…” before lifting me and wishing I could respond. I remember the nightmare of them cutting off my clothes and the wave of shame in one brief moment. I was humiliated by my own nakedness. I imagine the same would be true for nearly any other victim of childhood sexual abuse.
Eighteen hours after I blacked out, I woke, slipping in and out of a fog. My wife stood beside me. She asked, “Baby, what happened? Did you get your medicine mixed up?” I had been taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds for some time. It would have been so easy to lie, to say “Yes.”
“No! I didn’t mix anything up!” I tried to scream, but my throat felt like I had swallowed razor blades. “I tried to kill myself! I don’t want to be here!”
I don’t think I had ever screamed at her before until that moment. For the first several years of our marriage, we were so convinced that pleasing one another was the goal of marriage, we hid our personal struggles. The next thing I remember is seeing her slumped against the wall in a pool of tears, telling her dad I’d attempted suicide. I stared out of my window in the freezing ICU room. My heart was just as cold.
I woke up in another of those momentary fogs the next day. It was the day of my oldest son’s first birthday. I missed the Curious George Smash cake and the mingling of family and friends. I wondered what they were thinking, knowing I was still in the ICU, nearly dead. Here I was, a failed minister, an embarrassment to those who cared about me, and I couldn’t even get a suicide right.
Three days later, I had regained feeling in my legs and the doctors decided my liver wasn’t going to fail. I was released and immediately transferred to the psych ward. The psych ward. In spite of my years of performing and people pleasing, I was a very broken guy. I had buried my pain deep and used ministry to escape it. Now, I was in a wheelchair, headed to the psych ward. I stayed five days. I called it the arts and crafts floor: we colored and talked and rested a lot. The experience felt pointless, frustrating, humiliating and so uncomfortable.
Three years later, I am still standing. My wife and I decided if we were going to stay together, we’d have to see a therapist. It was one of the best decisions of my life. Therapy saved our marriage and my life; I should have been seeing a therapist for decades. I learned many things during the intense first few months of counseling, but what stands out most is that our issues centered around a lack of trust and an abundance of shame.
The day the therapist helped connect all my dots back to the day I was molested, nearly thirty years before my suicide attempt, my whole world changed. When I was able to put a name to my overwhelming emotion, to begin studying shame and the effects it had on every area of my life, I began to heal. That healing is still happening.
These days, I do a lot of wrestling. I wrestle with my faith and my wife. As we dig things up, we talk about them; we never wrestled with our emotions before. People thought our individual lives and our marriage were perfect, but we were isolated and afraid. I wouldn’t go back to that place for anything.
For years, I had made perfection my goal. Now, I know better. These days, in my family, our brokenness is what draws us to one another.
In golf, a mulligan is a do-over, taking another shot from the point of the foul, as if the first mistake never happened. Shame tried to kill me that day, but grace gave me a second chance. Thankfully, I had a Mulligan Day.
Steve Austin is a writer from Birmingham, Alabama. He is passionate about capturing stories that point to God’s purpose and the power of second chances. He blogs regularly at www.iamsteveaustin.com. You can also follow Steve on Facebook and Instagram.