The Day I Did Not Die

Content warning: Descriptive narrative of a suicide attempt. Please take care of yourself.

Chris Cornell is dead. They are reporting he killed himself.

I have a confession: I am not sure I know his music, or his band, or anything about him. I am pretty sure I never heard his name before today.

And none of that matters. Because it is being reported that he hung himself, and according to my Facebook feed, most of my friends were his fans, and so that news is everywhere. And every time a high-profile suicide happens, all the old fears come back, even if only to remind myself that they are never far away.

It is a common story, and I am not claiming to be special. I was a smarter than average kid who looked differently than his classmates – I was scrawny, pimply, socially awkward and most of all, afraid. I was always afraid. These days you would say I was bullied. In those days, I would have said I was in hell.

I was 16 years old, and my parents were not home. I don’t know how to describe it – it was just a wave that came over me, and when it did, I was ready.

I had read countless accounts of suicide – no mean feat in that pre-internet age. I had read all the dictionary entries, all the encyclopedia accounts. Then I researched famous suicides – Socrates, Hemingway, anyone at all who had made their way into the Britannica. I had a morbid fascination with death, and with suicide.

So when the dark wave came, I was ready.

I had received a shotgun for Christmas when I was 14. There were strict rules around its use, but it was unlocked. I sat on my bed and loaded it with buckshot. I took off my shoes, because I had figured out I could pull the trigger with my toe – a “trick” I had learned in a book I read about famous deaths. I put the barrel in my mouth – right now I can taste the bitter, acrid taste of the oil and the metal on my tongue – and placed my toe on the trigger.

And then I took the barrel out of my mouth, unloaded the gun and put it away. I don’t know why. The darkness receded, just like it came. I was horrified to find myself there. And it would be more than 10 years before I would tell anyone that it had happened.

It wasn’t the last time I thought about self-harm, however. Maybe three times since then, I have been in that same vicinity. The darkness just comes on sometimes, and it seems an incredibly rational solution to end the pain. It is always late at night (more accurately early morning). I hate waking up at 3 or 4am – not because I am afraid I won’t go back to sleep, but because I am afraid of where my brain will take me if I stay awake.

Please don’t mishear me – I have a good support structure in place. I have people who know my history, who love me, who I feel safe calling should I need them. There is a list of people Renee knows to call if I scare her with my moods. Mentally, I am in pretty good shape these days.

And I figure, from everything I read, that Chris Cornell had it pretty good, too. It is obvious he was talented. He had a family that loved him, he had kids. He had extremely devoted fans. He had a lot going for him. I bet that brother had health insurance.

And that is why, when I read of the high-profile suicides, it scares me a little bit. Because it reminds me that the wave is never really gone, even if it has been quiet for a really, really long time.

If you feel like hurting yourself, please don’t. The National Suicide Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. And if you don’t want to call them, please call someone. 


2 thoughts on “The Day I Did Not Die”

  1. *internet hug*

    I’m so glad you put that gun away. Your ideas and ways of being have influenced my thinking and work (and thank you for that), and so I can’t help but think the world would be a bit darker without you.

    I wish everyone caught in that wave (a wave I’m well aware doesn’t facilitate clear, rational thinking, just pain) had a chance to see beyond it, you know? I wasn’t a fan of Chris Cornell’s music but I’m so very sad that it was suicide for the same reason. It’s like when people around me get divorced or cancer, and the far-away suddenly seems closer, and it seems more likely. And it gets scarier.

    I appreciate that you took the time to write this.

  2. Thank you for courageously sharing this, Hugh.

    I think it’s certainly true that the wave can strike at any time (no matter how “successful”/comfortable we are), and I think that, when the wave comes, our best hope to ride it out is probably to create a life raft out of genuine, supportive community and friendships. Yet another reason why the work you do is so important.

    P.S. Your post ties nicely to a post I just read from one of my favorite writers: You may appreciate it.

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