Been putting this one off for months.
We are now entering the part of the story where my family takes center stage and this is the primary reason that I’ve been avoiding and dreading this section. Because I don’t want to talk about my family at all. And my family does not want me to talk about them at all. Not. One. Bit.
But, there’s a problem with not wanting to talk about my family stuff when I was one of the main kid actors for a propaganda effort for an organization called Focus on the FAMILY.
And, specifically, my character was the first kid character with a FAMILY built around him.
And it was largely the dynamics in my FAMILY that led to a lot of the pain and suffering and mental health problems I was having and they were being exacerbated by systems that were FAMILYcentric. <— Technical Term.
And so as much as I would actually prefer to relive the worst year of my life again quietly and in privacy rather than blast my worst moments into the digital sphere and have the whole world know about how my nuclear birth family operates, I have no choice.
In order to tell my story I am compelled to talk about this stuff.
And… *sigh*… I am largely estranged from my entire family I was born into as this story will eventually show.
I’m not particularly interested in having the world know that.
Aaaaaaaaand nobody in my family has read any of this blog to the best of my knowledge because my phone certainly would have blown up by now.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand most of the people in my churches and neighborhoods have yet to stumble upon my efforts here because I probably woulda heard about that, too.
So. I’m waiting for all these inevitable shoes to drop and the anger and indignation to be unleashed upon me while having to find clever and artistic ways to talk about a year-long decent into hell unlike any I’d ever experienced prior and turn this into fun readable words.
And I’ve been dreading this.
Picked the wrong year to quit drinking.
I want to credit my ReligiousParent™ here before I get started, because much of this is going to be a critique against my ReligiousParent™’s actions due to the system
that parent they (we’ll go pronoun neutral from here out- can you evangelicals handle that without your heads exploding?) were trapped in and advised by.
One thing I would like to partially credit that parent with was their willingness to believe this was a medical issue and default to that position probably largely against the advice of many in their trusted religious circles.
This is no small thing.
Many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many of my fans are trapped in much worse situations with families that don’t believe in their mental health problems OR families that bend too much to the influence of the
cult religion that doesn’t believe mental illness is real.
For my religious parent to defend that decision without fail was remarkable given the environment they had raised me in.
And to that end, my religious parent had dived head first into putting me before doctors and eventually that would mean… therapists.
Because the psychiatric hospitals and doctors highly, highly recommend your suicidal teen start getting therapy right away. And so my religious parent did this.
With a religious flair.
Like all good FrickingEvangelicals™ the best therapy is almost certainly ChristianTherapy™.
And we. ARE. GOING. TO. PRAY. THE. SAD. AWAY.
You know it’s probably gonna be a churchy kinda therapy when the therapist’s office is… *checks notes*… AT a church.
He was a well-intentioned young man. Mid 20’s maybe?
He was earnest– earnestness is the 2nd most annoying of all the FrickingEvangelical™ qualities next to smugness, imo– and sincere and incredibly devout. He was kind. He was incredibly gentle and sympathetic.
He was a good guy. I absolutely believe in the core of my soul that he was doing the best that he could from the system that he was being taught in. I think he was a student at the Claremont School of Theology as I recall. Which would make sense because it was literally across the street from where we lived and precisely the kind of spot my religious parent would have gone to for help in this kind of situation.
A point I want to make here about the times.
My first attempt was November 1993. We’re now in early March 1994 in the story timeline.
Consider how few services there are in the USA for mental health today. Hospitals. Doctors. All you right wingers complaining about the homeless problem in our culture but voted for the guy (Reagan) who shuttered mental health hospitals in the 70’s and dumped sick people onto the streets where they remain to this day.
There is not a dedicated inpatient hospital in the county I live in as I write this– one of the reasons I had a suicide attempt in January instead of checking myself in and cooling off for a couple weeks.
So, imagine how fewer services there were in 1993/94.
It was an incredible tenaciousness on the part of my ReligiousParent™ to dive in and try to find anything that would help.
And from their perspective they had to keep one foot in the healthcare/science world and one foot in the religious world. Taking advice– often contradictory– from both realms and trying to find a pathway forward while my BreadWinningParent™ worked 60 hour weeks and was traveling non-stop and unable to assist.
ReligiousParent™ found help wherever they could.
This is remarkable and commendable.
A young man of faith studying at a religious institution in the hope of becoming a therapist and working with troubled teens.
Also remarkable. And commendable.
Everyone in my story is trying their best.
I really believe that in the core of my soul.
Another thing to say… my brains are scrambled and loaded with a cocktail of medication in quantities to slay an elephant. This was the era of overprescribing, AND I have the wrong diagnosis and wrong medication regimen.
Suffice to say clear memories are hard to find.
Especially with something as nuanced and huge as therapy.
So I’m gonna be talking broadly here and the conversational elements are not to be taken as gospel. (Remember folks, this ain’t your typical memoir.)
“Like it says in Jeremiah 29:11… ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.‘ it’s right there….”
He looks up from the bible and stares earnestly through his glasses at me.
The response I think I’m supposed to give is to go “HOLY SHIT WOW YOU SOLVED THE PROBLEM” and then fall upon my knees thanking god almighty for this clear message of divine awesomeness and hopeiosity.
Instead I just stare back.
A tumbleweed drifts through the room.
“It’s… it’s right there.”
He points again emphatically.
This is the magic book with all the answers. I’ve been told this my whole life. Somehow it never magicked for me the way it did for everybody else. Because my natural response is to say… “So when do the plans kick in and get started that will give me a hope and future? Because otherwise I’m ready to die now.”
And the answer is: You shouldn’t want to die because god has a plan for you.
Is the session in morse code and nobody told me?
“How am I supposed to hold on for future plans I know nothing about when I want to die now? Why wouldn’t god tell me now? I’d be less likely to want to die.”
“You have to have faith. You have to Trust that God is good and wise and wants what’s best for us.”
“I did that already.”
“You’re not fully Trusting, are you?”
“How much more… At some point I got tired of waiting. Which harms my ability to Trust.”
And then this is where the conversation would delve into it was my lacking of Faith and not Trusting in god that was at the root of my suicidal thoughts. This was a relationship problem. Between me and God Almighty.
The thing to understand about this kind of therapy and the entire christian philosophy is that everything bad happening to you is your fault because you are a broken sinner. Sometimes bad things come from external sources, but for a kid like me with no alibi I MUST be the problem here.
See, if my walk with god is good– and I’m not living in sin (really important part here) then God’sPlans™ that are so wonderfully delicious and epically amazing can finally kick in and the great gig in store for me will unveil itself.
“When does that part happen? I can’t wait much longer. I hate it here.”
“Life is a precious gift from god. Hating it shows that there are anger issues you are struggling with spiritually.”
A fundamental point of view that any faith leader, elder, priest, rabbi, therapist or anyone operating from a system of religious structure when confronted with a 16 year old kid with multiple suicide attempts is to automatically assume that I am lacking faith.
To which I would say “I agree.”
But the part no one ever seemed to understand was that I was operating from the only faith I had and… it wasn’t working.
And that’s why it was lacking. I had data that it wasn’t working.
I was not an atheist at this point. I was a believer. Praying my guts out every night BEGGING god to make things better. God was busy. God had wars to worry about. Genocides to ignore or something WHO KNOWS.
But, I was the kid that was devout. I believed. I had no choice to not believe. This system was jammed inside my head so fully and constantly every day I never had a break from it. Can’t go more than an hour without some family member, friend, tv show, radio show, book, bible study mentioning the word god 1.7 billion times a day. How could I ever NOT believe it?
I STILL can’t fully shake it. That’s how imprinted it is in my head 46 years later.
The problem wasn’t that I didn’t believe.
I fully believed I was going to hell when I made those attempts because that’s what I knew to be the penalty for suicide. I was completely aware of it. And I was terrified. I don’t want to go to hell.
But the alternative was constant psychological suffering. Every single day. All day long. Exhausting. Never ending.
And this doesn’t make sense to a person of faith not suffering from severe depression. If your walk with god is good there’s nothing to worry about. You place your trust in god and exist in happiness and peace. Problems occur to everyone in life, give them to god and it will all work out.
“Yeah, it doesn’t work when I try that,” 16 year old Dave said in desperation.
“Hmmm. Ok. That’s interesting.” he’s searching through the protocols in his head. If A doesn’t work then try B.
“Maybe you’re being tested. Like Job. You read Job?”
“Yes I have read Job many times during this and have you actually read it because it kinda sucks.”
“But, his life is restored after the suffering!”
Much earnest staring through glasses.
“But his life was DESTROYED.”
Lemme back up here for a second. For those of you who have never read Job, I believe it is the oldest actual piece of literature in the compiled texts known as “The Bible™”.
The story goes like this: The devil and daddyGod are making a bet in heaven. Job is the most faithful of all god’s humans on earth and god has blessed Job with an amazing life as a result. And so the devildude is like “of course Job loves you you’re his sugar daddy! Take that away and watch him hate you.”
But god being His Most Epic Godliness of Allknowingness knows that his boy Job would never turn on him no matter how bad it gets. So he lets devil dude kill Job’s entire family there’s boils and sickness and pain and suffering and he loses his home and gets herpes and it never stops getting worse until it’s finally the ultimate worst of all the worstness you can handle.
And Job’s buddies just stand around and watch him suffer without offering any help are telling him “bro curse god and die already your life sucks” and Job is still just chilling with his relationship with god Trusting and Hoping and Faithing.
And so in the end the devildude loses his bet and god then gives Job a totally new job and house and family that’s even better than the family he had before because he stayed Faithy and Hopey.
And then in the end Job asks god “Hey SugarSkyDaddy, why’d you do all that stuff that sucked so bad?”
And god says to Job “fuck you I don’t answer your questions.”
I’m paraphrasing here…
Anyway. Job. Have I read Job?
“Yes I read it and it’s not giving me the same warm fuzzies that you’re feeling.”
In fairness, the young man I worked with was far more professional and caring and we did delve into some of the things that were happening in my life and family (where the problem actually was), but the core belief of people trapped in this system is that fundamentally this is a spiritual battle.
I was a white boy raised in a christian family in an upper middle class world of privilege. How could I possibly be wanting to die and committing suicide?
CLEARLY THIS MUST BE A SPIRITUAL PROBLEM.
And the other inevitable conclusion most scholarly and doctorly and theraply learned individuals would make when confronted with a teen like me is that deep down this must be a sin issue.
I will never claim to be a perfect person. FFS this entire blog will show you that. I am no innocent. But I don’t think I ever made too many sins that weren’t age appropriate. Smoking was probably my worst.
A thing none of us know yet… at this point… is that one of the reasons I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder is that I was actually suffering from a severe form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that was misdiagnosed because some of the symptoms were misinterpreted.
As a young kid back in Texas I had mentioned to my parents more than a few times that I felt I was being watched by cameras. Always had this pervading sense of being watched.
I wonder why a young kid raised in a hyper-controlling religious family who is told that god knows what you’re thinking would feel like he was being watched all the time. Crazy, right?
A thing we didn’t know at this phase of our descent into MentalHealthLand is how to speak about symptoms and which ones were committing me to incorrect pathways…. our education as patients was just beginning.
But, I bring this up so that the reader can play around with the concept of a suicidal christian teen being told he’s gonna need to root out ALL sins (what happens when you can’t stop thinking sinful thoughts) and that he has to keep praying for Faith and to Trust and dive in deeper into the relationship with god and is a Severe Obsessive Compulsive and NOBODY KNOWS.
Is this overachieving kid just gonna lay back and not try?
Or will there be endless nights of begging prayers with tears staining the carpets and bucketloads of snot being discharged hoping that god will take this sadness away– this feeling of impending doom. The wretchedness of who I am that I can’t change and I never wanted to be in this position….
Which outcome is more likely?
Now a funny thing happened with all this therapy.
At some point… after several sessions a suggestion is made.
How about a family session?
A suicidal white teen in a christian upper middle class home… let’s check out the family.
Can’t remember if I’ve made this point clear or not yet…
BreadWinningParent™(BWP) was almost never at home. The entire family was run by ReligiousParent™(RP). The finances. The chore schedules. Getting my brothers and I around to various soccer and acting commitments. RP was also the chief disciplinarian with the caveat that BWP had signed off on the punishment and that often it was BWP idea to impose a punishment.
This system mimicked the church environment for me because my BreadWinningParent™ was like god…. hidden away… always mad and punishing but never seen.
I was terrified of my BWP most of my life.
So imagine my surprise when at our first family therapy session… everyone including BreadWinningParent™ is pointing to ReligiousParent™ as someone everyone had a beef with.
The session had almost nothing to do with my suicide stuff at all!
Even my BreadWinningParent™ who scared me was seeming like they were mad at ReligiousParent™ too! I was shocked. And somewhat at ease for the first time in a long time. After all, much of my sadness was driven by the battles I was having with ReligiousParent™ over my acting career and their refusal to allow it.
Maybe I’m not the only one frustrated here.
Maybe…. maybe I am not the problem here.
And afterwards my siblings and my BreadWinningParent™ all seemed more relaxed and at ease as well.
And ReligiousParent™ was pissed.
And we never went again.
In 30 years.
But I sure did.
Sooooooooo much therapy.
All the therapy.
Many different therapists and techniques and styles….
Suicide. Smoking. Bad Kid School. Therapy.
“Please take it away, God. PLEASE!!” he prayed for hours every night for months clinging to the fraying threads of an unraveling faith.
A few more hammer blows on our Majestic Miracle of Mangled Mirror.