“Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.”
—The Matrix Reloaded
It’s actually quite easy to completely give up hope. I should know. In March of 2012, I did it — twice. Twice in the span of less than a week, I completely gave up on life and (to paraphrase John Gillespie Magee, Jr. and, to a certain extent, Ronald Reagan) I was ready to slip the surly bonds of earth, put out my hand, and touch the face of God. It’s difficult to describe how it feels to literally give up on life. I suppose, from an egocentricity standpoint, it is an experience as unique as the person enduring it.
Andy DuFresne said, “Hope is a good thing; maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” And if that truly is the case, then when all hope is gone, death is the only logical next step. And yet, twice I tried, and twice I failed, even though I had abandoned all hope — first sitting in a jail cell, and again in my own bed.
And yet, to the dismay of many, I am still here. I am still here because hope kept me alive.
Read the following excerpt from Chapter Four of my upcoming book, After 3PM, about my very first night in jail…
The decision was mine to die. I felt 20,000 leagues beneath life’s rock-bottom and all I wanted was to end the pain that I was in; I wanted to prevent the pain that my family was going to experience once my crime was exposed by the media. I took a sleeve of the long-sleeve t-shirt in my clutches and stretched it out as far as I could under the dark cover of my jacket. I wrapped it around my neck, tucked one end inside the other, and pulled on both sides as hard as I could, tight around my jugular veins. I was ready to die, and this was how I was going to make it happen.
Why couldn’t I have been given the same choice Kurt Russell was given in Escape from New York before they sent him to the island? I would have promptly said, “Yes, please.”
I pulled — as hard as I could — on each end of the shirt, tightening it around my throat. I could feel my breathing constrict. I could feel my head swell. I could feel my pulse pounding helplessly in my neck, struggling to pump blood to my brain. I could feel myself slipping away, and I was ready. Nevertheless, some primal human instinct in me kept reaching up at the last second and loosening the strangling of my neck. Something was keeping me from completing the literal death I so desired, leaving me only with the figurative death which was already set into motion (and in some ways, was set in motion years earlier).
I tried — over and over again — to die. I have no idea how many times (or over how many hours) I attempted to tighten that shirt sleeve around my neck, trying desperately to leave this life. But an instinct unknown to myself kept driving me to reach up and loosen the grip of death around my neck at the last possible moment, just before losing consciousness.
I came extremely close once, feeling myself slipping away, hearing the world around me echo, as if I was suddenly inside a giant tin can, and all I saw was black. Had I not reached up to loosen the sleeve that time, I definitely would have slipped away. But there was something keeping me alive, something beyond me. This continued for hours, trying repeatedly, but never succeeding.
I now know that the “primal human instinct” was the very last sliver of hope in my body. It was small, it was slight, it was weak, but it was there. And it was enough to — time and time again — prompt me to reach up and loosen the grip around my neck. I wanted to die in that moment, and hope was my greatest strength as well as my greatest weakness.
A few days later, that lingering semblance of hope had finally left me. I sat on the bed of our home in Lawrence, Kansas immediately after ingesting an entire bottle of blood pressure medication — and I simply waited to die.
From Chapter Six of After 3PM:
So, in an act of depressive desperation, I went into our bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. I found a bottle of blood pressure medication I’d been prescribed as an aid to my migraines. I’d barely taken any, so the bottle was more-or-less full. I walked down to the kitchen, opened a 2-liter bottle of 7-Up, poured the entire bottle of pills into my mouth, and began chugging from the bottle of soda. And after the last pill was swallowed and the last stinging gulp of carbonation had cleared my throat, I walked slowly to our bedroom. It felt like a long walk, like a condemned man being escorted to the gallows. I put on my most comfortable pair of Adidas basketball shorts and an oversized t-shirt, crawled into bed, and turned on the television.
I remember, trying to die.
I remember slowly slipping from consciousness, lying in bed watching Seinfeld reruns on TBS and trying to imagine that I was being mercifully put out of the misery of everyone around me — I believed my own misery to be well-deserved. During those long moments, as I felt myself slipping away (and my wife and daughter were in my classroom retrieving my belongings), a camera crew from Channel 6 News in Lawrence was setting up outside the school, preparing to do a story about me.
My public humiliation was just beginning.
But I’d given up. As I lay atop the comforter on our bed, I felt the darkness envelop me, like someone falling backwards into a midnight sea — in slow motion. And I swear I remember hearing the haunting chant of Requiem Aeternam, as heard during “Mercutio’s Death” in the 1996 film version of Romeo & Juliet.
And then, nothing — nothingness — nothing.
My wife arrived home an hour or so later, and found me unresponsive. She did her best to wake me, but I did not regain consciousness. She yelled at me, splashed water on me, even slapped me and bit my finger. Finally, with no other options, she called 9-1-1.
“Daddy’s sick,” she said to our daughter as the paramedics carried my motionless body to the ambulance.
I was taken to the hospital in Lawrence where I remained in a coma for several days.
That second time, it wasn’t my hope that kept me alive, it was my wife’s. She found me, called paramedics, and saved my life.
Having been so close to death, I genuinely know what rock-bottom feels like; I know what life feels like when the only direction to look is up.
The lasting impact on myself regarding the trauma I endured as a teenager as well as the resulting consequences of my own choices has sent me into an unending spiral of anxiety and depression. I took medication for a while, but I now take nothing. I can’t live as another medicated numb-minded zombie created by emotionally-deadening pharmaceuticals. Instead, I use my own methods, my own strategies, and my own strengths to overcome the debilitating depression and anxiety with which I suffer regularly. And one of those strategies is the desperate clinging to the delusion of hope.
Most people might point at me whenever I am in the media and say that my life is a complete failure — that I should never have been let out of prison, that I have no business speaking out about sexual abuse, that I have no business even being alive. Yeah, I get that a lot. But the one thing that keeps me writing these books and standing in front of these people, fighting for a solution, is that delusion of hope.
The paramount term in the realm of hope is “maybe.” “Maybe” is what keeps me taking once step forward. Maybe people will listen. Maybe my point will get across. Maybe a teacher will hear me and not cross that destructive line. Maybe a teacher will hear me and realize the teacher across the hall is having a relationship with a student.
No teacher will ever approach me and say, “Hey man, I was really close to crossing the line, but I read your book and it changed my life.” That is simply not a realistic exchange of dialogue. However, my hope is, maybe it will happen, silently; and a student will be spared the pain of abuse as a result.
The rest of my life is a maybe, driven by hope, floating on the waters of uncertainty. Because at this point in my life, I certainly didn’t anticipate the road which brought me to this stage of my existence. Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe that’s a bad thing.