Andy Grant is a transformational energy coach, author, and speaker. He was 47 when I interviewed him in Boston, MA, on April 6, 2014.
TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of methods
My story. The big, evil, heavy story. I'm a survivor of multiple suicide attempts. I come from a lineage of suicide and depression and alcoholism. Two generations before me were completed suicides and there was a time in my life in my life that I felt like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump—that it was my destiny, and I had these thoughts because I was supposed to act on them.
Even after failed attempts, it was just another reason to beat myself up, like, "Oh, I can't even do that right. I've got to try harder the next time."
Des: At least you still have your legs, Lieutenant Dan!
Andy: Going way back, as early as I can remember, I felt weird and different, and that I was overly emotional and too sensitive. I can remember, as early as the 3rd grade, being pretty sure that I would die by my own hands. The planning started in elementary school. My dad was an alcoholic and was troubled. He was in AA in the time.
He would just tell me all these things, like really grown-up things, at a really young age, so I knew from like eight years old, "Whoa, he's just one of these people who just drinks for the weekend and that's life."
I'd look around and see a lot of adults like that and I'd get that kind of perspective from him. God, he was only like twenty-two at the time, but he was an old man to me as a child. He would always talk about how awesome high school was, and how that was his peak.
I was only a few years from high school, so I had it set in my mind: "Well, everything must just be shit after eighteen, so that'd be a good time."
Why would I even want to live the shitty years? I'd just live the good years and then check out. But, as time went on and my "good years" weren't very good, there just became less and less of a point to keep going. My first attempt was like age 13, and then at 16, 17, 18, 20, and I finally stopped having real [attempts]. There's no good way to describe things, but what I always counted as my real attempts were things that landed [me] in the hospital. So that was, I think, six.
But then, at age twenty, I was in a mental hospital and I had this big flash of memory of being molested by a neighbor when I was five. Even at age eight, I couldn't remember myself at age four and five. My parents got divorced when I was five, and I thought, "Maybe that's blocked out." Because I had no memory, I thought my parents got divorced when I was like five days old. I have no memory of them being together.
They had me when they were in college and my mom got pregnant, and that's why they got married and had me and stuff. My dad was very open and clear about that, so I kind of grew up thinking my mom was a slut, and they had me because they had to, and it was a shotgun wedding, and all these judgments on the whole thing. My dad trying to be my best friend and [being so] open about things was not really, perhaps, the best way to deal with a child.
The whole history there, going on and on, in and out of mental hospitals, and at twenty I had this memory and I thought, "Ah!"
I was in tears. I was a mess. They brought in my parents and I told them what I remember, and they knew the guy that I was referring to. My mom, in hindsight, could see that there was a time when I really changed, and she thought it was to do with the divorce, so it was really around, perhaps, within days or weeks of my dad leaving the house for good that I was molested.
I just kind of shut myself down and decided that the world wasn't safe and that I'd done something wrong. Over time, over years, I kept this secret. I'm not sure if it was because he told me to, or whatever. I thought, if I told my mom, that I’d be the next guy thrown out of the house. [I felt] like I’d done something wrong and I had to just shut up and keep quiet, or I'd lose my whole family.
Des: Poor kid.
I thought remembering that would [make things better]. I thought, "Now I’m healed. Now I'm normal."
I went to college finally, late. I went to college at age 20 and did a lot of drinking, and it would just make me more depressed. I'd get drunk and be happy and, come 1am, I'd be miserable, abandon all my friends, leave everybody, drive home alone.
In hindsight, I realize I was abandoning my friends because I was suicidal and I was like, "If I wanted to do something on the way home... If I don't really want to end up at home, I don't want to take anyone with me."
...[There were] tons of nights of intentionally drinking and driving; looking for cops; trying to get someone to chase me; trying to ram my car into a wall, but stopping at the last minute; hanging out on train tracks, seeing if any train was going to come my way when I was there—just tempting fate.
I think it was after my last real attempt that the realization finally hit me that, "I'm not good at this, so maybe there's got to be a better way, and maybe there is." There was a time when, at age 24, I put myself into a hospital for the first time without an attempt needing to get me there, and that was like, "I must be grown up now! I don't have to go that far to seek help."
But I never really shook it. I'd have good years. Two or three years would go by, but then it was almost like any level of change would make me resort back to that black and white thing.
If something didn't come easy to me? All through school, I was all straight-As. I was really, perhaps, too bright for my own good. Ignorance is bliss. I always used to wish I was really stupid and didn't care about the state of the world and my emotions or cognitive abilities or linguistic programming or anything. I don't know, I was just tormenting myself a lot.
Then the real path that kind of started waking me up—it's weird—was reading The Secret, the whole notion of, "You can control your thoughts." I was raised and trained to believe I was at the mercy of my thoughts and my emotions and that there was something wrong with me and I was flawed and broken and I could take medication that would treat symptoms, but there was no cure.
Every hospital gave me a different freaking label, and the first time I was hospitalized, I had psychotic reactions to medications, mass hallucinations, tremors. I couldn't walk, falling down everywhere, seeing rats on my shoulder... it was like, a stereotypical acid trip, but in 3D. I could feel it and I knew I was hallucinating, so I was pretty much having fun with it, but the hospital told my parents that one of my friends must have brought me drugs and I was on acid.
Later, as an adult, I got all the records, and it says, "Toxic reaction..." No excuses in the paperwork.
We missed our opportunity for a massive lawsuit, probably. So I was never a fan of medication. Didn't really trust it, didn't notice a benefit.
There were times when I felt so down that I came to realize that, my suicide attempts, they released the pressure. I felt better after an attempt. It was like, "At least I did something." Then I would try meds, I would go to a doctor, see a therapist, because at least I’m trying something. At this point, I’d gotten married and I'd kind of promised my wife that suicide was no longer an option. That was just off the table.
But, back to The Secret and realizing I had power with my thoughts and choosing: I would play with that, and I would notice that there were times when I could only look out my window and see a tree and picture myself hanging from it. That's all I could think of. I would force myself: "I'm going to look into something else. What if I went and played with my dog instead of that?" And I’d feel just that slightest degree of difference, like, a little lighter. So then I go, "No, I'm gonna get a gun and I'm gonna put a bullet in my head," and it would feel worse, right? I slowly realized that these suicidal thoughts were just my habit and the depression felt gross because that's what I was focused on, that's what I was putting myself through.
Over the years I got into meditation, and that really started raising my awareness—noticing my own triggers, my habitual thoughts, just how it was so black and white. I learned that I could live in the grey.
...I started going to suicide support groups, suicide survivor support groups, because I thought I was a suicide survivor. (Ed. note: The phrase "suicide survivor" is falling out of favor due to lack of clarity. Now, the preference is to use "suicide loss survivor" to refer to someone who has lost a family member/friend to suicide.)
I went to the first meeting and they were all people that lost their sons to suicide, and as they were going around saying that, I was like, "Oh crap. They're going to hate me." Then I realized, I've lost family members to suicide.
I pulled the leader of the group out and told her my story, that I was an attempt survivor, and she said, "Just stick around, I think we'll be okay."
I stayed there and it was mostly women who had lost sons. I told them my story, and they just quizzed me and asked me questions as if I was their son, and it was such a release on their end and on mine because, you know, if I ever told my mom, "You sucked, I hate you, I'm going to go kill myself and it's all your fault!" that was a lie. All these moms didn't know that.
They all wanted to carry some blame and stuff, and I just told them, "It had nothing to do with you. It's all internal. It's all self-hatred, it's not accepting of anything, it's easier to point out and blame someone else because I couldn't deal with my own feelings or sort them out."
I decided that [I was] being of service, but after the third meeting, I started having nightmares, picturing myself dying the way that they'd tell me that their sons had. I wrongly assumed that all their, all these sons and daughters that had died by their own hand, all died as teenagers.
They started telling me, "You remind me so much of my son, here's his picture," and he was like forty years old.
I was like, "Oh man, this doesn't end?! Fuck!"
That's when the nightmares started.
I used to think normal people were just constantly happy and there's just this blissful place that everyone else lived except me, and I thought those people were insane. But we're meant to have the full range of emotions and, ideally, your highs get higher and your lows get higher. That's the optimal place to live, but some people, they think that it's all just one or the other. I totally get that.
When I was depressed, I had no memory of ever enjoying life or smiling. If I did, I was sure that was the fake stuff. Feeling good was the temporary part of my life. The depression and being inundated with suicidal thoughts, that was reality. It took a long time to get over that and to see that that just wasn't the case.
Again, luckily for me it was enough attempts that I could finally step back and even laugh at it and make fun of myself. I'm like, "Alright, I'm not good at this! There must be some better way for me to navigate life since I’m not able to get out of it."
My first experience with Holotropic Breathwork was when I really... I was kind of just soaring and going through space in kind of this out of body, transcendental experience.
I was like, "Wow, this is amazing! Life is so amazing!"
Then I started crying because I realized life is this amazing and I tried to throw it away. I would just be laughing at how awesome everything was, and then I'd start bawling, and it would cycle back and forth. This process ended at like two in the morning.
I went home, I wrote love letters to my parents, I sent them each a bouquet of roses. I realized I had survived attempted murder, and I never grieved that or honored that or... anything. That's when my healing really started, when I realized, I'm not just a suicide attempt survivor, it's like attempted murder. It just happens to be the person who tried to kill me was me, which adds another degree of complexity to it. I sent letters of apology and asking for forgiveness to my mom, to my dad, to myself, and it's just when it really started to click. The permanent uptake really started moving there.
Des: Is mental illness real?
Andy: Somewhere it is, I’m sure it is. But it's incredibly overused and labeled and tagged and, as I learned, "mental illness" is this side of people taking votes on collections of symptoms. You can't be tested. It never made sense to me.
My first diagnosis was of being bipolar. I think I was 15 years old, and I was labeled bipolar because my dad was. End of story. It just didn't make much sense to me. They put me on lithium, which had me walking into lockers at school and just shaking.
I thought, "Well if this is feeling better..." It made me more definite that I was checking out, so every med I ever was put on became my weapon as soon as I had enough of it to get out.
I've met people who say anti-depressants saved their lives too, so somewhere there's some value.
The problem is that, when I was given something it was like, "Well, we'll try this and see if it works."
As things just kept not working and as I noticed side effects, finally it was like, "Well, here's a med. Do you notice anything?"
I was like, "No!"
They were like, "Good!"
Well, what the hell? Now, something that I don't notice doing anything, that means it's successful? It just made less and less sense. [Then] I learned about energy and the power of my thoughts to create. That's what did everything.
...It's about reaching for alternatives. Like EFT or tapping. Affirmations. Meditation. Qi Gong, Tai Chi.
If medication works for someone, great. But if it doesn't, there's so many other things.
Des: But people think that's hokey. How do you change that?
Andy: You try it. No one needs to believe anything I say, but I hope when I'm introducing people to things, I hope they're intrigued enough to try it. I probably do a dozen rituals every day, and they’re all things I used to make fun of and think were ridiculous and a waste of time. I love them because they work.
Des: I feel like that's so pervasive. It's as pervasive to think those thoughts in our society as it is to think that mental illness is the sole reason that people are suicidal.
Andy: It's not. And again, mental illness is collection of symptoms given a label. If you want to say that's how it works and it's the chemical imbalance... but what comes first? I believe that, my own thoughts, what I was habitually thinking, was making the chemical stew in my brain—and I could change it, once I took responsibility and started playing with it to see that, well, I can change this. That's pretty wild.
There was a time when I was like, "Alright. Fine. I'm bipolar, I'm depressed, I've got borderline. I'll be just fine. I'll just go on disability. Just give me a check. I'll just be this mess. That's what the world wants to label me," and there are too many people that... a label isn't forever. A diagnosis isn't forever. But no one, at least when I was growing up, no one talked about that.
No one said, "Well, in five years of taking this pill, you’ll be all fine now!"
It was all, "Try this until it doesn't work, and then we'll up it to this thing and that thing."
Des: That hasn't changed.
Andy: When you get to the core, everything has its root in energy. High school science, you look under a microscope, it's all energy vibrating. That's what we are. Our thoughts are energy. Energy is contagious. You can walk into a party where people are laughing and you start laughing even though you haven't heard the joke yet, and you can walk into a room that's just had a fight or someone's bawling and... People talk about, "Oh I feel the heaviness here, I feel the tension."
We're all reading and perceiving energy all the time and reacting to it and triggered by it.
Des: But discounting it.
Des: Tell me more about being a man and being vulnerable.
Andy: It's scary. Again, I was bullied and picked on for crying. I can remember being—so the first day of third grade, the school bus goes to a different parking lot. I start bawling on the school bus because this is change.
I don't know where we’re going and I'm fucking terrified and I'm bawling and I'm crying and the people start making fun of me and I'm crying more and I'm like, "Oh. I'm getting out of here. I’m not going to live this life."
So I’m feeling this, and I couldn't even hold it back. I was so scared and sad and frustrated, and I don't know what I was feeling, but I was bawling and judging myself and hating myself even more that I’m bawling, and someone points [and says], "Oh, he cried!"
It's just piling and piling and piling on it. I just wanted freaking out. I've been vulnerable not by choice a lot. And it was not rewarded.
...What I see as the cause of all suicides, all suicide attempts, it's a lack of self-love, and self-love is something you can learn.
Des: Tell me how!
Andy: Well, I haven't yet devised my four step plan. Actually I have a six-point plan. It's about giving yourself permission first, that all your feelings are okay. Our feelings, emotions, are not going to kill us. You need to be willing to feel so much pain that it feels like you’re going to die and on the end of that, through that, is life.
Des: Sit through it.
Andy: Meditation helps. Exercise, creativity, expressing myself.
I would look for like, "When was I happy as a kid?"
There were times I was. I always found it was when I was expressing myself, being creative. Playing. We grow up and stop playing. Everything becomes so freaking serious. Get on the ground, play with your freaking Legos. Do whatever. Make yourself smile. It's all okay.
People think that putting themselves first, making themselves a priority is selfish and it's bad. Suicide's not a selfish thing.
Des: Thank you.
Andy: How to phrase this best? If we were all truly selfish, we'd do things that made us feel good, right? The world would be full of thriving people. Happy and joyful.
A suicide attempt is the ultimate act of self-hatred, thinking you're broken and not loved and that you're not worthy of love. That's such a big thing, too. It's realizing that whatever you went through as a kid, you didn't make that. You didn't choose that. It wasn't up to you. You were powerless through some of the things that happened, but your power isn't how you respond to it.
When I was thirty, I went to a hypnotist because I doubted my own beliefs about this molestation thing.
I had him put me back and I saw just enough details to give me shudders and [feel] gross and be like, "Alright! Get me out of here!"
They brought me back with their count of ten, and I did not feel back at all. So I knew, "Alright, that happened I wasn't just making that up."
But that came about because I’d see the media and the news about, "Oh, kids are making these sorts of things up and you can't believe anything!"
And I was like, "Uhhh..."
The easiest tip to happiness is stop watching the news. I stopped watching the news years ago. Anything big enough, it gets to you. And all they're doing is promoting all the reasons to freaking hate everything, and then every ad is a freaking pharmaceutical from your restless leg syndrome to your non-stop anxiety, depression, just everything. What used to be the military-industrial complex is now designed to make us all sure that we feel horrible and broken and flawed and we spend a lot of money to go fix it.
I have discovered, with everyone I meet, that nobody's broken. You're not broken. Not at all. You've just pushed some aspects of yourself away. You've judged different parts of you. At everyone's core, you really are—I get emotional even trying to say this—we really are nothing but love.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Andy: The easy answer is no, of course not, and I can confidently say that now, but I’ll admit I've confidently said that in the past and it's shown up again. It's crap. It's what I say. Once it's an option, it's always an option. You can't erase that you ever thought that. You can't erase that you ever tried that so, to that extent, yeah, it's always there.
I'm 99.9% confident I will never act on that. That's the difference.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. If you don't like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Thanks to Whitney Rakich, who is a unicorn of a human, for providing the transcription of Andy's interview.
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