Benji Alveyis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
I interviewed Benji Alvey, 35, in Chicago on March 29, 2016. He’s a creative who, at the time, was working as an administrative assistant.
Benji: I’m originally from southern Indiana, a town called Columbus—not Ohio, Indiana. I moved to Chicago in 2003, and I’ve been here ever since.
Des: So I guess you like it here.
Benji: I do. I do love a lot about Chicago. I really, really do like it. It’s just—given the topic, what we’re talking about today, some of my worst years have also been in the city, but some of my best years, so it’s very love/hate. Like there’s certain locations in the city, I just know I can’t really ever go back to or look at again, or I try not to think about. But at the same time, like I said, some of the greatest things are in the city, so maybe one day I’ll move on to somewhere else, but who knows? There’s that whole everywhere you go, there you are. I’m a firm believer of that.
I grew up in southern Indiana in a trailer park on the outskirts of town. This is not a joke. This is really how I…
Des: I feel like I heard this in a song once.
Benji: You know, John Mellencamp is from where I grew up, close to where I grew up, so if you take some of his songs, that’s kind of my life story. I used to joke and tell people that he was my real father and that “Jack and Diane” was about him and my mother. Some people actually probably believe that’s true, so I keep that one going a lot.
I mean, I grew up in a pretty conservative area of southern Indiana, my mom being one of the lone liberals in the trailer park. I knew from just a really young age I had to get out of there. High school was sort of me just counting down the days until I could step away. I was the only person in my family to go to college. I was one of the few people in my family to finish high school. It’s kind of an area where you don’t get out, and that’s not uncommon, and I don’t say that disparagingly to people who chose to stay behind because I still have amazing friends back there. I just didn’t see how I could grow up there and fit in, really. I knew by the time I was 12 that I was gay, and I knew that a lot of who I am just didn’t mesh well with the city, and there’s lots of lovely people there, but I have a very complicated relationship with my hometown. I talk about it a lot in therapy.
I had a rough childhood. A lot of kids where I grew up, we all had rough childhoods. It’s everybody’s story. Things happened to me at a very young age. Had to grow up really quick. I had my mom as a champion for a big portion of my life, and then when I was going into high school, she kind of… lost it, and she went certifiable. I think that was one of the first instances in my life where I had to deal with suicide. My mom attempted a few times, and it was just me, and so I was always trying to… I don’t want to say pick up the pieces, because she was trying her best, as well, but kind of dealing with all the fallout from it. Like, “Oh, did that bill get paid? Well, okay, I’ll take care of that.” Just things that a 15, 16-year-old probably shouldn’t have to be concerned with, you know?
I was really happy to get away, and there was a lot of guilt that came with it, too. Like, “I’m leaving this behind.” I don’t know, kind of arrogantly, I was someone who was capable of taking care of it. Now I’m just throwing it to the wayside or whatever.
I went to school for writing and acting. Kind of came into my own. I still have a lot of socialization issues. I’ve suffered from huge social phobia and anxiety since I was eight years old. I was just very nervous—nervous to the point of being an off-putting kid. Everything could upset my stomach. There’d be a loud noise in the hallway, and I’d be like, “I have to go vomit because I’m startled.”
Even in college, when I started to be around more like-minded people and people like me, I still felt like a faker, in a way. You go to college and now there’s people of all different backgrounds, and somehow I still seem to be the poorest and the most trailer trash and the most hard living one. I’m like, “When am I ever going to be the cool kid?” Which is such a, I don’t know, almost immature way of looking at it, but that’s how it felt at the time. I mean, in retrospect, I wish I just would have said, “Chill the fuck out. Why are you so high-strung all the time?”
I moved to Chicago. I moved to Chicago under a lot of duress, actually. There was this horrible sort of coincidence of incidents that happened leading up to this. My dad passed away the day I graduated from college, and the day I found out my dad passed away, that night, I was the victim of a home invasion. It was very brutal and violent. It was just a crazy time in my life, and then it was sort of like, “Okay, now go move to the big city.” I was terrified. The first six months I lived in Chicago, I didn’t want to leave my apartment. I didn’t want to talk to people. I certainly did not want to meet new people. That was kind of how I started out adulthood.
Things got better. I would always say to people, “It’s not if I go crazy; it’s when I go crazy.” Mental illness and substance abuse issues, just all sides of my family—pick a family member, someone’s been through something. Having seen it and gone through it with my mother, I was just convinced. I was like, it’s not if, it’s when. I would kind of jokingly tell people, “When I go, be prepared because it’s going to be a shit show.”
And then it turns out it was true, and they were like, “That’s not funny anymore.” Then I went crazy. That’s the end of the story, right?
Des: Is it the end or the beginning or the middle?
Benji: Suddenly, people were like, “That’s not funny anymore.”
I never really kind of knew how to deal with, well, anything—my emotions, but how to just kind of exist comfortably. I think from a really young age there’s the whole thing, especially if you’re a gay kid, you already know you’re different and that sticks with you your entire life, no matter if you find the most loving adoptive family in the world. There’s always that kernel inside of you that’s just always like, “I’m different, I’m an outsider.” It can be great because then suddenly you’re in a room of a hundred outsiders, but you still always feel that way. I always had that.
I was going through a lot of stuff when I was particularly young that other six year olds weren’t going through. I was sexually abused at six years old. It had a huge outward impact on my life, something I obviously couldn’t see at the time, but my mom suddenly noticed an almost abrupt change in me from one type of kid to another. That’s when the anxiety started to set in, and some kids who go through things like that, they start acting out and I just started acting… in. Everything was my fault. I was broken. I broke these things.
My dad had grown really distant from me at the time, and the natural conclusion I could come to was, “Well, this happened to me. It’s my fault.” It’s really that six year old kind of logic. I was such a big thinker for a six year old. I’d be like, “Well, because what I’m going through is requiring all of these doctor bills and these lawyer visits, I’m the reason we’re poor.” Even at six years old, I could find a way to make everything my fault. The Challenger exploded and I’m like, “I did that.” And for the record, I did not make the Challenger explode, but for a while, I definitely thought I did.
I think some people turn outward, and I turned inward. Even now, to this day, being where I am in my life, I used to always assume I’m not an angry person. I would be like, “I don’t do angry. I don’t get angry.” I have a huge anger issue, but it’s all at me. I don’t get angry at other people, even if I should. Even if someone’s done something and I should be angry at them, I turn it to me. Like, somehow it’s my feeling that I’m in a position where I need to feel angry—this weird, circular logic. I constantly find ways to set something up and immediately knock it down—a self-sabotage to the nth degree kind of thing.
I think it was all just kind of a gradual process, from what happened to me as a kid and my dad going away and then my mom going through her shit and then my dad dying. Everything. When people are like, “Oh, what caused it?” I mean, maybe some people can pick a thing, but I can’t imagine that you really can. So you’re like, “What’s your story?” I wish I could just be like, “I got mugged and I was sad, so I tried to kill myself,” or something like that, but then that seems really flippant and annoying.
It’s weird because I can look back, and I can think of times I was really happy. Carefree. But your joy just got slowly tempered and tempered and tempered and then suddenly you’re in it. On some level, all of the signs were there.
I was going through a really stressful point in my life at one time, so I started going to therapy. I did this really horrible thing for years and years and years where I would go to a therapist and just lie to them and tell them that everything was great because I wanted the therapist to think they were doing a good job. That’s not a waste of money or anything like that, right?
I finally told a therapist this and they were like, “What? Why? How is your therapist your concern when you’re going to therapy?”
I said, “I just want you to feel like you’re doing a good job because you are. I’m just really difficult.”
It’s that circular logic. If there’s a way to make it my fault, then that’s what feels normal. That’s what feels right to me. It just kept building and building and building. I started seeing therapists, and then I went on medication, and then there was this IOP—intensive outpatient. You do three hours of therapy every day in a group setting, and so I did that for a six-week period. That was great. Each thing was great. Therapy was great. Medication was great. IOP was great. But I never once used them together, or I never once kind of put them in place as a plan for going forward. Things just kind of reached a boiling point and I got overwhelmed, which I suppose is what you hear all the time.
My thing is I’m always overwhelmed. If I cry in real life, it’s not because of something sad. I don’t mean that as in I’m heartless or cold. If someone in my family dies, I grieve and I’m emotional, but I don’t cry at that. I cry when I get really frustrated, when I can’t convey what I’m trying to say or I can’t suss out my emotions or I can’t make a situation work. That’s what makes me cry, and it was feeling that every day, all hours, every day. And it just kind of seemed like the thing I was supposed to do.
It’s really funny that I say “supposed to” because “supposed to” is my curse. I’m not a person of faith. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in fate, but yet somehow, I had “supposed to” engrained in my head: “This is how it’s supposed to work out. You’re a kid from the trailer park. You were raped at six years old. You’re supposed to off yourself in the bathtub. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
This is going to sound fucked up, but it seemed like the logical thing to do.
Des: Why do you think that sounds fucked up?
Benji: It’s funny, actually, because I don’t think it sounds fucked up, but I feel like it’s the thing you’re supposed to say. You know what I mean?
I was trying to explain this to my best friend in the world. I love her dearly because she’s gone through this with me twice now. I was trying to explain to her that, given what I was going through, given what was happening, the only logical conclusion I could come to was I need to die. I’m not saying that was the right conclusion. I’m not saying it’s the best conclusion. It’s the only logical conclusion I could come to.
She’s like, “No, no, no, no. It’s never. It’s never.”
I said, “I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do. I’m just saying it was logical.”
She goes, “No, it doesn’t make sense.”
We would get into these back and forths about it, and we kind of just hit this agree to disagree level where I think she knows what I’m trying to say, but it’s still a scary thing to say. I think it’s scary for anyone to say, “Well, logically I came to the conclusion of suicide,” because we’re kind of told it’s not logical. Except it really is. It’s really logical sometimes. You’re like, “I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know how to fix this. I’m pretty sure my cat hates me. I don’t know how to fix this. I will kill myself.” That’s the logical conclusion. It is.
I made my plan. It was a very involved plan. I couldn’t just pick a date and do it. I was like, “Okay, well, I have to start pushing my friends away.” You know what I mean? I had to create this world to try and make it have as little impact as possible. And shit just got real. I couldn’t even keep to my plan, and suddenly I tried and I failed.
I went into the psych ward for two weeks, and it was actually a great experience. Getting to sleep all day long and your meals are provided for you. They take sharp objects away from you. You get little footies to slide around on the floor in. There’s interesting company. If you go to group therapy and you do something good, they say, “Great job.” You’re like, “I know, right? I am a good person!” Then you get out again, and the real world seeps back in and you’re like, “Fuck it. I can’t.”
I got out of the psych ward and I went through another round of IOP, the outpatient therapy, and I kept it together for a while. You start realizing important points along the way—for my mom and dad and so many people in my family, addiction is huge in their lives, and it became a huge problem in my life. A lot of times, you talk like what came first, mental illness or addiction? And addiction is a mental illness.
For me, not that I can say with certainty, but it was always mental illness. The best and quickest way I learned to cope was to just go get wasted. Just get absolutely blasted. You know what I mean? And so, when I got out of the hospital the first time, things were going great, and then suddenly when that first bad day comes and you don’t have any coping skills at the ready, you go, “Well, I can just get drunk tonight. A drink will be good.”
End of 2014, I was doing it all again. Going to therapy, but lying to my therapist. Not really communicating with my friends. Drinking to just an uncontrollable amount, to the point where my job was in jeopardy. My finances were in jeopardy.
I always find clever ways to punish myself. I would cut myself for a while, and then I’d say, “Okay, well, I’m cutting myself too much. People are going to notice.” Then I’ll be like, “Okay, well, I’ll start starving myself.” I always had to have some form of punishment at the ready, and I was conscious enough to know I can’t do any one thing too long or people will catch on.
And this time, they all came back. It was like I’m going to starve myself, but then I’m going to binge. I’m going to cut myself. I’m going to drink. I would sometimes just drink and drink and drink because I knew I couldn’t go to work the next day and I was just praying they would fire me because I deserved it. Like, “Will someone please give me what I deserve?” And it just kept never happening. I would go out and do really irresponsible, crazy things that you’re not supposed to do because I wanted the maximum negative impact. And even when something would happen, if it wasn’t bad enough, I would be disappointed. And because I wasn’t getting what I felt I deserved, I came back to this logical conclusion.
I ended up in the hospital a second time, and I had this great psychiatrist in there.
He would say, “Okay, well, we’re discharging you today.”
I was like, “If I go home, I’m going to kill myself.”
He said, “Well, we could send you to rehab.”
I was like, “I’m not going to rehab. I don’t have a drinking problem.”
He’d say, “Well, then, we’re discharging you today.”
I was like, “Well, if I go home, I’m going to kill myself.”
He’s like, “Well, we could send you to rehab.”
I’m like, “I’m not going to rehab. I don’t have a drinking problem.”
He’s like, “Well, then we’re going to discharge you today.”
So I went to rehab. I went to a full-on Sandra Bullock, 28 Days-like thing and, I mean, it ended up being really great for me.
I realized: chicken or the egg? Mental illness, substance abuse. I say mental illness because I’ve been dealing with it long before I ever picked up a drink. I didn’t even drink ‘til I went to college. I never tried. I was a very good kid until I wasn’t anymore, but I can’t compartmentalize that. My mental health, substance abuse, the food I’m putting in my body, all of it. All that shit, as much as you want to say, “Oh, they don’t have anything to do with each other. I can still indulge in this, just as long as I’m taking care of this,” no, it’s all connected, especially as you get older. You can be like, “I only need three hours of sleep tonight, and then suddenly you turn 30 and you need 14.” It does make you feel like a bratty child, like, “But I don’t want to give these things up.” And then, “Well, if I want any semblance of a life, I have to make them work together.”
I went to rehab. Got out of rehab. Did a very extended outpatient program. Took everything day by day, baby steps. Re-taught myself how to grocery shop. Because that was the other thing—I would get out of these intense moments and just be like, “Alright, I’ll dive back in and just be wonderful and live a full life.” It was sort of like, “You never actually really learned how to live the first time.”
I’ve been sober 16 months and I wish my life were progressing a little faster. I’ve said this before to my therapist: I have spent 32 years fucking up my life. It’s going to take me a few more to get it into a reasonable shape.
I’m going to therapy every week. I’m not lying to my therapist, which is extremely terrifying, but very satisfying at the same time. I can go in there and be like, “No one’s life is as hard as mine. Mine is the worst. No one even understands my pain. I don’t care about children starving in Africa. Mine is worse.”
He’ll say, “Do you feel better now?”
I’ll say, “Yes. Okay, so here’s what happened today.” I can just say that stuff. I know it’s not true, obviously, but I can just get it out and say it. And it feels really good.
There’s this musician, Dar Williams. Her song that’s called “What Do You Hear In These Sounds” is all about her going to therapy. There’s this line in it where she sings, “Oh, how I loved everybody else when I finally got the chance to talk so much about myself,” and it clicked with me. You go into therapy and you just be selfish for 50 minutes, and you do, you feel a little better. Now I just kind of know, “Okay, you have to get up every day, make your bed, don’t drink.”
I did AA for a while which, as an atheist, is really difficult because it’s all God. God, God, God. There are people all, “God can be anything you want it to be.” Well, right now, I want God to be a fucking cheeseburger because this shit is not working for me. And I finally realized, for the people it works for, AA is a miracle. It is their godsend. It didn’t work for me. It put me in that situation, because this is another huge problem I have, where I’m comparing myself to everyone else, like, “Why are they so much better at sobriety than me? Why are they able to handle their mental health so much better? I’m awful. I deserve to be punished for it.” It’s that cycle that I get into.
I have to put myself in situations where the opportunity to compare myself is less. I mean it’s going to be everywhere. I can go to Dunkin’ Donuts, and think, “Why do they have a better coffee order than me?” and then suddenly start beating myself up, and I have to watch that. I have to work on that.
I don’t know. I don’t know where this is going to take me. Hopefully it works this time. I’d love to be hopeful, but that’s also not in my nature. I’m a very sarcastic, cynical person.
Des: What do you want your life to look like? What is the expectation for a couple of years from now?
Benji: God, you know, I’m shaking my head because this is what I’m working on in therapy right now, of expectation versus ability versus reality versus effort, because there’s that other piece of it, like, “Okay, fine, if you want to cure cancer, then you have to go out and try and cure cancer. It’s not just going to suddenly happen.” Growing up, I wanted my own television show. That’s what I wanted. I wanted a sitcom. I smile at the camera, and it has my name at the bottom: Starring Benji. And that didn’t happen, clearly.
I bring that up just to say I have all those highfalutin dreams still, like these pie in the sky and not the—I mean, not that it’s impossible. It could be possible, but I have to reconcile the amount of effort I’m willing and able to put forth with my expectation. I think that’s another thing that got me down for so long. Growing up the way I did, having my heart set on being famous or an award-winning novelist and being like, “But today, you took out the trash.” That disparity crushed me.
I don’t know where would I like to be in a couple years. I would like to at least be creating consistently. I am a creative person, and I love acting and I love writing. I love singing and I mold things with clay. Just doing that consistently, because I’m still at the point where some days, it’s like, I’ll come home, take out the trash, make some ramen—even if it’s just ramen, you know what I mean?—and go to bed.
Sometimes you have to tell yourself to go to bed because you’re waiting—waiting for the day to get good, and thinking, “Maybe if I just stay up another hour, the day will get good.” And you have to just be like, “No, go to bed.”
When I was drinking, I would stay out the extra hour later than everybody else because I’d think, “If I stay out and have one more drink, things are going to finally get exciting.” It’s all these different ways of trying to capture that unexpected joy kind of thing.
Des: I’m definitely going through that right now—the creating every day sort of thing. Trying to make myself write. I think every day is a bitch.
Benji: It’s gotten to the point where I know what I need to do is create just for the sake of creating. Because I’ll start to write something and I’m like, “Well, that’ll never get published.” But that’s my pattern. If I can find a way to shit on something—if that could be a profession, I would be so rich right now.
Des: You’re not lying to your therapist anymore. Does it matter whether you like your therapist or not? When you choose to lie or not lie?
Benji: Did I like the therapist I was lying to? Or do you mean going forward?
Des: Do you like your therapist now? Does liking them have anything to do with it?
Benji: I do like my therapist now, but I don’t know if that’s important so much as respecting your therapist. I had a therapist a few years ago—wonderful person, and I’m sure an amazing therapist for other people. It’s like shoes. You have to find the right fit, and that therapist, she was working on building up my self-esteem. To someone like me, if you try and compliment me or tell me I’m good at something, I will prove to you that I’m awful at it.
When you have a therapist who says, “Do you see how strong you are?”
I’m like, “No, I’m not.” So it became easier to just start lying to her and be like, “I am. I’m so strong. I’m going home and slicing my arms up.” This is probably trivializing self-injury.
I do like my therapist now, but it’s because I respect him. He calls me out on my shit. I wish there were like a rubric for it or something, but when it clicks, it clicks.
Des: That’s what I was trying to figure out. What was the motivation? Were you lying to them because you didn’t respect them?
Benji: I don’t know. Some of them I just didn’t even give the chance. If I go in and I’m like, “Okay, here’s the truth,” there’s this fear that either they’re going to be like, “Oh my god, why are you still here? You should have killed yourself years ago,” or, “That’s nothing. Your story is shit. That’s nothing. Get over yourself. Stop whining.” You don’t want to hear either, right? I mean, I have a fear of being egotistical. I never want to say, “God, my life was so hard.” I want to be like, “Yeah, I went through some things, but no more so than someone else.” It’s not egotistical to say, “Well, I had a shit childhood.”
Something that I will say about therapy is, with some of the people that I would see, once I would establish a rapport with them, I would lie because I was afraid if I said certain things, they would be disappointed in me. It’s funny, as someone who’s had multiple breakdowns and suicide attempts, to be afraid of letting people down. But I am. I’m terrified of letting people down constantly, and a therapist for me was just another person I could let down. So if I lied to them and told them, “Yeah, I have been working on that,” or, “Yeah, that really stuck with me,” then I wasn’t letting someone down.
I mean, I’ve had some doozy therapists. I had one in college. She was like—no joke—“Okay, I want you take out a piece of paper.”
I was like, “What, why? I didn’t bring a fucking piece of paper to therapy.”
She says, “I have one for you. I want you to write the word “toot” at the top.”
I was like, “Okay.”
“Now write one thing down you like about yourself.”
I was completely sarcastic and awful. I wrote something like, “I have cool hair.”
She said, “There you go. Now you have a toot file. Whenever you’re feeling bad, you can just pull that out and read one of those things, and it’ll make you feel better. You can toot your own horn.”
I was like, “One, I don’t know what I was expecting because I went to student health services. And two, this is some bullshit. My tuition should not pay for this.”
I still went back to her four more times.
Des: What else happened?
Benji: Well, she talked a lot about the toot file. What’s funny is, looking back on it now, I bet that’s really helpful to some people. Great for them. My big thing in college—as I said, I felt like an outsider—was working on my self-esteem, which what does that even mean, really? She’d be like, “You got to concentrate on things you like about yourself.”
And I would say, “I just told you I’m a worthless piece of shit. What do you think I’m going to find that I like about myself?”
That’s where she came up with this idea of let’s create a toot file.
Des: What would you say is the silliest thing that’s made you think about suicide?
Benji: That’s made me think about suicide? Have you ever done something, like you say something to someone or, not to simplify it this much, but you trip and fall in front of them, and you’re absolutely mortified and embarrassed for a split second? It’ll pop up in my head, “Oh god, I’m so embarrassed. It’s okay. I can just kill myself. I can just kill myself, and I don’t have to deal with this embarrassment.” It’s in your head, and it’s out for a second. Sometimes that mortification, your immediate thought is maybe not even kill yourself but just, “If I wasn’t here, this would be so much better.”
Des: Exactly that.
Benji: And I think that, then, sometimes, if you leave it unchecked long enough, it becomes, “Well, how do I not be here? I kill myself.” And that is such a balancing act.
Des: It is. It is. I was writing about this this morning about how I feel like I’ll never get rid of these shitty thoughts, and here’s an example I use all the time: I taught a class with my wife last week, and what I said was, “I could be sitting on the bus, and I’ll just decide that everybody will be better off if I kill myself.” For no reason at all. Not having a bad day. Chilling, but it’s better if I’m dead.
She was like, “Stop saying that. You’re going to give people the wrong idea.”
What I’m trying to get at is, how do you explain to people who don’t get it what it’s like to have these thoughts?
Benji: Oh man, part of me is still figuring that out.
Benji: Forever. You know, one thing I’ve been doing with my current therapist that I really like is—because you have to be careful with the therapist; if you’re like, “Oh my god, I can just kill myself,” they’re like, “Do you have a plan?”—I’ve started calling it the car accident test. If I want to kill myself, I’m going to throw myself in front of a car. I don’t feel that way today. If a car happened to hit me and I died, I’m okay with that. That’s not the goal. I would like to be at the point in my life where I don’t want the car to hit me. But given the two options, if the car hits me and I die, that’s okay. Just so long as I’m not throwing myself in front of the car. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Des: It does. Also you can live through this.
Benji: You should put that on a t-shirt or something.
Des: Is suicide still an option? You’ve totally answered this, but say more.
Benji: Oh, man. I know you’re supposed to say no. Again, supposed to. Yes, and it’s always an option.
I remember being seven years old. I’d been going through some shit with my childhood that we’ve talked about. I remember very vividly, my mom was helping me clean out my room. We were cleaning out all the shit from underneath my bed because that was sort of my go-to. Like, cram it under the bed. So we were cleaning it all out, and I remember I was under the bed and I could finally see everything that was under there. It was just so much.
I thought, “I’m going to be cleaning this out forever,” and I remember I said, point blank, no joke, “I wish this bed would just collapse on top of me. It would be easier. I could just die.”
My mom flipped out. What seven year old kid should say that? But that’s how long it’s been on my mind. I’ve been thinking about dying in some way, shape, or form since I was in single digits.
So is it an option? Yeah, it’s always an option. It’s not an option I want to take right now, and that’s as good as I can take. That’s as good as I can do. It doesn’t seem to be on the schedule any time soon. It’s not something I want to do, but you’d just be lying to yourself if you say it’s not an option. Because it is your life, and it is your body, so it’s your choice and if that doesn’t speak to sort of like, I don’t know, our power or our… gosh, that’s such a shitty way of putting it but, at least, how much potential we have. The fact that, at any given moment, I could just kill myself. But I don’t. That says a lot. That’s powerful. We always talk about what did someone do with their life or what did they accomplish or all of this? How about the fact that, at any given fucking moment, I’m just living?
That’s huge. And I certainly don’t give myself enough credit for that, and other people don’t give themselves enough credit for that.
That’s a lot of responsibility.
Des: Are you afraid of death?
Benji: No. I’m not, and what’s funny is, I think, maybe, when you flirt with suicide as an option for so long, death stops being scary. But death is a part of life. It just is. It’s part of being a biological being. So no, I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of dying and no one noticing.
No, I’m not afraid of death. I also think being an atheist plays into this a lot. I don’t believe in an afterlife. When I die, I’m done. I’m very much of the “do with my body what you will” perspective. I don’t give a shit. I don’t need it anymore. I think, in a way, that makes you a little less afraid of death. It definitely makes you put more pressure on yourself to do something with your life, but it kind of takes away the fear of death.
Des: Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of stories from people with really intense faith.
Benji: I was pretty agnostic my entire life. I was very much like, “Maybe. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.” And bit by bit, as I got older and older, I thought, “No, really, there’s no man in the sky. We’re a whole bunch of different species of biology co-existing on this planet, and fucking it up most of the time.”
But I understand faith because it’s really about fear. My life may mean nothing. I didn’t accomplish anything in this life. There’s this beautiful place we can all go to, so at least if I’m good, I get to go to that beautiful place. You know what I mean? That’s kind of the prevailing thought behind most religions. Like, “As long as I don’t fuck it up too bad, I don’t kill anyone or diddle some kids, I get to go into this beautiful place.”
It’s about assuaging your fears. You don’t need faith for a moral compass. I don’t think you do. It’s not faith that makes us moral.
Benji: I don’t want to blame my mom. You can’t blame everything on your parents. True, I blame some big stuff, big ticket items, on my mom. You can’t blame everything on your parents because, at some point, it comes down to what decision you’re making. You have to take responsibility for the choices you make, and that’s something I don’t think gets talked about enough.
That was a big thing when I was talking about AA and recovery. You have this disease. It’s not your fault. It’s your disease taking you over. I’m like, “No, I’m pretty sure I decided to go drink that whole bottle of whiskey in an hour and a half on my own because I was bored.” I made that choice. I can’t shirk responsibility for that, and that’s true with your mental health and everything, as well. There are things outside of your control, but how you react to them and cope with them? That is completely in your power.
Des: I was going to say, talk to me a little bit about your mom’s suicidality versus yours, but I feel like you covered that in the personal responsibility business.
Benji: It’s weird, because when my mom was attempting, I had a friend in high school who attempted suicide, as well. I was like, “I will never do that. That’s the most selfish thing that you can ever do. It’s just low and inhuman and what kind of a person would dare to do that?” And I get it suddenly, but I mean, there is a selfishness to it.
I mean, it’s not selfishness. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s singular. You’re looking at the solution the only way you can because everything built up however it did. The problem becomes you, so the solution to the problem is removing you. It feels selfish to other people, though, because they didn’t have a say in it. It’s like you’re excluding them from this major decision, which you are. I can understand maybe why that’s hard to forgive.
Des: That’s a tough one for me.
Benji: It’s tough. I think being on both sides of it, I get both sides of the argument. Yeah, it hurt me when my mom tried and it totally—I mean, trust issues. It is really hard to trust somebody after they try, and even if it’s not personal, like they didn’t do it as a slight to me, there’s this element of, “Was I not there enough for you to feel like you could talk to me? Was I supposed to be a better friend, or what were you telling me?” I think that’s one of the worst parts about the discussion, in general, is there’s not enough conversation between people.
There’s too much sweeping under the rug, clearly, obviously, all the time. But there’s just also—some of my friends, I wish they would just say, “I don’t trust you anymore. I don’t think I can forgive you.” Just say that to me. That’s a starting point, and we can go from there. It’s all of the pussy-footing around it that starts to get to me, but I’m guilty of that too. I’ll be talking to someone and say, “Well, when I was low and sad,” when I should just say, “Well, when I was suicidal.” It’s like we’re afraid of the words.
Thanks to Alison Rutledge for providing the transcription to Benji’s interview, and to Liza Walter for editing.