Craig Milleris a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
I was 8 years old the first time I considered suicide.
I stood in my kitchen. I was alone and I had this big chef’s knife and I was doing the dishes, and I just remember looking at it and thinking what it could do, and that it could end my life. I was bawling my eyes out, just totally sobbing, thinking, ‘If this is what life is, I don’t want to live it. I don’t want anything to do with it.’
It was a very, very powerful moment. I still see it visually. I can still remember being there, remember crying, remember sliding down the cabinets to the floor and just sitting there by myself with this knife by my side. I think what pushed me in that was that I was being molested from the age of about six years old all the way up through around twelve, thirteen or so. What made it so difficult and dark was that a lot of the instances that happened, happened beneath the crawlspace in my house. So I would be in this room with this guy—this guy in the neighborhood—and I could hear my family on the floor above me in this little crawlspace with a dirt floor, and nobody knew about it.
My family never figured it out or anything, but the kids at school did, and the kids in the neighborhood knew. I think they knew, not because they had witnessed anything or saw anything, but it was just that this guy—he was [cognitively impaired] so he had tried it with a bunch of people, I’m sure. A lot of people said no and I was just not as strong, maybe more vulnerable. I have no idea, but I went along with it and so I got bullied pretty bad. Really bad. At times, I would say, terrorized. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time and all that and so you get picked on anyways, but that was brutal. For some reason, my family never found out, the teachers never found out, but a lot of kids in the neighborhood knew and they were the same kids I went to school with.
What made the bullying so difficult was, at times, these people would be my friends. I wanted that friendship so bad that I would just think, ‘Okay, everything’s cool.’ Then they’d turn on me, beat me up or whatever, and do the whole thing. I think, at that time, around that age, around 8 or so, is when I really started to develop mental health issues. I remember walking down the street and going to school and thinking, ‘If I can keep my feet straight and stay right in the center of the sidewalk, then maybe they won’t pick on me today. Maybe it’ll be okay.’ If I accidentally went too far to the left or too far to the right, I’d get all nervous and anxious that they were gonna talk about it and they were gonna pick on me. They were gonna bring up this molestation and say whatever. I’d get to school and the first thing that happened that was negative, I would attribute it to the fact that I didn’t walk straight to school…
When I was about 13, I moved out of the city and we moved to this small town, so I looked at it as a chance to really start over in my life. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not gonna be the guy to pick on. These people don’t know me at all and I want them to just know me for who I’m gonna be, not who everyone used to know I was,’ and it was awesome. The guys thought I was cool. The girls thought I was cute. It was an unbelievable life change for me, and I owned it.
I was like, “I will not be a victim anymore.”
I fell madly in love with this girl. We had what I thought was a good relationship for a while, and she broke up with me. I think the reason that affected me so much—and why I’m 38 and would still include that into my story—is because when I met her [as a fourteen or fifteen year old kid] and I fell in love with her, that was the first time that I believed, in my life, that life wasn’t gonna hurt me anymore. It was the first time I think I ever felt safe. By safe, I mean [I started to think], ‘Well, life really isn’t that bad. Life really isn’t just a string of tragedies and darkness. Maybe it’s gonna be okay.’ If anything drove me along the way in my life, it was that feeling that everything would be okay somehow, some way… just convincing myself.
When I met her, I let my guard down. I was like, ‘Oh my god, life really can be cool.’ Then, when she broke up with me, it was like, ‘No. Life hurts. Life sucks. Life’s dark. It’s dangerous and it’s ugly, and no matter how good you think it is, it’s gonna bring you back down.’ That was confirmation for me.
So, not only was I dealing with regular teenage issues, broken heart on top of it, but I was mentally thinking that life is really, really hard and it turns on you, and it would never get better and stay better.
I think why that breakup also made it so difficult is because of the fact that I was about 15 years old and nobody took it seriously. They thought, you know, ‘Your girlfriend broke up with you. That’s sad. Sorry to hear that.’ My counselors, my parents, and everything. I can look back that now as a 38 year old married man and tell you that the 15 year old kid knew exactly what love was and that love was very real. I hope that people looking at their kids now—and especially me, now that I have kids—I hope [we] never forget that. It doesn’t matter what age you are and what experiences you have; it’s how you feel and that’s it.
That was very difficult for me. It was sort of a pivotal moment where it was like, ‘Yeah, life is gonna keep messing with you.’
I found myself believing that small actions I did throughout my day would have huge negative or positive effects on my life, and maybe even the whole world. If I picked up a piece of paper on the ground, it meant that everything was gonna be okay. I was cleaning up my life. I had this overwhelming desire to do these compulsions. It ended up being OCD, but I had no idea. I just knew that, like now, if I’m sitting in this room, I gotta count the slats in those screens, and if I get up to a certain number and it’s an odd number, then it’s gonna be really bad and I have to start counting over. This anxiety would build in me and build in me and build in me, but I would be doing it while I’m talking to you right now. I’d be looking out of my peripheral vision and trying to count ‘em and stay on certain numbers. I really thought that my mind was completely breaking. I thought I was going insane. I thought my mind was broken, and the thing about OCD—and anyone who has it can tell you this—you know that everything you’re thinking is irrational. You know it makes no sense, but you’re just powerless to control it, especially when you don’t know anything about it.
There I was, fifteen years old, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, scared to death, and I was finally hospitalized.
The first doctor I went to said, “Oh, you have OCD and there’s medication for it. It’s a chemical imbalance. The anxiety and depression are probably part of the OCD.” Never went into my past, never asked me a lot of questions or really talked to me.
I was hospitalized at 15—this was my first time—and the hospital determined that the rituals and behaviors associated with the OCD took up 95 percent of my waking hours. So it was very, very intense and it was so unique—the rituals I had, a lot of it was internal. I’ve always been some sort of a fighter on some level.. It’s sort of a 50/50. There’s part of me that thinks I’m the weakest thing in the world and I doubt the hell out of myself, and then there’s part of me that says, ‘No, you’re not. Keep going forward.’ I still battle with that. Always. I kind of like that about me, to be honest with you, because that doubt makes me try so much harder.
With the OCD, a lot of the physical things, like picking up pieces of paper or counting things or touching things and washing and all this stuff I had, I would fight it and be, like, ‘No, I’m not doing this. This is crazy.’ Then it started to go internal, so most of my OCD was strictly associated with my thoughts. It was how I was thinking, so I would have to have rituals about how I processed a thought and how many times I processed that thought, and then I’d have to rethink it. It was really, really unique—so unique that they actually brought in a team of people from around the state who sat with me and just studied the shit out of me, asking me a million questions.
When I was around 16 or so, I left my house and I moved into a friend’s garage. I think the reason I did that wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the environment, which I didn’t, but what drove that, really, is that I just needed some sort of control and freedom. I know those are sort of contradictory things, but I needed to hold… I needed some control over my life and I made the decision to just leave. I didn’t pack up and run away. I just sort of stopped coming home as often, and I started spending all my time in my friend’s garage. It was a detached garage from the house and I had this freedom there where I could just make my own decisions and I could do whatever I needed to do to take care of myself, whatever that may be. It was definitely not the healthiest thing I could have done, but for me, it did help. I stayed there for the next five years or so, in and out of hospitals.
Suicide was constantly on my mind. For me, suicide was never this impulsive thing. It was never like, ‘I just can’t take it anymore.’ It was something that was always there, since I was a little kid. The way I describe it is that it was the filter in which everything that went in and out of my mind had to go through. I always thought, ‘If tomorrow’s tough, then that’ll be it.’ I would spend nights convincing myself to just see tomorrow, talking myself out of suicide, convincing myself that life was gonna be okay—’It’s gonna be alright, just keep hanging on and get there.’ I always tried to think of how I could make sense of my past and how I could make sense of the things that I had gone through. I was just driven inside myself by the OCD and by my personality, I guess, but I was always contemplating my life, all the way through my teenage years.
[By the time I was 20, I had several attempts], five different hospital stays. I was on disability for psychiatric issues. I was on food stamps. I was living in my father’s girlfriend’s house. I had a room there I was renting from them. I literally had nothing. I just got to a point where I was tired. I really intensely emotional. I was done crying. I was done being angry at the world. I was done being afraid. I just got tired, and I was like, ‘That’s it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to live this life.’ It was a very calm, matter of fact kind of decision. I filled my body with pills and I went to sleep, and I woke up three days later in the Intensive Care Unit. There were tubes in my nose and throat. I had all the needles in me and I was strapped to the bed because I was fighting everybody who came in to help me.
I remember sitting there just before my discharge to leave the hospital and go to a psychiatric hospital, and my brother came in—he and I have a very unique relationship. He’s all business. He thinks with that side of his brain. It’s logic and business, and I’m wicked emotional and creativity and heart and all that, so we’re very different people. I was laying there and he was sitting next to me. It was just he and I, and we never were close or anything, so it was really uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do, and I don’t think he did either.
He just leaned into me, and he said, “What’s gonna make you want to stay?”
I never thought of a question like that. I never processed that side of it. I think that’s why it hit me so hard. I didn’t know. I had no answer. I guess, if you want to twist that around, [you could say] say I really had no hope. I had nothing to look forward to, nothing to say, “This is why I want to stay.”
Over the next few weeks and months, that question became my question. I starting asking myself, “What’s gonna make me want to stay?”
I think what really affected me so much about that, and this whole process in my life, was that I didn’t want a family, I didn’t want a good job, security, or the stuff that you would hope for in life. All I wanted was to be happy, and I don’t mean happy. I mean I wanted to be okay with being alive. Just to be comfortable with life. To wake up and not be afraid of the day. To go to bed and not dread the next coming day. To not think about killing myself every fucking day. That’s what I wanted. I just wanted that bare minimum of normalcy, that bare line of happiness…
A question I get asked often is, “What changed you? What made you from that person to this person?”
It was that process of recognizing that I had truly reached the lowest point in my life. I had reached the point where all I wanted was to wake up and be okay with waking up. That realization, it took time to really process inside of me. It wasn’t an epiphany. That was what sort of lit the fire in me to say, “Okay, if I’m gonna live, then I’m gonna fucking live, and I’m gonna do everything I have to, to make this life worth it.”
The anger that I felt toward the world and toward life in general sort of became this determination. I think our emotions—for me especially, because I live so deeply in my emotions—are incredibly powerful and they can move mountains in our lives. And anger, I believe, is a gift if treated right and taken care of right. I wasn’t treating it right. I was a very angry person. I cut myself a lot. I would punch things apart and cut—I won’t even get into cutting—but… I was very angry at the world. I didn’t want to go forward angry, and I think an emotion like that doesn’t just go away. So, I really changed my outlook and I really [started to look at and ask myself,] ‘How am I gonna move forward in life? How am I gonna keep going and live the way I want to live?’ My anger transferred into determination, and I think they’re very close together. I just got really determined, an angry determination. Like, ‘I will fucking do this and I will move forward and nothing will get in my way and my past will not hold me down.’ If treated right, the anger is actually pretty amazing if you can convert it.
The other most powerful thing in me was my fear. I was scared to death. I would categorize fear itself as a mental health issue. I mean, I lived in fear—constant, constant fear. Not just under the OCD—where if I did it wrong then something bad would happen—but this panic and fear, anxiety of life, of living, of what’s gonna happen next, the uncertainty of every day. That transformed itself into a desperation. The fear of ‘What happens tomorrow?’ became, ‘What happens if I don’t move on and reach tomorrow? What happens if I stay where I am? If I don’t make any changes, what’s gonna happen to me?’
That’s what really transformed in me emotionally. It was that I became desperately determined, I guess, and I asked myself, “What I gonna do with my life? How am I gonna move forward?”
I was fucking determined, but I had to figure out—again, this was a big process I went through—I had to figure out what happened to me. How did I get to where I was? Why? I had to take note of where I stood before I felt like I could move on. I looked really deeply at the things that I was hanging onto, the molestation and the bullying and broken home and all the other shit that went along with it. I had to make sense of it for me. I don’t think that I am capable of letting go of anything. I don’t think it’s as easy as to just move on. I had to find hope, not only in my future, but I had to find that hope in my past.
I always thought that life was gonna mean something to me, that this would add up to something and it would have some sense of purpose. I just couldn’t get over that. I obsessed about it. Like, ‘Why the fuck did all this stuff happen? Why did I go through this shit?’ I believe that there is a reason for things. I have to. That’s a belief I hold very, very strongly. There is a reason for everything, absolutely everything. I have to feel that. It’s how I stay well. I need that, and I don’t want to be talked out of it…
[I asked myself], “Okay, well, what the hell was I molested for? How do you put sense to that?”
If I was gonna move on with my life, if I was gonna move forward, how would I take the past with me? The only way I could do that was to make sense of my past and find value in my past and put something to it that gave me something. I believe firmly that we can learn from anything that we go through. I can’t say there’s a reason that this guy did what he did to me, but I can say with certainty that there was an opportunity for me to learn something—whether it was about me or the world or other people or life in general, there was an opportunity to learn. I literally listed out for myself.
After my attempt, I made the decision for myself—and I don’t encourage this to people, I just tell it as my story—that I needed to do this on my own. I didn’t want the help of doctors anymore. I needed this self-empowerment to go forward and figure this out myself. And I was safe. I knew that, if I felt suicidal, to go and get help. That was part of my plan moving forward, but I knew I needed to figure it out.
[I asked myself,] “Okay, what did I gain from being molested? What did I learn from that? What did it give me as a person?” I literally wrote it out: trust issues, self-esteem issues, the fear, anxiety… all this negative shit that just totally messed me up.
I said, “Is that what I want to take with me when I move forward? Is that what I want to learn from it?” Definitely not. That’s the shit that brought me to where I was. That’s the stuff that held me down to the ground.
[I asked myself,] “So what did it do for me as a person? If this is my life, if this is my toolkit, if this is what I was given to be the whole and complete person that I’m supposed to be, what parts of it do I want to make mine and what parts of it do I need to just not make mine?” If there’s anything I learned from being molested and the years that I went through, it was compassion. Man, I learned compassion. The way I write about it is that compassion is to see the hurt in the eyes of another, no matter how badly we are hurt ourselves. If those years and those circumstances and experiences are what it took to teach me that, to give me that part of my heart and the empathy that goes inside of me and the compassion to look at someone else and feel their pain, then that’s what I want to take with me; then it makes sense to me. If that was a lesson I needed to learn and those was the circumstances and the level at which I needed to learn it in order to absorb it the way I did, that’s what I’m taking forward.
I really did that with absolutely everything in my life. I looked at bullying. You know, what the hell good did that do? I think of it like it gave me almost a watchdog instinct to gauge the intentions of other people, to meet somebody and know if they really have your best interest at heart, or if there’s something I really shouldn’t trust about ‘em. A lot of people have that. A lot of people just know when they meet somebody—they get this instinct, this feeling, they pick up on the energy. It’s probably something I always had, but I’m going to attribute the years of bullying to giving me that instinct. I have to. That’s what makes sense to me. I look at it like I went to a class—a life lesson class—and I spent six years in this class that taught me about how to feel other people’s energy, how to know if they really have good hearts or not, and they put me in these real life scenarios and threw me out in the schoolyard and they would totally fuck with me until I figured it out. That’s kind of like how I look at it. I had to make sense of it all.
When I did that, life wasn’t really so scary anymore. All the energy I had spent in the darkness and in the pain, trying so hard to figure it out and feeling that I was a victim, started to dissipate. The power that it had over me really started to dissolve because I was giving it a different meaning. I was finding that hope in my past and assigning meaning and assigning reason. It made going forward a whole lot easier, and it made me, over time, love myself—really love myself. What a powerful thing that is.
There was a time when I used to hurt myself on purpose. I would never consider that now. I would never consider that. I look at myself and I have compassion for me. I have a heart for me, for what I went through, what I allowed myself to continue to go through, with the mental health issues that I had and the depression that I suffered with. I had, in a sense, sacrificed myself in order to learn and become who I am today, without even knowing it… I really learned to respect who I am.
Des: Would you say that you still struggle with suicidal thoughts?
Craig: No, no. I don’t think I struggle with them. I have them, but I don’t struggle with them. I think I always will have them because the thought of suicide had become so comfortable, such a… I actually used it as a way to make me move forward. If I was scared to death, if I was really going through a very bad time—especially in my teens—I would just think, ‘You know what, man? Just try tomorrow. Try it tomorrow. Try another day of life, and if it’s really that bad, then we’ll just do it.’ That was how comfortable I was with suicide. It was an option. It was my number one option. It was my way out, and I was not afraid of it. I was very comfortable with it. I think it’s still there, but I don’t struggle with it because I also don’t fight it. If it comes in, if I’m going through a rough time, a really difficult time, and life is hard and I start to doubt myself really bad, the thought comes in and I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re there and it’s a thought and it’s okay, but I’m not gonna fight you. I’m just gonna tell you I don’t need you.’ That’s kind of how I look at it, so I don’t struggle.