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Rhett Miller

is a suicide attempt survivor.
this is his story

Rhett Miller

is a suicide attempt survivor.

"I survived a suicide attempt."

Rhett Miller is a singer-songwriter and performer, originally from Austin and Dallas. He was 45 years old when I interviewed him in New Paltz, NY, on July 12, 2016.

Rhett: I grew up in Texas. When I was in grade school I didn’t have many friends. I had one friend, who was a sweet kid, but mostly I just read books. First through fifth grade I was going through four or five books a week and just laying in bed all weekend long between Friday school and Monday school. I didn’t have a lot of skills with regards to other people, but I was getting a lot of information and knowledge and all that kind of stuff.

In fourth grade I developed an inner ear imbalance that had me in a hospital for three months. After the first couple of weeks, my parents couldn’t stay in the hospital room with me. They were still together at the time, my mom and dad. It was a very mysterious illness; it wasn’t anything they could really pin down. During that time, I feel like a lot of the darkness that characterized my youth crystallized.

It was a weird time: the mysteriousness of the illness, the nights alone in the hospital. I wasn’t able to walk and I was vomiting all the time. They would wheel me down daily to the gift shop and I would buy almost exclusively horror novels: Stephen King, the Flowers in the Attic series, all these books that were not appropriate reading for a fourth grader. I was already reading Catcher in the Rye and heavy classic adult literature. I would stay up all night reading these horror novels, and it just kind of got weirder and weirder. I eventually got better, and that was just as mysterious.

I was so tired of being the only kid that seemed to care about reading or learning in this public school I went to that I researched private schools and applied to one in Dallas. That’s a great private school, St. Marks School of Texas. I got in there and they gave me a break on the tuition because it was expensive. My grandma paid for the rest of it and it was very sweet of her. Suddenly I was in an environment where I was surrounded by kids that did care about reading and learning, who weren’t the kind of obvious bullies that the public school kids had been.

But it’s kind of tough everywhere. Finding a kid who’s adolescent and ostracized is pretty easy. There’s a lot of us out there. There was a weird thing that happened where I suddenly was surrounded by like-minded kids but I still felt so much like an outsider. [I was] thirteen years old and I had made a group of friends at this school. As we all entered adolescence, something happened where there became a distinction between the jocks and the nerds and I wound up on the wrong side of the line. All these friends that I had made decided that I wasn’t cool to hang out with. I got blacklisted by this new group of friends. I’d never had friends, suddenly got them, and then I was without them again. Something about that, in combination with the onset of adolescence, all the hormones and everything else—it was really devastating. I went to a really dark place the summer after seventh grade. I had started doing music, but I hadn’t yet figured out how transformative that could be.

I remember there was a moment that summer of my fourteenth year when I was walking down the stairs of my parents’ home. I’d had a fight with my girlfriend, I’d had a fight with my mom, and my friends. I was walking down the stairs, I looked up, and I distinctly remember seeing a tchotchke—this sort of little statuette of a brass cat. I looked at it on the windowsill and I thought, “That’s all there is. We accumulate tchotchkes, we place them around our home, we look at them, and then we die.” There didn’t seem to be anything beyond this sort of meaningless charade of existence. That seemed so clear to me in that moment, and I’d been kind of building up to it for the three or four years before that.

Of course, that coincided with my parents moving towards their divorce. In my mind, the bills attendant to my illness made my parents’ dissolution fall on my shoulders. It coincided with adolescence. It was really existential. I know now that what I was going through personally was a lot of depression. I know that now it’s more likely that we would recognize what was going on with me. I mean, I now have a twelve year old son, which is terrifying to me when I think about what I went through at his age. But I do think that we would recognize more that what I was going through was real depression.

But for me, in that moment, it couldn’t have been clearer that there was no reason to continue this charade. I had figured it out. I felt like it was a maze and I had gotten to the end of it; I saw what it was, and in my mind, I remember thinking, “Let’s just see what’s next. This has all been laid out before me. I understand the beginning and the end of this. I’m ready to move toward whatever the next thing is, because this isn’t enjoyable to me and I’ve solved this puzzle.”

I immediately walked down to the cabinet. I know now, because I’ve been in years of therapy, that they call it suicidal ideation. I’d already thought through all the plans and thought through all the ways. I know now from my experience with other people who have attempted suicide or thought about suicide, one thing that we have in common is that we have thought about it a lot—we’ve thought about how we would do it. To me, I thought that poison would be the safest and least messy. I was terrified of someone having to find my body, even if they were a stranger, because I knew what it would do to them.

I went to the cabinet under the sink in the front hallway of my home, where they kept the cleaning products and the oil for the lamps. I pulled out anything that had a skull and crossbones on it and I poured it into a Big Gulp cup from 7-Eleven. I poured it all in there. It was oil and the stuff you clean the tabletop with. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t cyanide. It was a bunch of poisonous oil. I drank all that, gagging. I was able to keep it down. I went upstairs to my mom’s cabinet. There was a lot of [one kind of medication]. At the time, that was a common medication for depression, I guess. I took all [of it], and then I took whatever else I could find, which, God only knows what it was.

Then I waited. I thought it would be a lot quicker. At some point, I called my girlfriend. I’m not sure why, and I don’t really remember a lot of this. At a certain point, it just goes to sort of flashes of the experience. But I remember calling her. I didn’t tell her what I had done, but I think I was being dramatic in a way that was scary to her. I suddenly realized that I couldn’t feel my legs and it was all starting to happen.

Then I thought about my little sister, who was nine. I didn’t want her to find me. I realized that I hadn’t really thought about that. I went out the back door, out the back driveway, through the alley to the train tracks. I ran down the train tracks. All the while, I was losing the feeling in my legs and my extremities. I ran and I ran, and I got to an intersection where there was a 7-Eleven. I collapsed in the parking lot.

I learned after the fact, that a girl who was a senior at the arts magnet high school had just finished dinner across the street. She came out and saw me run to the parking lot and collapse. She came over and found my wallet in my pocket. I guess I had my girlfriend’s phone number in my wallet. She called my girlfriend, whose dad was a doctor, and told them that she thought I’d had some sort of overdose. I don’t know why there was no ambulance called, but they drove to pick me up and they took me to the hospital.

The order in which I’d taken these things all worked together to sort of save my life. They weren’t able to pump my stomach because the toxins on the way out would have killed me, but they did induce vomiting or something. I vaguely remember waking up to vomiting, going back out, and waking up to vomiting. Then I remember, hours later, the experience that only suicide attempt survivors have had, where you come to and you realize you’ve failed in your attempt. Obviously, I was in a compromised state, but there was something so bitterly funny about that moment, about the failure, in response to all of the failures that had led up to it. I do remember, in that moment, a really sharp pang of relief. I had realized, as all of the drugs were doing their job and as I was losing consciousness, the handful of things that I had blocked—the things that were going to convince me to stay alive. It was my sister, my brother, and my mom. It was music, and I remember singing as I was coming to. I was singing songs.

In the months after that, they put me in therapy and they gave me batteries of tests. I got one therapist who I stayed with for years, who I really love, who did a lot to help me come back. There was one therapist whose job it was to just conduct all the tests. We developed a very adversarial relationship. Years later I found her report and it said that I was obsessed with death. I was like, “How long did that take you to figure out?”

Those months were weird. People are so weird to you in the wake of a suicide attempt, because of the stigma. It’s like you got sprayed by a skunk or something. Nobody wants to be around you because they don’t know how to feel—if they should feel sorry for you, or if they should despise you for the selfishness of the act. I get why we as a society have come to label suicide attempts as selfish above all else. I get that. There’s a supremely onanistic quality to this moment where you shoot the bird at the world and say, “I’m done.”

But I know from my own attempt that I didn’t despise everyone and I didn’t think I was better than anyone. If anything, I thought that I was a burden and I didn’t want others to have to put up with my being miserable. I just felt very alone. It wasn’t like I hated the world; I just didn’t feel a part of it. So, those months following my suicide attempt I felt a lot of shame. I felt a lot of guilt and I felt stupid. I felt so embarrassed, you know?

I could see the disdain that so many people tried to hide, the condescension. Honestly, I agreed with them. I knew that what I had done was incredibly stupid and I despised myself for it. That was its own burden that took… well, I’d say it took years to get rid of, but I’ve never really gotten rid of it. I’ve always felt ashamed of it.

I haven’t told my kids about it. My daughter’s ten and my son is twelve. I think now is a perfect time to talk to them. They can start to put it in some sort of context because they know people who have been through a lot. They know people whose parents have died. They know people who have special needs. They know people who’ve suffered with mental illness. I think it’s going to be something that they can start to put into context. I want them to, especially my son, because he’s on the brink of adolescence. I know that what he’s going through now is similar to what I went through. You don’t think anyone understands you—you don’t think that they possibly could—which is so funny to me now, because it’s so universal, that feeling of being unlike anyone who ever came before you.


Des: Tell me more about what happened after. You mentioned music and obviously you’re a musician. What happened with your relationship with your family?

Rhett: I know that my suicide attempt was incredibly hard on my family. My parents were already having trouble relating to each other and this only solidified the wedge that was forming between them.

I know for my brother and sister… my mom and my dad worked full time, and we were all latchkey kids. There were a lot of times when I took care of my brother and sister, a lot of meals that I cooked. As my dad moved out of the picture—stopped coming home and moved out—there were a lot of things I did that he would have done in a more traditional family: father-daughter dances where I would go in his place, stuff like that. So, when I did this, after already having already put myself in the role of caretaker, I think it really shook them. They were already [dealing with] some neglect happening from their actual parents. Then there’s their older brother who’s sort of the ersatz caretaker, and I threaten to disappear from their lives completely. All of us, in the wake of my suicide attempt and as my parents’ marriage was disintegrating, became very self-sufficient as a reaction to this feeling of not having someone around to take care of us. I think they were scared.

In my family we’ve had people who suffer from Alzheimer’s, and when you’re going through that, there’s something really selfish—or realistic—that happens where you start thinking, “Am I gonna get Alzheimer’s?” You start really being aware of your own mental processes and looking for early warning signs of that. With my brother and sister, I think that they became really aware of their own sensitivity and their own mental health. I think they got scared that it was contagious. I think there’s something that happens where people are worried that, by being around you, they’re going to catch this thing. It’s hard because, for me, I don’t know, you know? Maybe I am. I’m already feeling pretty bad about myself as it is, maybe I’m cursed. Maybe I’m contagious. There’s an element of self-pity that goes into the drive to annihilate oneself. That starts getting compounded when people start treating you with kid gloves and avoiding you.

I know for me that the self-pity stopped working. It was kind of fun, for a little while, to give into it. I think it’s a universal thing that sometimes you feel so sad, maybe your eyes will well up and you’ll start to cry, and there’s a moment where the sadness almost feels good, like it almost feels joyful to have this intense feeling. So, for a while, the self-pity I felt and this feeling of displacement and other-ness almost felt good. Like I was superior to the world in a way. Like I had some level that nobody else could get to. Like everybody else was at eight, but I’m at ten. At a certain point, I think I realized that there was something really mundane about it. I had taken it as far as I could go and there was something about it that started feeling masturbatory. It was very much like watching yourself in an infinite reflection of mirrors on mirrors. I was sick of myself at a certain point.

For me to get out of that, I went to the only thing that made sense. As much as I loved my sister and my brother, I couldn’t go to them; they were these little kids. The things that I loved beyond that—reading books—I had kind of run into a dead end with that. So, for me it was music. I started writing songs. In the beginning, the songs reflected this death obsession. They were really silly, but they were what they were. Then they started being more honest, where I was working through the things that caused the pain. That’s what it’s been ever since, and that was three decades ago. When I realized that there was a way out, it was through music, songs, and performing. Beyond that, it was the people I met through music and the joy that they got from it. For me, the light at the end of the tunnel was that; it was writing songs, making music, and playing for people in nightclubs. There’s a whole world that opens up out of that. You’re making people happy, there’s fun to be had, friends to be made, and happiness all around at that point.

The darkness is always there and I don’t think it’ll go away. But I know the trick now. I know how to combat the darkness. I know how to find my way out of those dark places. It’s sweet in a way; I’ve turned it into gold. I’ve turned the self-loathing, the misery, the shame… I’ve turned it into not only a way to heal myself, but a career. I pay my mortgage with what used to be my misery. There’s a really beautiful irony in that, which is great, because that’s a way better kind of irony than the dark ironies I was getting trapped in in my younger years.

Des: How prevalent do you feel like this feeling—depression and then suicidality—is in the music industry?

Rhett: The funny thing about depression in the arts is that it’s so commonplace that it’s cliché. It’s like our common language. This is what we do, you know? We laugh about it backstage. Every artist I know is grappling with some version of lifelong depression. I’ve always thought that it had to do with being sensitive—more sensitive maybe than people who don’t create things for a living. I read a lot of Freud as a young man. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that, but he was wondering a lot about that. He was wondering, “Why do artists get trapped in this?” With Freud it was also based [on] the idea of a kid playing with his own feces. That’s kind of what we’re all doing. We’re like, “I’m going to take my darkest places, turn them into something, and show them to you.”

But that’s art. We take nothing and make something. It sounds frivolous, but the nothing is what is so terrifying. The nothing is what drove me to my suicide attempt at fourteen. The sense that this is all a charade. This is all artifice. The idea of taking nothing and turning it into meaning… that’s beautiful to me and that’s what we all do. I won’t name names, but every songwriter I know is doing some version of what I do, which is battling mental illness by making it into songs.

There’s a reason so many musicians and artists have problems with addiction and alcoholism. I’ve battled with these things in my life, too. There’s so many hours in the day and you can only write so many songs. You wind up being trapped in your own head for so long in the back lounge of the tour bus or in the backstage of the club. It’s really easy to smoke weed all day and just kind of turn into a zombie, or start drinking and then just float into the night. I know that drug addiction and alcoholism have always gone hand in hand with depression, and it’s all self-medication. In my life, that’s something that I’ve struggled with.

This is something I haven’t talked about at all in the press or in public, but I’m over a year now completely sober. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been that since I was fifteen years old. It was daily for me, the self-medication. It’s really beautiful, but it’s hard. I had someone in my life say to me, “I feel so bad for you that at the end of a hard day, you can’t just say, “Ah, I’m just going to have a drink and forget about everything that happened.”” I realized, for me, that was part of how I was dealing with it, so now I have to deal with those things instead of not dealing with them. I know so many people that have used that to deal with it and gotten out of it, so many people that are still dealing with it through that. The song writing only goes so far.

Des: Talk to me about how your fans have responded.

Rhett: I have only very lightly touched on my story of my suicide attempt in the press or in public, but in the last few years I have wanted to talk about it more and more. I’ve gotten out there and worked with the Suicide Prevention Awareness Network, and I have been working with OK to Say, which is a group out of Texas that is working to destigmatize mental illness.

I’ve always been ashamed of it, myself. More than that, I’ve been afraid to address it for fear of sounding like I’m trying to profiteer off of my story. It’s that fine line. It’s like I don’t want people to know about it because I’m embarrassed of it, but I also kind of want them to know about it because it adds to the mystique of, “I’m a struggling artist and I can prove it to you because I’ve had this suicide attempt and these problems in my life.” It kind of makes me feel yucky to think that I’m ever going to get someone to like me because I tried to kill myself. I think that was an excuse for me not to have to deal with it, and not to have to tell people about it. I think that it was a cop out because there is a way to talk about it without making it part of some origin story. There’s a way to address it without pretending that it’s cool. Because it’s not cool. It’s horrible. Every time I think about a fourteen year old who is going through what I went through, who wasn’t lucky enough to survive it, there’s nothing fun about that. That’s not a rock star story.

I remember reading biographies of the artists that I admired, and I remember imagining someone writing a biography of me and thinking, “Ooh, this’ll be a chapter in there.” I don’t want that, you know? I want to be a father to my two kids and a husband to my wife. I want to be a human being who does his job well and takes pride in it, lives in this world and deals with the things that make it hard sometimes. I want a real life. I don’t want a rock biography life.

When it’s come up in the press the few times that it has, it’s been the thing more than anything else that people respond to and talk about their experiences and their family members and their kids, you know? It’s not fun.

Des: The talking to your kids part is something I think about because obviously I’m going to have to do that same thing someday. What do you think you’ll say? How do you approach this topic in an age appropriate way with your kids, especially when it’s about your own personal experience?

Rhett: I think when it comes time to tell my kids, which I think will be soon, I will probably just talk to them about mental illness first. I think I’ll tell my kids that sometimes your feelings take you over, and you don’t get to have control over them anymore, and it’s those times that are really dangerous. I know my kids both have moments of really being very sensitive, my daughter especially. I want them to know that that’s normal and that’s acceptable, but it can also be dangerous if you go too far down the road of feeling alone and feeling like there’s no point in living. Then I’ll tell them what happened to me. I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet exactly. I’m scared of it because I don’t want them to think that it’s an option. I don’t want to put something in their brains that maybe wasn’t there before, like, “Oh, well. You know, Dad attempted suicide. Am I gonna do that? Should I do that?”

It wasn’t something that was ever spoken about with me. I found out later that my mom had gone in and out of the hospital for mental health issues and my grandmother was, a couple of times, hospitalized for mental health issues. When my grandmother was put in there, they gave her electric shock therapy because it was a different time. I think now with the fact that the schools put such an emphasis on inclusion, and there’s special teachers whose focus is specifically to help kids with special needs, I think there is a conversation. I think you can talk about the stuff that you couldn’t talk about before: the boogie monster that is mental health.

When my daughter used to have a tough time, she would throw a tantrum or whatever and she would be really freaking out. When she would come out of it, we would say, “Did it feel like the alien took you over?”

She’d say, “Yeah, it was like the alien took me over and I didn’t have control over myself anymore.”

That’s a little kid conversation, but I think there’s a version of that where you can say, “Yeah, I was in a battle with the dark side in my own head and it won at that moment. We all have to be vigilant because it’s there, and if you let it win, there’s a chance you don’t get to come back from it.” So, I do think it’s important to talk to them about it. In my mind, it’s not an option—they’re great, they’re fine, they’re not suffering from the stuff I’m suffering from. But I don’t know what it was like for my parents. I know they didn’t think it was an option for me because they were so shocked when it happened.

Des: I think a lot of people don’t know, like they don’t even really consider it.

Rhett: I kind of wished my mom had discussed [her experiences with me]. I think she had a couple of what they characterized as suicide attempts, but she’s never really explained to me what happened. It’s just so hard to talk about it. We all do things that we’re uncomfortable with. It’s a bad thing, and I wouldn’t ever wish my loved ones to have to go through it, but if they do I would want them to be able to talk with me about it. So I have to be brave enough to talk with them about it. I have to be brave enough to make myself vulnerable and run the risk of feeling ashamed or stupid or embarrassed, because what am I going to do, carry it to my grave? Then I’m old and dead and they never saw these truths about me, and I never got to help them in their life if they ever hit a moment that’s that dark, and I just didn’t talk about mine because I’m ashamed of it. I think I have to step up for their sake.

Des: It’s been thirty years. Is suicide still an option for you? Especially given that gap—most people I interview don’t have such a large gap of time.

Rhett: When my wife or my mom or a friend or a loved one asks me today if suicide is still an option or if I still think about it—I guess those are two very different questions—the answer that I categorically give is one that’s designed to make them feel better, which is that, no, I know what I have to live for. I know how lucky I am to be alive.

The truth is that I do think about it. There are times when I think about it a lot. That’s different from saying that I think it’s an option, because I think I’ve got the tools and the awareness to pull back when I get close. But I have had moments where I felt close to it. I’ve had moments where I felt like it would be the best option of all the available options. But I was able to gather myself, come back from the edge, and realize that when you’re in a place of such darkness, the darkness itself is what’s obscuring the things that are going to bring you back. I don’t think it would be an option for me anymore, but I definitely think about it. I always have, ever since. I’ve had periods where I’ve felt further from it, and I’ve had periods where I felt incredibly close to it, but I think I feel pretty safe that I’m beyond its grasp.

Des: People who have had suicide attempts almost uniformly tell me that they don’t think that they’ll ever be able to escape those thoughts, and they just have better tools. What do you think it is about us that makes us unable to get rid of those thoughts completely?

Rhett: The capacity to annihilate oneself, once realized… maybe it’s unshakeable. Maybe it’s that we know we have the power to end it.

My favorite author is David Foster Wallace. I’ve been a fan of his for twenty years. I felt like I sort of went up and down with him over the years. I remember after Infinite Jest, he put out a book of short stories called Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I didn’t know him, but I felt like I was watching one of my best friends descend into some horrible place. The triumph that was Infinite Jest must have been hard to follow. I make a joke with my kids all the time that ignorance is bliss and if you’re smart, the opposite is going to be true. To me, there’s no better example than David Foster Wallace, because he was so sensitive, so brilliant, and so in tune with the human condition and with the discomfort that comes with being a human being. When he decided to kill himself, that was a really hard thing for me because it made me call into question my own resolve. Someone who I admired more than anyone in the world, someone who I thought probably saw into the hearts of human beings better than anyone, for him to decide that it wasn’t worth it… but maybe that’s not a fair way to characterize it. This is the problem with being an outsider looking at someone else’s suicide attempt or suicide.

I know from my own experience that my attempt wasn’t because I didn’t think it was worth it, exactly. It was more that I didn’t want to or didn’t feel like I could do it anymore. So, I have to give him the benefit of me having no idea what he was going through. I’ve read some about it since; I find it very hard to read. I’ve got a stack of biographies of him and I can’t even crack them. Maybe it would be better if I did, because maybe I’d understand it better. It just breaks my heart, it breaks my heart so much. I used one of his quotes as an epigraph on a CD booklet for a record I made a couple of years after his suicide, and I had to go back and forth through emails with his partner. She was so heartbroken and so shattered. To have come home and found him, and then to have to deal with the detritus of a life, of a brilliant big life. He left an unfinished novel, libraries full of papers, and all of his catalog… and then having to sign off on me using a quote in a CD booklet. Yeah, I get why people say that it’s cruel and selfish when other people [die by] suicide or attempt suicide. But they’re not in a position to be held accountable for that, you know?

Des: What would you want to say to someone who was reading your story? What would you want to say if you could address them directly?

Rhett: I would never judge anyone for wanting to kill themselves. It would be hypocritical. It would also be pointless. When someone feels that and feels that strongly, it’s not a choice. I would remind anyone who grapples with those feelings of pointlessness and meaninglessness, who really does think a lot about suicide and holds that out as an option… I would caution you, it’s the only option on the table from which there is no coming back. There are other options that might seem less reasonable. It may seem like none of these other things are going to work and the only thing that would work is ending it all. But that’s the only option that then precludes any other option. The people I know who have survived suicide attempts are all grateful that they survived, so what does that tell you? I don’t think it’s a fluke; I don’t think it’s because we didn’t try hard enough or because we didn’t really want to die. I know in that moment I wanted to die. It was done. I was dead. In my mind, it was done. But in that moment, you’re not seeing everything.

A friend of mine recently had a birthday party. We had multiple cars and she said, “I’m going to leave my car here because I’m going to get drunk. We’re going to have fun. I’m going to party. I’m going to get drunk. You drive us home.” And she did. She had multiple cocktails, and then when the party was over, she was like, “You know, I feel fine, I’ll just drive.”

I was laughing, thinking, “You know why you feel fine. You just had a bunch of cocktails and you’re not seeing what is.” Similarly, when you’re in that space where every other option seems unworkable and untenable, and you can’t see any way out except to end it, your vision of your options is being colored by the thing that is driving you to the only option that you can’t come back from.

I think I’m going a long way around saying something that’s really obvious, but there are reasons to live. You just don’t see them. You may not see them for months or years, but you will. When you do, you will be so fucking glad that you didn’t die.

Two years ago I did a spot for the Suicide Prevention Awareness Network. I told my story, a very short version of it. I hadn’t talked about it and I hadn’t thought in so long about my suicide attempt. Afterward, I went to Philadelphia. I was backstage before a gig and I wrote a song called Reasons to Live. It’s just that, the most explicit thing. The verse is kind of set up, “I thought everything was terrible, but now I’ve kind made peace with it.” Then the bridge comes in and it says, “Thank God I didn’t die when I wanted to. Thank God I didn’t die, I wouldn’t have met you.”

When I wrote it, it wasn’t my wife or my kids, it was everybody. It was all the friends. All the people that come to the shows, all of the nieces and nephews, and all my kids’ friends. I mean, there’s a world of people who I’ve met in the thirty years since I almost died that I wouldn’t have met. And I’m so glad that I didn’t die.

Des: Do you feel like you’ve found any benefits from having attempting suicide?

Rhett: There’s the old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think it holds a special meaning for survivors of suicide attempts. I’m not glad I attempted suicide. I am glad I survived it. I did learn from it. I learned my own capacity for self-destruction, which I joked about for years as I smoked cigarettes and drank and drank and did whatever there was to do. I would always laugh, “It’s better if I kill myself a little bit at a time than all at once.” That’s gallows humor, but there’s a lot of truth in it.

I learned that I could talk myself into doing horrible things. If there is a silver lining to that knowledge, it’s that when you, later in life, find yourself doing things that are self-destructive—maybe not as overtly as a suicide attempt—you recognize that for what it is. You’re hurting yourself. It makes it easier to be honest with yourself about what that is. It didn’t keep me from doing a lot of the things that I did, but it kept me from doing them to the extent that I might have. It kept me from doing the really hard drugs that a bunch of my friends fell into. It kept me from doing the things I did that were self-destructive to the extent that I could have. As they have sloughed off over the years, as those minor self-destructive impulses have given way to a healthier lifestyle, it’s like I’m building up a wall against the part of myself that wants to hurt myself. I think that a big part of what I use to build that wall is my own knowledge of how powerful that drive can be within myself, or maybe within any human being, but certainly within myself.



Thanks to Sarah Fleming for providing the transcription to Rhett’s interview.


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About Live Through This
Live Through This is a series of portraits and true stories of suicide attempt survivors. Its mission is to change public attitudes about suicide for the better; to reduce prejudice and discrimination against attempt survivors; to provide comfort to those experiencing suicidality by letting them know that they’re not alone and tomorrow is possible; to give insight to those who have trouble understanding suicidality, and catharsis to those who have lost a loved one; and to be used as a teaching tool for clinicians in training, or anyone else who might benefit from a deeper understanding of first-person experiences with suicide.
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Tax-deductible donations are made possible by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, which sponsors Live Through This. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Live Through This must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Please Stay
If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can’t feel it—and you are worth your life.
Find Help

You can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Trans Lifeline is at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada). The Trevor Project is at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, contains links to warmlines in every state. If you’re not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

NOTE: Many of these resources utilize restrictive interventions, like active rescues (wellness or welfare checks) involving law enforcement or emergency services. If this is a concern for you, you can ask if this is a possibility at any point in your conversation. Trans Lifeline does not implement restrictive interventions for suicidal people without express consent. A warmline is also less likely to do this, but you may want to double-check their policies.

Live Through This is dedicated to the lives of so many friends and family members lost to suicide over the years. If you would like to add the name of a loved one to this list, please email me.
Live Through This is dedicated to the lives of so many friends and family members lost to suicide over the years. If you would like to add the name of a loved one to this list, please email me.