“If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”
When I woke up, I had 29 missed calls. That had never happened before.
It rang twice.
Those were the first words I heard. But they weren’t said. And they weren’t sad. Instead, they were screamed in absolute terror. And, yes, there’s a difference.
It was sunny outside. I remember a lot about that day.
I remember how disoriented I felt. I’d been up late the night before. And that my mouth went dry. And that I tried to say something, anything, but I didn’t instead.
And that I just held the phone to my head and listened to what I could. And that most of the words were unintelligible, filtered through the sobbing. Burdened by that one unthinkable thought. So I sat there and just listened to the terror.
Terror is distinct. It sticks out. Crowds fall silent in the face of it.
Because terror never talks. Even when quiet, it screams. There’s a difference. And when we hear it, we instinctively freeze.
That was over ten years ago.
After that, for a long time, every time my phone rang, no matter who it was, I would get that same sense of dread. My mouth would dry up again. When I actually built up the nerve to pick it up, I braced myself for the worst.
Without going into the particulars, I was flooded back into this memory when I discovered the article below from Bryan Ward from Third Way Man fame.
Maybe you’ll find what you read too dark. Too dismal. Straying too far from our regular beat of self-sufficiency, but I would disagree.
It’s fundamental. It’s necessary. And it’s ubiquitous.
It confronts a certain darkness that hides within us all. And without such a bold confrontation, there’s no hope for freedom from anything.
And it will certainly cut to the core of those who’ve had the unfortunate opportunity of no other choice. Those who’ve felt their mouths dry up.
Those burdened by that one unthinkable thing. Who’ve sat there and listened to terror’s scream.
And, yes, of course, those who understand the difference.
Plagued By Darkness
By Bryan Ward
Years ago, while barbecuing on the back porch, my wife and I heard a scream.
For a moment, I couldn’t tell if it was the happy shout of a child at play or the wild, broken screams of a woman.
Minutes later, I found myself in our neighbor’s laundry room, holding the body of my neighbor up as high as I could to make some slack in the dog chain he had hung himself with.
The man’s wife, who I had heard scream, begged me to keep holding him up, to take the pressure off his throat, to get him down… convinced he was still alive, that her husband’s life could still be salvaged.
But I knew.
I knew from the heft of the body, the temperature, the plasticine feel: he was gone.
I continued to hold the body up while another neighbor climbed a step-ladder and unhooked the chain from the ceiling.
I set the body down on a heap of laundry on the floor and stared at the soap-white face and the torn, purple neck as the growing sound of sirens filled my ears.
For weeks afterwards, I felt a sense of dread anytime I entered a dark room: braced myself whenever I opened a door, half-expecting to find a dead man hanging when I turned the lights on.
But what stayed with me most was the way I had felt as I carried the body that day: the way my heart had burst with longing to be able to travel back in time so I could tell my neighbor what I had learned first-hand that day, belly to back with his corpse: that suicide was no solution: that suicide as the end of pain was an illusion: that suicide takes what would have been a passing pain and locks you and all you love to that pain forever.
Three weeks ago a friend of mine killed himself.
And as I sat at the funeral, blinking through tears at the sight of his wife and children, their heads bowed in devastation, I was reminded of my neighbor’s suicide all those years ago, and of all the men who, seeing no other option, take their own lives in staggering numbers.
It does no good to say “think of your family,” or “how could you be so selfish.”
For pain that blinding knows no logic.
We can only say “I see you. I know you. I feel you. And I AM you.”
For this darkness inside us is deadly not because it’s rare, but because its ubiquity is hidden.
Modern life has cut our tribal bonds: estranged us from the truth of each other’s condition: convinced us in our isolation that we are uniquely broken.
And so we suffer a devastating reciprocal blindness: we are blind to the inner darkness of those at risk, even as those at risk are blind to the truth that their darkness is universal: that ALL men suffer that same darkness, differing only in timing and degree.
How many men would still be here if they had not had to bear the double weight of pain AND shame, silenced by the belief that they carried some freakish, unintelligible darkness?
If you are drowning…
If you feel there is no way left to be in the world…
If you feel the fight in you dying…
Though it be your most excruciating act, reach out to your brother, your father, your neighbor, your friend.
Gather together whatever last embers you can find, and pick up the phone.
No matter how many thousands of times you’ve tried to change and failed…
No matter how many times you’ve fucked it up all over again…
You are no abomination.
You are no defective man.
No matter your pain, no matter your secret thrashings…
Even now, all the old hope and meaning and joy you long for is still there for the having… closer than you know… so long as you find a way to outlast the darkness.
If you’re contemplating suicide, or if you think someone you love is contemplating suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Your life is precious. Still, and always.
[Ed. note: Ward is managing editor and founder of Third Way Man. Check out his articles here.]