As I introduce the gift and power of light and the impact it has had in our life, I feel compelled to tell the rest of the story. This is not easy. However, I believe it is important to fully appreciate the dramatic contrast of darkness as it is replaced with light, both metaphorically and literally. To draw this comparison, I need to take you back to the summer of 2010, a time of great turmoil in my life and a time I would like to forget, but need to remember. This was before CTE or brain injury was even on my lists of possibilities. Please share this with anyone who has played football, has someone they care about who has played football, or anyone who has struggled with mental illness. There is hope.
Boston, 2017 – When Laurie and I first met with Dr. Robert Stern at Boston University, the clinical director of the CTE research center, one of the first questions he asked me was, “when was the last time you thought about suicide?” He didn’t ask if, but when, as if it was a certainty. I said’ “yesterday, in fact pretty much every day.” I told him it wasn’t like I was at risk, but the thought of somehow going away to escape the relentless darkness, was always present. I believe my answer surprised Laurie. It also took us back to that night.
Journal entry, 2010 – “My wife and I are arguing far more often than ever before, creating an ever- present tension that is palpable. There just doesn’t seem to be any way out of the situation. We have faced trial after trial through the years, hardship after hardship, and survived. We always had the resiliency to bounce back. There just isn’t anything specific we are facing right now that could explain my emotional crisis; we are both working jobs we enjoy, we purchased a new home and are doing fine financially.
Life still isn’t easy, but it’s not easy for anyone. So why am I not doing better? I keep asking myself the ‘why’ questions over and over. I have no answers, and it is so frustrating. I can’t say what is going on, but I know what I am experiencing is more than anxiety, depression, or even resentment, much more. The anger, the rage, the tension is becoming unbearable. It is at times pulsating within me, pounding. I question my ability to control it, to be a good husband and father. I think my time has run out, that I have beat the odds long enough and forces both inside and outside of me are not going to allow me to go any further.”
It was a time of crisis and I felt like I was broken. I was broken. I was in the middle of the perfect emotional storm and I was being battered from every side. I felt like I had finally lost the battle and there was no hope.
One night, in the midst of these feelings, I got into another argument with my wife. I was of course at fault, but I don’t even remember what it was about. I know she was hurt, again. What must she have been thinking? Who is this man, and why can’t he stop acting like this? There were times I argued with Laurie when I would actually see fear in her eyes. Not that I would become physical, but of the changes within me. It was during those times, the times my wife would appear to be afraid, when I hated myself at a level impossible to describe. In the deepest regions of my mind I wanted to stop and beg for her forgiveness, but I couldn’t.
I was physically, mentally and emotionally unable to outwardly express what I was feeling inside. I was out of control. She was worried, even scared at what was happening to me, but nothing she did would help. How powerless she must have been feeling. Something had taken over and I had yielded to the darkness.
This particular night, Laurie left without saying anything to go to a yoga class while I stayed home. I was alone in the house and now the feelings were stronger than ever before, and building. I couldn’t go on. On top of everything else, I felt as if I was losing my love, my best friend. I began obsessing on all my failures, my bad decisions, all those times I had made what I considered the wrong choice in spite of praying so hard for direction. I was so mad at God. The hardships I had put my family through were overwhelming me. It was so unfair.
I lost control. I was walking around the bedroom with my mind spinning. I sat on the bed, and then got up and paced some more. I was having difficulty breathing. I was praying out loud that I would just stop feeling. I was yelling at God.
Whatever had to be done, I had to stop this. I lay down on the bed and opened the drawer of the nightstand. In it I saw the hunting knife, a weapon we kept next to the bed for protection. I picked it up and started moving it back and forth between my hands. Out of nowhere a voice came in my head.
“Do it! End this right now. Don’t be a coward. You can end this pain once and for all.”
I took the knife and placed the point on my chest. I started to apply pressure and again, I heard the voice in my mind.
”It has to be painful. You want to do right by all those you have hurt. Show a little courage for once in your pitiful life and do it. Justice must be served! DO IT NOW! Life or death, decide”.
I started to apply more pressure, but something blocked me. Something was holding me back. I began to struggle with the knife, and it started to shake. What was happening? In my mind I wanted to end the pain. I had concluded that this was my only choice and that everyone would be better off. I thought about rolling off the bed and just falling, face down on the knife. But I couldn’t move. It was as if there was a struggle going on inside my head, and outside me at the same time.
The battle raged for nearly an hour. There were brief moments where I would see a little light, just a glimpse. The faces of my kids and grand-kids came into my mind, the sad face of my sweet wife and my experiences with close friends who had stayed by my side through the trouble, it all flashed before me at once. I can’t say for sure what was going on that night in my bedroom, but I believe a fight for my soul was raging. I believe the forces of evil were fighting to destroy me and that Angels had come to do battle to save me. Right there in my room, a war was being waged over me.
But why? What in the world was so important about me that anyone, or anything would care? I’m nobody, but I couldn’t deny what was happening. Just then I heard the garage door open. Laurie was home. I put the knife back in the drawer, changed my shirt and lay back down on the bed. Laurie opened the bedroom door, and without saying anything started to get ready for bed.
The room was quiet now. The tension remained, but the evil seemed to have left. As she maneuvered around the room, she paused as she came close to me. I hadn’t said anything to her, but I knew she was still sad, or mad, it didn’t matter, she certainly wasn’t happy. But as she stood there, her back to me, she appeared to be thinking. Her head tilted ever so slightly down and to the side. My eyes were glued on her, hopping, praying for something, and some indication that it would be okay. That she was still with me. But it was to late. I had gone too far. After what seemed like forever, but it was no more than ten to fifteen seconds, she turned and walked over to me.
Still, without saying a word, she leaned over and gave me a soft, wonderful, lingering hug. I didn’t deserve it. I had made her feel so bad, ruined her evening, possibly even her life, but for whatever reason, right now, the time I needed it more than at any other moment in my life, she hugged me. What a beautiful, simple, unconditional act of love. That one action was enough to help me through another night. Unbelievably, that is what I needed, just one more night.
To be continued…