Decide to Change
“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
The Day I Didn’t Commit Suicide
At the age of sixteen, I stood motionless in my bedroom behind a closed door, staring down at the shag carpet. By today’s standards, it was horrifically ugly—long shag, mostly yellow with orange and browns mixed in. It also might have been the last thing I ever saw.
I raised my right hand and put the barrel of the gun in my mouth. The blue steel of the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver was cold on my lips, and I could taste the metal in my mouth. I scraped the barrel on my upper front teeth, which sent chills over me. With my left thumb I cocked the gun’s hammer back, locking it into firing position. I put my right thumb on the trigger. It seemed like I stood there forever.
There were a thousand thoughts running through my mind. I thought about my family finding me and how they would react. I imagined my adoptive mother hearing the gunshot and finding me lying dead on the ground. I imagined what my body would look like, lifeless on the floor with blood pooling on the carpet. I imagined her screaming and my two sisters running into the room. I imagined all of them crying. In a bizarre way, I wanted all of them to be sad.
Mostly I wanted my adoptive mother to pay a price, to suffer a consequence. I wanted to take myself away from her, and I wanted her to suffer like I had been suffering for years at her hands. I wanted her to feel empty and lost like I was feeling at that very moment. I mostly wanted her to feel guilty for pushing me to the breaking point, for causing me to seek this as the only way out. I wanted her to hate herself for making me kill myself. I wanted her to be so overcome with guilt that she couldn’t take it. I wanted her to feel all of the same pain I did.
While I stood there with a gun barrel in my mouth, I imagined the news of my suicide spreading throughout my school. I thought about my friends and my football coaches and imagined them all being sad. I wanted them all to mourn me and to miss me. I wanted them to all ask the question, “Why? Why did he do this? What caused him to feel like this was his last resort, his only way out?”
I wanted everyone to look at my adoptive mother with suspicious eyes and wonder what had been going on behind closed doors to cause this. I wanted people to discover the monster I believed my adoptive mother had become. I wanted her to be exposed for taking advantage of me and for hurting me. I truly believed she had taken my life away from me because of her own selfish desires. I was now going to be selfish and take myself away from her. She had hurt me both physically and emotionally, and now I was going to hurt her in the only way I knew how.
I wanted my father to pay a price as well. He had walked out of my life when I was twelve years old. One day he was just gone. I had not seen or heard from him since the day I watched him pack his personal belongings into his car and drive off. There wasn’t even a goodbye from him. I wanted him to feel my pain. I wanted him to feel abandoned like he made me feel when he left me and my two sisters behind.
I wondered what would happen next, after I pulled the trigger. Would I go to heaven? Would I go to hell for taking my own life? What would it be like on the other side? Is there such a place as the other side? My older step-brother described going toward a light when he had attempted to take his own life a few years prior. He remembered being met by his younger brother, whom he had shot and killed in self-defense. The murdered brother told him it wasn’t his time and he needed to return. The brother said he forgave him for the shooting and then sent him back to his body, which was lying lifeless on an emergency room gurney.
I wondered if someone would be there to meet me. Would my biological mother be there to meet me? She had died when I was four years old. Would she tell me it wasn’t my time and send me back? Or, would she accept me because it was my time? These thoughts were racing through my mind. I didn’t even have time to fully process one thought before the next one entered. I was standing motionless, but my mind was going a thousand miles a minute; thousands of neurons fired and sent messages in so many different directions, all at the same moment. It was so confusing, so chaotic inside of my head.
I’m not sure how long I stood there, but at some point I began to realize I didn’t have the courage to pull the trigger. I wanted to so badly, but I couldn’t. There was no epiphany or no magic voice that stopped me. I just couldn’t go through with it. I almost felt like a failure because as badly as I wanted to die, I didn’t have the courage to take my own life.
I took the gun out of my mouth and de-cocked the trigger. Luckily I didn’t accidentally shoot myself when I was de-cocking the damn thing. I had only handled the weapon a couple of times prior, when I had helped my adoptive mother clean it, and I had certainly never fired a gun. My knowledge of firearms was amateur to say the least. I opened my bedroom door slowly and peeked out. No one was there. I ran across the hallway to my adoptive mother’s room and returned the gun to where I found it—between the mattresses of her bed. Ironically, she kept the gun there for safety and protection.
I returned to my room, closed the door, and sat on my bed. At that very moment, I made a decision. I decided to change my life. I would take my life in a different direction from that moment forward. I didn’t know exactly what that direction was, but I realized the path I was on would lead to an early death. This path was self-destructive, and I would no longer let those around me control me and force my hand. I knew I was better than this and could become more than this. My life was different from that moment on. I had to make change in my life and set my life on a new and different path—a path that would lead me toward happiness and success.
Key Strategy Number One: Decide to Change
Millions of people make decisions to change every day. However, very few actually follow through with it. That’s sad, but that’s reality. People are creatures of habit, and we don’t welcome change in our lives. We may want change, but we don’t welcome it. We prefer familiarity and comfort.
How many New Year’s resolutions have you broken? Many of us have vowed to lose those few extra pounds and have signed up for a new gym membership only to fall back into an old pattern of poor eating and not exercising. This is a very common pattern of behavior. Gym memberships across this country soar at the beginning of every year. By early March or April, gym attendance tends to drop off significantly. Why? We fall back into our old patterns and habits.
Change is difficult, but change can also be invigorating. The decision to make a change can produce a new outlook on life. It creates a new beginning in us.
Many times the decision comes after hitting “rock bottom.” That rock bottom is different for each of us. I have seen alcoholics hit their bottom after being arrested for drunk driving or people with drug addictions hit their bottom after a near-death experience from an overdose. Your rock bottom doesn’t have to be this dramatic. It’s personal to you. There is no standard or threshold to meet. You may wake up tomorrow and decide for health reasons to lose that extra twenty pounds or decide you are tired of looking the way you do. That may be enough for you personally. Others may have to experience something more significant, like suffering a heart attack from being overweight, before they hit their bottom. Some may need to be incarcerated after being arrested for drunk driving. Even worse, some may have to be hospitalized after being in a car accident. Whatever that moment is, it’s yours. It’s what personally motivates you to make change.
As you may imagine, my rock bottom was standing in my bedroom at the young age of sixteen, holding a loaded .38 revolver in my mouth. It was at that moment I knew I needed a new direction and if I didn’t make change in my life, it would be catastrophic. That single event motivated me to make the change I needed. There is one certainty: the decision to make a change must come from within you. No one else can force you to change, nor can you force change upon others. Drug and alcohol programs have a very low rate of success when the treatment is forced upon the individual. I constantly see this with court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment. When it’s court ordered, chances are it’s not the person’s decision, it’s the judge’s. In that case, the chance of success is low. This is not to say that drug and alcohol programs don’t work, because they can. Success is dependent upon the individual’s decision to make the change. We can’t get help or make change until we determine we need the change. It must come from within us, and not be imposed by someone else.
This is why I say it takes hitting rock bottom for many people to make a change. When we hit rock bottom, it’s our way of surrendering and saying, “Enough is enough.” It is at that point we are willing to accept help or make change. Our rock bottom is the flipping of the switch. It’s the catalyst to accepting help. We are now primed and ready for change.
There are several components to making any change in our lives. First, we must make the conscious decision to change. Many of us know the things we need to change within ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we have decided to make those changes. There is a distinct difference between knowledge and choice. We have to make that conscious decision in our minds.
Next, we must identify the reasons for the change. We must identify the individual factors that led us to this decision. There could be one factor or many factors, but they need to be specifically identified. There is a synergistic effect when you have (1) made a decision to change and (2) identified very specific reasons for needing the change. The combination of the two breeds success. I recommend that you take the time to dig deep and identify your own reasons for change. The reasons are in there, inside of you; otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this book. You need to do a gut check, to have a little heart-to-heart talk with yourself. Reach deep inside and identify why you need to make the change. Do some serious soul-searching and be honest with yourself.
Using my situation as an example, let’s put all of this together. First, I made the conscious decision to change my life after I put the gun away. It was a clear decision in my mind. Second, I identified the reasons I needed to make the change. I needed to change my life because I realized the path I was on was one of self-destruction. I was going to end up dead at a very young age if I continued. But I also realized that I didn’t want to die. In fact, I wanted to live and be happy.
Once you identify the reasons for needing change, write the responses down on paper and frequently review them. Review them every day. Identifying the reasons you need to make a change will create a path for you. Reviewing these responses daily will be your guide. This will keep you focused and keep you on your path. It serves no purpose to file your responses away in the back of your mind. You will quickly forget them. Once you forget them, it is very easy to get off track. This proves the old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.” The reasons you’ve determined from inside yourself need to be at the front of your mind constantly in order to provide the drive and motivation to stay on the right path.
A friend of mine decided she was tired of being out of shape. She had become disgusted with her own appearance and hit her rock bottom when someone asked if she was pregnant; she wasn’t. She quickly identified her reasons for wanting change. She was embarrassed at her own appearance and mortified when someone thought she was pregnant. She didn’t want to suffer that humiliation ever again. She simply wrote, “I will no longer be fat. I will lose twenty pounds.” She also wrote down four specific reasons she wanted to lose the weight.
She took several Polaroid photographs of herself in a bikini and placed them around her house. Each of the photographs had the same caption at the bottom—her goal and her reasons for it. Seeing these throughout the house forced her to constantly focus on the reasons she needed to make change in her life. Every time she walked by one of those photographs, she instantly became mad at herself for getting so out of shape. That anger provided the motivation and drive she needed to stay on course and lose the weight. This was her way of staying focused.
As a result of this clearly identified path, my friend lost those twenty pounds. In fact, she lost a few pounds more than her actual goal. She realized the power of this strategy and began using it in other aspects of her life. As much as this process is about changing physical patterns of behavior, it’s just as much about changing the way you think—changing your thought process and changing how you think about attaining goals. In order to achieve new outward patterns, we first have to change our thoughts.
The very first step to changing is the conscious decision to change. You must be the one who makes the decision. You must be convinced that you need the change; you must find your rock bottom. Here are the steps to follow:
• Decide to make change. It must be a conscious decision, and it must be yours.
• Identify your reasons for needing the change; list several factors.
• Write your responses down and post them in visible places; look at the responses several times a day to keep them in the forefront of your mind. The more often you view them, the more powerful they become in your mind and the clearer your path will be.
• Explore the steps in the following chapters to see how to make the change once you’ve decided to do so.