WARNORD: Joint Operation Valhalla SITUATION—LT. COL (Ret.) Gordon Cucullu, a decorated US...
Ranger Up Talks Suicide: Suicide is Selfish
By Kelly Crigger
“Long is the way…and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.”
If you’ve been keeping count, The Rhino Den has posted 17 articles on suicide this week with all sorts of facts, theories, and personal stories about how and why it happens so much in our military these days. Most of them are uplifting and/or take a soft approach to the issue. If you want one of those stories, stop reading here. My stance is different. Some people respond to coddling and handholding. Some respond to being kicked in the ass. For those people I say suicide is a decision, not a disease and those who commit it are being selfish.
Now let me clarify something; there is a difference between suicide committed by a rational person and suicide committed by a mentally ill person. I’m not talking about those lost in the grips of psychoses who cannot discern between right and wrong or those with a diagnosed chemical imbalance that they cannot control. I’m referring to sane people who take their lives because an event significantly affected them or they were unable to deal with a pressing issue. One day, years ago, that was me.
My suicide attempt was the result of mental weakness. I wasn’t haunted by the sights and sounds of war and I wasn’t plagued by the voices of lost friends that wouldn’t stop. I was just a misguided teen who thought death was a better option than an ass beating and living a strict household was paramount to a life sentence in Leavenworth. Everything seemed too great of an obstacle to overcome, so I overdosed on a great deal of household meds. After two weeks in intensive care I recovered, but then came three months of suicide watch and eighteen months in a Boys Home for wayward youth. I’m glad to say it turned me around and a great deal of who I am is due to the diligent care of several sainted people during those years.
I learned a great lesson from all of this: what seemed like a hopeless existence wasn’t at all. Suicide is weak and I was stronger than it. I’ve been to the edge of life’s great abyss and come back with only one nugget of truth in my rucksack: dealing with your issues and living is better than giving up and dying. If I had succeeded all I would really accomplish is transferring the pain onto others.
If I had succeeded in ending my life the pain I would have caused those around me would have been devastating because suicide is incredibly selfish and runs contrary to the military ethos of selfless service. You may end your own suffering, but what you leave behind is a black hole of loss among those who care about you the most. Your family will be forced to deal with their own questions and everlasting grief. If you have living parents they will be damaged permanently. I’m a father and I don’t think I would ever be able to overcome the death of one of my kids, let alone taking their own life. I’m hyper vigilant every time we go anywhere because I would blame myself forever if something happened to them.
I had a friend kill himself at Fort Stewart in 2002. Sticking to my guns I have to say he was weak for pulling the trigger especially when I learned his reasons for it. The worst part of our relationship is that I will have to remember him not as the squared away guy I respected (and would have respected even more if he’d asked for help), but as the weak one who couldn’t hang and gave up. We all have demons, but he let his win and now my final memory of him is tainted.
I take this hardline stance partly because veterans are held to a higher standard of mental and physical toughness, so I expect them to deal with thoughts of suicide better than the average person. When you’re in that dark place you have to plumb the depths of your soul and rediscover who you are. Friends definitely help in that process but in the end it’s a solitary act to learn what you’re truly made of and take the steps toward recovery. I figured out that I was much stronger than I thought and fought my way out of the suck and think everyone can too.
In general, veterans don’t want to be coddled. I once wrote an article about veterans who deal with PTSD by training in Mixed Martial Arts because, to oversimplify it, we like to hit things instead of sit around a circle talking about our feelings. If you have suicidal thoughts treat them as your punching bag and kick its ass.
My message to anyone contemplating suicide is to simply be stronger than it. Suicide is the ultimate act of self-destruction, weakness, and selfishness. There’s nothing worse you can do to yourself and those who care about you and there’s no recovery. Everyone who has killed themself is still in the cold, hard ground where we laid them to rest. There is no second chance and no do-over. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
I’ve lived some great years since my failed suicide attempt. I went to college, served 24 years in the Army, went to combat, started a business, became a bestselling author and (most importantly) raised an incredible family. I’ve known some of the greatest joys this world has to offer but had to go through some very low points to get there.
Living is hard, but if we wanted the easy way out we would have never joined the elite brotherhood of the military, fully knowing the hazards of our chosen profession. We’re the .45% and there’s no enemy we can’t defeat with a little courage and camaraderie.