Steve Austin shares his story of recovery from a suicide attempt on the Not Your Mama's Christian Podcast.Read More
In Episode 40 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin shares some encouragement from his own life for folks who feel hopeless. If you’re ready to give up, tired of running, or feel like you’re drowning, please listen to this very personal bonus episode.
This week marks five years since I nearly died by suicide. The truth is, I’m not alone. This year, approximately 44,000 Americans will believe they have reached the end of their rope, and die by suicide. And for each person who dies, another twenty-five will attempt.
You might think my story is a bit rare because I had a family. I had been married five years when I tried to die. But there are lots of married people who die by suicide. Maybe it’s the fact that my little boy would turn a year old the very next day. And yet, there are plenty of parents who end their lives.
The thing most people find rare about my story is that I was a pastor on September 21, 2012. I had lost all hope and tried to hang myself in a hotel bathroom that night. When that failed, I crushed the contents of bottle after bottle of medication and drank to my death.
When Your Brain Breaks
I was raised in the church. I served on youth leadership. I traveled with the Gospel choir in college. My feet had touched the soil of three foreign countries, preaching and spreading the hope of Jesus. I had two years of ministry school under my belt. I was passionate about the unconditional love of God, but I was just as determined to end my secret suffering.
I was a pastor and a lifelong Christian. I loved Jesus with all my heart. And I adored my family. I just despised myself. I was desperate to find peace, no matter the cost.
I didn’t know about counseling or therapy. I didn't know I had permission to tell my truth. I lacked the confidence that God would meet me in the darkness. I was exhausted from a life filled with shame, and a fear-based religion that left me shakily scared of appearing less-than-perfect.
My desperation was partly rooted in the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. I was also horrified at the thought of anyone discovering my twenty-year pornography addiction. And then I lost my job. That was the straw that nearly crushed me. Shame told me I was nothing more than the sum of all my unfortunate mistakes.
I knew people who had worked through unthinkable trauma. I had seen how Jesus could heal addiction. Those stories made the most inspiring testimonies during a Sunday morning service. But I had never heard a Christian (must less a pastor) stand up and tell the truth about their broken brain.
I've written extensively about the day I was supposed to die. I've told my story—the pastor who nearly died by suicide—countless times over the past several years. People are amazed, dumbfounded even, that a "man of God" could get so low that his desire for Jesus could only be equaled by his desire to end it all.
Today is National Suicide Prevention Day. So, I'm speaking up about my story once more.
People love to hear about the time Jesus showed up in that ICU room, during the days when I couldn't feel my legs. They weep when I share about how God whispered to my soul, "I'm not finished with you yet." Everyone loves a good redemption story. But what I haven't talked much about is the day I started living again—the day I didn't die.
Maybe I haven't covered the day I started living again as concisely because it isn't really a day, but a series of days. There have been 1,814 of them, to be exact. The first seven days were the hardest. Choosing to get out of that hospital bed. To take my meds as prescribed. Not to overdose again. Not to escape again. Not to run away to the grave and hide until Judgment Day.
Each day, I have to make a conscious effort to tell the truth. To go to therapy. To confess my mess. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the church doesn't handle long-term healing very well. We don't do a great job with chronic illness. We expect people to recover from a hospital stay within a matter of weeks, because that's what we're told faith is all about.
But the truth is, I have faith. It's gritty and comes with claws, but if I didn't have faith, I would have given a long time ago.
The stigma surrounding mental health is worse in the church than just about anywhere else. The church lacks education and, unfortunately, compassion when it comes to those suffering with mental illness. Lack of compassion and education is met with an abundance of dangerous theology. What you're left with is a poison that is literally killing weary travelers, seeking refuge.
Bad Theology and Mental Health
Today on The Preacher's Forum Podcast, I have the honor of sharing my story of recovery from abuse and a suicide attempt, plus my frustration with the Christian Machine that continues to pummel people in the name of God.
Click here to check out my conversation with Clint Heacock and leave your thoughts in the comments!
If there's going to be any hope for the church today, we've got to continue to have these vital conversations.
I have a mental illness, but I'm not crazy.
I will never forget meeting the psychiatrist before I was transferred from ICU to the psych ward. I was nervous as he entered the room, clipboard in hand. He gave me my diagnosis, then gave a brief overview of what to expect in the coming weeks. But I didn’t hear his plan. All I could think was, I’m now officially crazy.
The Power of Self-Care When You Feel Crazy
My palms were sweaty, my breathing shallow, as I remembered my Aunt Missy, who died by suicide when I was a teenager. I remembered the way people whispered about her when she was alive, both around town and in our family. I feared life would be exactly the same for me.
I was convinced a diagnosis meant I would never be able to find a respectable job. My kids would have to grow up with their friends talking about their crazy dad. Everyone would think I heard voices and belonged in a padded room. It made me feel less than a real human. I believed I would never find full acceptance in any community again. Except, of course, with other mentally ill people. As the doctor’s voice droned in the background, I stared out the window, wishing for any kind of escape.
The stigma of mental illness sucks. But not getting better sucks worse. Those of us with a diagnosed mental illness just want our lives back. We want to get better. For me, one of the biggest hurdles was learning to focus on getting better, instead of the label.
I am more than my diagnosis.
Labels are important, especially from a medical standpoint. They give us a plan of action. They show us a lot about our limits. They teach us which medications may help and what substances or situations to stay away from. But when we focus more on the label than the person behind it, a human being in need of love and belonging, we miss the point. And we miss an opportunity to live a full and meaningful life.
In the psych ward, I learned I needed to define my triggers: those things that cause my anxiety to increase or my depression to worsen. For me, it’s as simple as black coffee and as complex as not spending days alone at a time. (Isolation can be a real son of a bitch for someone with a mental illness).
I had to create a plan I could follow. My short-term strategy included intense therapy with professional counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists during the first couple of years of my recovery. Eventually, the intensity tapered off, but I know I can still make an appointment any time. My plan also included medication, which was much stronger in the beginning than it is now. The truth is, I will always take medication of some type. When depression and anxiety descend like a fog, medicine clears the sky so I can find myself again. It makes me more of who I am, not less.
Another part of my plan was to name my support system, the people I can lean on in hard times, the ones who could handle my needs. In the five years since my recovery, I have experienced various reactions from people. Some can handle the recovery process. Some aren’t at a place where they can handle it. Some friendships are seasonal and some are for a lifetime. During recovery, I think you should expect people to come and go from your life. And that’s ok.
Each segment of my recovery plan has carried me a step further down the road to healing.
While I have learned to accept my diagnosis, it doesn’t define me. It gives me boundaries and forces me to embrace self-care. I have depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t get to determine who I am. I am much more than a label or the stigma attached to mental illness.
-from Self-Care for the Wounded Soul, by Steve Austin and Kate Pieper, LMFT
Abuse, addiction, and a suicide attempt weren’t the end of Steve Austin’s story. In fact, a suicide attempt is where his life began. Steve hosts CXMH and the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, in addition to being an author, speaker, and life coach. Read more at iamsteveaustin.net.
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A new article out by the Telegraph states that there is an astonishing rise in exorcisms for the mentally ill.
Mental Illness and Demons
Somebody help me. When will this damaging theology end? Will the Church ever awaken from her ignorant slumber and see just how destructive this bad theology is?
Well, maybe this response from Charisma News will help. I sure hope so.
I was honored to give my 'two cents' on the matter and I hope you'll read the full response by clicking right here.
More Christianity and mental health resources:
Many of us have scars. Some are internal, and some are visible. Bad things have happened to us. People and institutions have wounded us deeply. And many of us walk around under a heavy blanket of shame due to the awful experiences we have endured. But in the past five years, during recovery from my suicide attempt, I have learned that scars are just grace tattoos.
Over the past year, I've given away more than 100 copies of my Amazon best-selling book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward. Pretty exciting, right? The sad news is, I'm down to only 10 copies remaining. Keep reading to see how you can get a really cool shirt and help me give away more free books!
Scars are just GRACE tattoos!
Until July 10th get your "Scars are just GRACE tattoos" t-shirt and support the fight for suicide prevention.
I was a pastor when I nearly died by suicide. Mental illness is no respecter of persons - it doesn't care if you're a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, or none-of-the-above. Anxiety and depression are sometimes ruthless, causing a person to feel completely overwhelmed and without hope.
My book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, offers hope and help for those who have found themselves in a desperate time. Would you help me purchase more copies of this powerful memoir to put into the hands of those who cannot afford their own copy? It's really a win-win! You get a cool shirt, and you help me help others. What could be better than that?
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States...
- Each year, more than 44 thousand Americans die by suicide...
- For every person who dies by suicide, 25 more attempt...
- Suicide costs the United States $51 billion per year...
- On average, there are 121 suicides per day...
- Surveys suggest that at least one million people in the U.S. each year engage in intentionally inflicted self-harm...
Not interested in a t-shirt? You can sponsor boxes of books, instead! A box of 50 books is $130 and a box of 100 books is only $260. Can you imagine saving a life for less than 3 bucks? If you're interested in sponsoring a box of books, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
On Father's Day 2017, I had the incredible honor of speaking at Unity of Birmingham on the truth about parenting, recovery, and messy grace. The title of my talk is, "Eat Your Heart Out, James Dobson," and I got really honest for a few minutes as we discussed the messiness of life, faith, parenting, and more.
I started the talk with 4 words that changed my life...
Parenting, Recovery, and Messy Grace
Life is not one-size-fits-all. Neither is parenting or marriage or faith. And recovery from a suicide attempt is hard work. But I have learned in the past five years that it is absolutely worth it.
My family may not look like the subject of a Focus on the Family book by James Dobson, but in this talk, I discuss the truth about marriage, faith, and parenting in the real world. This is a classic "grace is messy" message and I'd love for you to check it out right now!
If you'd like to book me to speak to your church, school, or civic organization, email me at email@example.com today.
Last week, I had the distinct honor of speaking to two groups of high school students in New York. My friend and colleague, Sarah Fader, and I talked about mental health, stress, self-care, bullying, and panic disorder. At the end of each session, we answered questions from the class (always my favorite part of any talk). The experience was good for my soul.
It was the first time I’ve spoken to a group of teenagers in nearly 5 years. I was apprehensive, walking the streets of Brooklyn, entering the albatross of a school, walking down their halls. I didn’t know if I still had it. I wasn’t sure if I could muster the courage to tell my truth again.
But the words of William Paul Young came to mind. Paul once told me something like this, “We are wounded in relationship. And it is in relationship where we find healing.” As I stepped behind the podium yesterday morning to deliver an inspirational message, God was taking me back to the place of my deepest wounding.
In the darkest days before and after my suicide attempt, shame and desperation told me I wasn’t good enough. I believed I would never speak again. That I would never sing again. That this dream I had of “messy grace” was all a big sham, a fake, just like me. But yesterday morning, I stood and told those kids that I was once right where they are. I was once an honor roll student who seemed to have everything going my way, but I’d been dying inside.
I told them about my first panic attack, and how I used to cry into my pillow. We talked about how I would cry in the shower because I knew no one would hear me. I owned my story, shared my truth, told them I remembered the pressure to perform, to be the very best at everything, and yet, I still remember feeling worthless at the end of the day.
I begged them not to be like me - holding onto secrets and pain for 28 years and nearly dying as a result. I urged them to find an adult they could confide in or a friend they could trust. Someone who would have their back, no matter what.
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We talked about the word “peace” and I told them that things come our way that we never asked for - people and institutions cause us harm and distress. We’ll be disappointed a countless number of times, but peace is this idea that really bad days come, and we press on.
Peace is a calmness in the raging sea. Peace is a decision. “No point in losing my shit today. It won’t do me or anyone else any good.” Peace believes that the promise of a better tomorrow outweighs the difficulty in this particular moment.
Peace is a wide-angle lens in a world of tunnel vision. Peace believes there’s more to the story. Peace doesn’t ignore the gnarly details, but is confident in our own resourcefulness, so peace chooses to ride the wave. Peace knows there’s a big difference between stress and distress. Peace is stubbornness with a wild-eyed smile.
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I was so encouraged during the Q&A portion of our time together yesterday. I introduced a coaching technique called “The Wheel of Life” and some of the students shared the highs and lows from their particular wheel. One student said his sense of happiness comes from eating right and exercising, another student talked about how it’s always been his dream to do something great with his life, and a young lady on the front row confessed that she could never speak to her parents if she did ever face a mental health crisis.
The kids were honest and hopeful, vulnerable and wise. They spoke their truth in front of their peers and looked me in the eyes when they spoke. One guy talked about his first panic attack and the way his breath became short and his hands shook for no good reason, but he was thankful he had a friend to call who had been through it before. Another young man said he was raised to believe that we shouldn’t deal with things like anxiety or depression, that we should just toughen up, but that he’s grown enough to no longer believe that lie.
Talking to these students yesterday was healing for my soul and hope for my future. The Light always conquers the darkness. And as we continue to educate, inspire, and empower a younger generation to speak up and be kind to themselves, we persist in shattering the lies of stigma and shame.
Let’s be resolute in constantly telling our children that their lives - pains, joys, traumas, successes, disappointments, and hopes - all matter. Their friendships matter. Their support systems are vital for a healthy and vibrant life. If we continue to do that, they will create their own sources of Light that no one can snuff out.
[clickToTweet tweet="A Promise of Hope and Healing in the Next Generation #graceismessy #stigmafighters #mentalhealth" quote="A Promise of Hope and Healing in the Next Generation" theme="style3"]