I was suicidal by my third month of college.
It wasn’t because I struggled with same sex attraction. It wasn’t because of loneliness or homesickness. It was because I had turned on myself.
Growing up, my family constantly reminded what an embarrassment I was, how I couldn’t do anything right, how I’d never get a job in the real world, how I was destined to end up homeless living at O’Hare Airport, and how unwanted I was.
Homo’s say, “a mother always knows” when her son is gay, even from an early age. Perhaps that was the case with me, perhaps my parents knew early on. As a kid, I was always the last boy picked for the team in sports. I threw like a girl. I was afraid of the ball. I couldn’t run fast enough. I couldn’t do a pull up. I didn’t like sports. I wanted to be a home decorator. Growing up in the home environment I did, my social skills were, um, “lacking.” As a teen, I was ugly and scarred by acne. No girl looked twice at me. I didn’t have a single friend in high school. I was self-enclosed and sealed-off.
“I don’t make mistakes” my father once told a teenage me. “No, I take that back,” he continued, looking me straight in the eye. “I made you.”
Yet another time, driving me to (Catholic) high school, my father matter-of-factly told me that “the only solution to your problems is suicide.” More than once, my mother told me that she wished I had never been born, and that she wanted to strangle me.
After 17 years of being told I was worthless, useless, and unwanted, I believed it. As a college freshman, on my own for the first time, without my parents around to reinforce those messages every day, I started to fill the vacuum myself. “They’re right, you’ll never been anything, nobody wants you, just end it.” (No, I didn’t hear voices.) I thought about killing myself. Never quite to the point of “how.” But I entertained the topic of “what if…” and was surely a candidate for anti-depressants.
While I had no friends in high school, I did make some friends in college. I had my first “boy crush” on a guy I became good friends with. (This was back when I was conscious I was attracted to guys but had every intention of finding a nice girl, getting married and having kids as was expected of me.) This friend was also Catholic. We’d go to the local Newman Center on campus. He joined its Knights of Columbus. We both went on a Newman Center-sponsored retreat one weekend.
But during second semester, I witnessed him spiral into drugs: Pot, LSD, who knows what else. He wasn’t going to class and was hanging out with stoners. Everybody saw the dramatic change and knew where he was headed. He wasn’t the same guy I befriended months earlier. I attempted to confront him directly, but, addicts deny, deny, deny. I’d give him the silent treatment and ignore him, hoping he’d realize that he was going to lose friendships. Didn’t make a difference. Whoever his demons were, they were winning. I couldn’t stop him; he had to make that choice himself.
That realization was a turning point for me. I couldn’t stop my friend, I couldn’t save him, and hey, that applies to me too. No one can save me, fix me, but myself. Maybe I couldn’t change the circumstances of the previous 18 years, but I had a say in the next 18, and beyond. Over time, I stopped beating myself up psychologically and stepped back from the abyss I’d been inching towards.
Even in my darkest days, however, I always held onto a sense of hope. Even when nobody else believed in me, I did still believe in myself and found the strength to soldier through. How much of that was the Holy Spirit, or my guardian angel, or a dear grandmother offering up prayers for me, I do not know.
It would take me another 18 years to forgive my parents, and almost as long to come back to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
With this post, I resume blogging. Back in November, I told myself “the next post has to be autobiographical, and it has to cover college.” It took me two months to come up with this, but only about an hour to write (and rewrite, and rewrite) it.