Greenwich Road is an unremarkable road that connects the
cities of Norton and Wadsworth in northeast Ohio. Along that ordinary road is
an ordinary bridge that crosses over an ordinary busy four-lane highway, Route
As I rode my Honda Nighthawk 550
motorcycle along Greenwich Road one spring evening in 1988, something was
troubling me very deeply. This evening I did not stop at a park to be quiet and
meditate like I often did. I was far too angry. I
was struggling, without success, to calm conflicting emotions about who I was
and what changes I needed to make in my life. Pressure was building from within
and I was becoming more and more desperate.
Since it was a cool evening, I was wearing my jeans and the
black leather riding jacket I loved so much. It was ironic that I also wore my safety
helmet in case of an accident, because an “accident” is exactly what I
contemplated. There was a bridge several miles up ahead of me, a bridge I had
been thinking about for several days.
I could crash into the side of that bridge
and end this miserable life. I
imagined I would go over the bridge railing and drop to the busy highway below
and be hit by a car or truck. An unfortunate accident! It would be fatal. But
my pain and turmoil would be over. I would be at peace and my molecules could
be transmuted into the soil or air. My life energy, my being, would continue in
some way because energy can never be destroyed, only transmuted.
Yes, I knew it would be a selfish thing to
do and cause tremendous pain to my family. But the secret I carried inside was
becoming too painful to bear. No one knew or would ever need to know my
secret. I’ve got to end this
painful existence. The guilt of my secret life was bearing down on me heavier
each passing day. I couldn’t carry this heaviness any longer. Reason and
concern for others were giving way to the heaviness of my burden. I was trapped
with no good options.
I surmised that my family and friends
would grieve and make up their meanings of my death. Some would likely say,
“God knows best” or “it must have been his time” or something else equally
trite. But no one would have to find out about the real me or the truth I
carried inside. Yes, my family and friends would grieve and be troubled but
eventually go on with their lives.
At forty-four I had it all: a good wife,
two beautiful children, a loving extended family, a successful private practice
in counseling psychology and the high regard of peers. How could I be suicidal?
How could I, Dr. Helmuth, who helps depressed and suicidal people choose life
over death, be so very close to ending his own life?
My family loved me and cared about me:
that is, they loved the person they thought I was: the boy “Jimmy” as my
siblings called me, the “St. James” as I was known by peers at church, the
college graduate, the responsible husband and father, the Ph.D. psychologist.
They knew my roles, achievements, and my
facade. But they did not know my authentic self because I did not know it, or
at least was not willing then to tell anyone what I did know. I only had a vague sense of being
different from other boys in my family and community. Later as my awareness
became clearer, I felt I had no choice but to hide and repress it.
Would they love me if they knew the secret
feelings I had carried inside. Could they accept me as I am and not as they
assumed I was? Would they judge me and even abandon me? It was a risk I did not
want to take. Wouldn’t it be better to die physically than keep enduring this
My mind raced and my heart pounded as the
bridge was getting closer and closer. I had to decide. I had put off this
decision for too long. I had a fear of death. I had an even greater fear of
life. I was afraid of living with the presumed rejection from loved ones, peers
and clients if they knew my secret.
But in my darkest hour, there was
something I think could best be called “grace” —even “amazing grace.” I can’t
really explain it, nor do I need to. Whatever the name, it was something even
more powerful and motivating than the fear and need for pain avoidance. At a
profound level, I felt I was accepted and loved by the Source of life just as I
was, without conditions. I wanted to live and not just exist.
Ever since I can remember I had a strong
longing to become fully and completely who I was. I longed to live fully and
freely regardless of how others defined me, to live my truth, to sing my song,
and yes, to color outside the lines! That innate desire to live honestly welled
up inside me, and I sped quickly over that bridge to the other side. I was
shaking and trembling. Tears clouded my vision so much I could hardly see the
I quickly found a place to pull off the
road and stop my motorcycle. No sooner did the bike engine stop than a flood of
tears, anguish and joy opened and released. I hid my face in my sweatshirt and
cried audibly for several minutes. I struggled to regain composure but there
was wave after wave of anguished sobbing.
Oh my God, it hurts so badly! What is this
pain in my gut? Something has been ripped out. It feels good and yet
hurts. I sat there awhile in
confusion. What was gone—was it shame? Was it fear? Was it self-loathing? I
didn’t know. But, something was released inside me. I was glad it was gone.
After awhile, I was able to start breathing normally again, as the sobbing
I wondered if my pain was real or “just psychological,” so I
pressed on my abdomen and it literally hurt more—my gut was literally tender
and remained so for two or three days afterward.
The gravel I was sitting on was cold and
hard, but I sat there awhile longer anyway thinking about what had just
happened. I felt relieved and yet extremely vulnerable. As I blotted up my
tears with the gray cotton sweatshirt under my leather jacket, I felt a tender
painfulness just below my stomach. It was as if something had been surgically
removed from inside me. It left an empty space that was raw and tender. I put
the palm of my right hand over the hurt and breathed slowly and deeply. The
pain started to ease and the tightness relaxed.
I could linger no longer. It was getting
colder outside, and a little wind was starting to chill me to the bone. I had
to get back home: my wife and kids might begin to worry where I was and if I
had been in an accident. If they only knew, they would be shocked indeed. It
scared me to think of how close I came to ending it all. I decided not to tell
anyone what had happened. It was too raw and fresh to talk about.
When I got home my kids were upstairs in
their rooms and Carolyn was on our long over-stuffed orange sofa, watching TV
in the family room. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash were singing “Ring of
Fire,” with the words, “and it burns, burns, burns—like a ring of fire, like a
ring of fire!” I was feeling my
own kind of fire. A fire that was burning away the old hypocrisy and self
doubt. It was clearing a space for a new life, a more authentic expression of
my It was burning away the phony walls I had constructed to feel safe.
I suspect Carolyn noticed the redness in
my eyes when I came through the family room from the garage but she said
nothing and I am glad she didn’t. I was not ready to talk to her or anyone
about what had just happened. I needed to be with myself, alone.
We had a dark brown Lazy Boy chair in the
living room that I loved to relax on in the evenings. I sat on that chair and
reclined it back fully. I pulled our brown heavy quilted comforter over me for
warmth and privacy. It felt very comforting. I lay there quietly for about
forty-five minutes before taking a bath and retiring for the evening.
This day was a milestone in my life
This day I had chosen life over death. I had chosen to be honest and
to live life from a wonderful, loving, peaceful consciousness that was and is
my authentic being and my birthright. In a strange way it did seem as though I
was starting to live a new life. The decision to live only took an instant.
Living it out has taken a lifetime.
I knew the game was over. I had to stop
the lying and pretense. I would face my fears and feelings. This would bring
big changes for others and myself. I did not know how big those changes would
be or how those I loved would respond, but I decided that I would no longer
allow how others might respond to keep me in this hellish prison I had just
That spring evening, as the earth was
warming and coming alive and daffodils and tulips bloomed, something new and
beautiful began to spring forth and bloom inside I began a journey of healing
my divided life. I began a journey with no certain destination in mind, except
to love and accept myself as I am and to live honestly. Instead of living for
others, I would live with them as best I could. It would take tremendous
courage to stay the course but I chose to do it. It felt right.
It would take many years and many dead end
streets for me to find the courage to give up the divided life, to stop
punishing myself and blaming others for my situation in life.