When I was twenty-eight, I had a beautiful wife and a little boy who was almost a year old. I had a successful photography business and a career as a sign language interpreter. I had been serving in ministry for nearly a decade as a youth pastor and worship leader. From the outside, I seemed healthy and happy.
But shame was choking the life out of me. I became convinced my only escape was suicide.
Why? Partly because I was molested as a preschooler and secretly addicted to pornography for twenty years. I believed my life was pitiful and I was nothing but the sum of all my miserable mistakes and secrets. I’d spent hours, decades, begging God to change me at church altar calls. But every time I stood up from the altar, I picked up that load of shame again and carried it right back out of the church. I was certain that in my inadequacy, I was beyond all hope and unworthy of love or belonging.
On September 20, 2012, I was finishing up an out-of-town assignment for work. That night I went back to my hotel room and ingested as much medication as I possibly could. Twelve hours later, I didn’t show up for a shift. My clients became concerned and called the hotel. Hotel security soon discovered my body in a scene so gruesome they believed I had been murdered. They called 911; I was rushed to the ER and transferred to the ICU. I eventually spent time in a psych ward for severe depression. The day I arrived in the ward was the day my life began to change.
Since that September day four years ago, I have been recovering from a suicide attempt, childhood sexual abuse, church hurts, and addiction. I have learned that recovery is about digging. About finding. And about facing realities. It’s been a long, hard process. But I have gained wisdom from leaning into my pain, in not allowing the hounds of hell to snap at my heels anymore. Now I turn around, call them by name, and let them know I am prepared to fight.
No more sweeping things under the rug. No more ignoring pain and hoping for the best. No more keeping up appearances. Recovery has forced me to peel back layers of shame and secrets and find the abundant life underneath. Healing has come by learning it’s actually healthy to consider my own feelings. To be compassionate to myself. To know my own limits. Because giving up is no longer an option.
There have been other struggles in the years since my suicide attempt. I haven’t mastered this porn addiction completely, and I am not foolish enough to think there won’t be other issues that crop up in the future. But after years of therapy, of practicing honesty and self-care, I know I can face whatever comes next. Difficult times can only defeat me if I let them.
If you have ever felt hopeless, if you have ever believed that all the bad things in your life were beyond redemption, if you have ever felt unworthy of being loved or accepted, if you have ever feared what would happen if people found out whatever it is that haunts you – I get it. I have been there, too. Maybe you are recovering from abuse, addiction, or a suicide attempt like me. Maybe you are struggling with anxiety or depression and don’t know why yet. No matter what your starting point is, the tools in brand-new book, Self-Care for the Wounded Soul: 21 Days of Messy Grace will help you begin to answer the question, “Now what?”
You’re tired of living this way. You want to change your life, and you don’t know where to begin. I hope this self-care journal will help you answer that question. It’s time to take ownership of your life, and that begins with good self-care. It’s hard work, but you can do it. No more running, no more hiding, no more masks. No matter what your journey has looked like so far, recovery is possible. I am living proof.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
Burnout: What to Look for & How to Fight Back
It’s Time for the Church to Confront Mental Health (via USA Today)
Suicide: Let’s Talk about It (podcast)
Pastors and Suicide: How Do We Keep this From Happening Again?
Suicide Survivors: 7 Things to do the Day After You Leave the Psych Ward
GUEST POST: The Velveteen Rabbit, Impossible Magic, and Finding Authentic Faith
Guest Blog – Worthy and Unashamed: Facing Mental Health Stigma in the Church Head-On
Guest blog: It’s Depression, Not Demon Possession