“I just want to feel safe for once.”
I read this sentence on a friend’s social media account recently, and it wrecked me. To think that there are people in my circle who feel constantly scared, uncomfortable, or uncertain breaks my heart.
I knew I wasn’t safe for about two weeks, leading up to the suicide attempt; yet somehow I managed to hide it from those around me. But waking up in intensive care – numb from the waist down, hooked up to a catheter, knowing my next step was a psych ward – was the worst kind of dread imaginable.
In the middle of my scary darkness, I had what I can only describe as a God experience. I know, I know: I’m the ex-pastor, the ex-vangelical, the guy who’s walked away from the Christian Machine, the Christian Agnostic. But even though I have more doubt than faith these days, but as I laid there in that hospital bed, I felt something like a man’s hand on my chest. Blame it on the drugs if you must, but I experienced an inaudible voice, whispering, “I’m not finished with you yet.”
That singular message has echoed through my soul for the past six years. It’s why I keep writing and speaking about it, every chance I get.
Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to feel suicidal. Perhaps you don’t have a diagnosis of anxiety or PTSD, but you know what it’s like to feel like you’re drowning beneath the weight of guilt, shame, fear, stress, and exhaustion. You know what it’s like to hate yourself. Or be shakily scared of the dark. Like me, you have felt unsafe in your own skin.
That’s why this whisper of, “I’m not finished with you yet” changed me. I was so scared of myself, fearful that I would try to die again, or that my addictions would destroy my life and the lives of those I cared about. Because my self-hatred ran deeper than my skin, I would have never spoken to myself in such a kind, encouraging, HOPE-full way.
It wasn’t necessarily the words themselves that changed me, but the understanding that in my own darkness, mess, and pain, God was sitting with me. My legs were numb and my brain was in a fog, but Divine Love was writing on the walls of that hospital room, and the walls of my heart:
Don’t give up.
I’m not giving up on you.
There is more to this life.
Let me show you a better way.
I’m not finished with you yet. You may need to hear the same thing. Maybe you’re angry at the church. Perhaps you’ve been wounded by people in the name of God. Maybe those who were supposed to keep you safe royally failed you. You might be recovering from a lifetime of addiction. Or a million different unthinkable things.
I remember what it’s like to feel….nothing. It’s been nearly six years now since my ship capsized. I remember how the water poured in and the waves crashed. My heart was tired from trying to keep my head above water. I knew I was going to drown, and somehow that was good news. I know what it’s like to feel completely unsafe – scared to death of the person in the mirror.
I didn’t want anyone to do anything in particular. I just remember wanting my wife and best friend to stay with me that first night in the hospital. I begged them not to leave me alone. It was entirely against protocol, and yet somehow, my nurse made it happen. My wife and her best friend camped out in office chairs in my hospital room, holding my hand until morning.
When we love one another, guided by understanding and compassion, and just hold each other close, no words are needed. It doesn’t take any kind of an expert to show messy grace.
Life is tough sometimes because bad things have happened to us. And we’ve made bad decisions. And those bad decisions have consequences that are less than desirable. But hear me: life is worth living. Sometimes the only way you can keep living is to start over. Maybe starting over means moving out, leaving the group, getting a new job, or asking for help for the first time in your life. Starting over has a thousand faces, but death and resurrection are what this entire human experience is all about.
For me, beginning to feel safe in my own skin again started with sitting down in the counselor’s office. I had to get honest about everything that’s ever wounded me. Medication saved my life for a season. Following the doctor’s orders helped, too. Walking away from toxic theology, while still clinging to this idea that there is a Source more magnificent than anything I can fully grasp – those are the things that continue to save me and make me feel safer these days.
I remember coming in and out of consciousness in that hospital room six years ago, wondering what the hell life would look like when I was finally released. But I couldn’t allow that fear to consume me. I had to continue to let, I’m not finished with you yet wash over me. I had to accept the grace for that moment and eventually learn to let go of the pain from my past.
I can’t make you feel safe, but I can tell you that for me, the journey toward calm meant I had to start separating the terrible things other people were saying and doing from the character of God. Healing means I continue to listen to the voice of unconditional love – that’s the one that holds us. That’s the voice that pulls us back from the ledge when we’re ready to jump. That’s the anchor.
These days, I have hope. But it didn’t show up overnight. When you are anchored by something (or Someone) greater than yourself, the wind still blows. The waves still crash. The lightning strikes and the rain might pour down on your head. But when you’re anchored, you know that in the end, you will be okay.
You will be okay, my friend.
So if you’re hurting, scared, or brokenhearted today, this one’s for you. If you feel like you’re slipping beneath the weight of life, dragging yourself forward to the next meeting or trying to slap on a smile for your kids or your partner – I get it. I know what it’s like to think your heart mind pound out of your chest. This sacred journey isn’t always easy. I just have the doubt-filled faith that God isn’t finished with either of us yet.
Stop it Now (preventing child sexual abuse)
I am Steve Austin. As you check out my site, my goal is to encourage you to do things like: silence your inner critic, cultivate a lifestyle of self-care, and recover from whatever has wounded you. Fear, shame, and guilt have permeated our culture for far too long. It’s time to be embraced by Divine love, exactly as you are.
Whether you’re looking for a coach you can trust or a lifeline because your soul has been wounded, you’re safe here.
Exciting news, friends! My upcoming book, Catching Your Breath: The Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. To pre-order your copy, go to catchingyourbreath.com.
As a bonus – when you email me a picture/screenshot of your receipt, I’ll send you the Catching Your Breath Digital Swag Pack! This includes:
The Catching Your Breath Manifesto (printable PDF)
Early access to the first 2 chapters of Catching Your Breath
2 bonus chapters:
When Your Marriage is Overwhelming
Leaning into Fear
mp3 download of “Weak Sometimes” by Devin Balram
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.
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