Dear Hope Nation,
This letter may be directed at the one person in the world who absolutely needs to read it. I don’t know if you’re that person, and neither do you until you’ve read every. Last. Word.
I’ve written openly about my addictions and about my mental health. Regular readers know I’ve lived close to suicide many times in much of my life. You may have as well. I want you to know it can get better, even if all you can see in the darkness is the pinprick illuminating suicide. In recovery I’ve learned a lot—about being a friend, about being a father and about staying alive. You can too.
A few days ago, I wrote and recorded a short video on my 13th anniversary away from drugs, alcohol or any mind-altering substance. Honestly, I wrote it in a flash and only happened to videotape it because Dawn, one of the incredible Hope staff members, was sitting in my office and I wanted to read it aloud to her for suggestions. In fact, in the first, 12-second, take, I had a mask on and laughed out loud when I happened to glance down at the computer screen. The second take was fine, so I passed it and the text I’d written on to Dave Cote, who published it on the Hope web site. That, I thought, was that. Time to get back to emails and Zoom conferences.
I was wrong.
Today, my adult daughter, Becca, watched the video and wrote me this letter:
On the 13th anniversary of your first day of recovery, I want to say thank you. Thank you for choosing to keep fighting, even though I know how hard it was to do. It broke my heart to watch your video on the Hope website and hear you describe yourself as a homeless, smelly drunk. In my eyes, you have never been anything but an amazing father and one of the two souls I feel most connected to in the world. You have always made sure to tell me and my sisters how much you love us, and I know this to be true because you chose life on that day, and that choice set off a series of incredible choices (and miracles) that has led our whole family to be safe today.
Sadly, I do not think this would be the case if you had passed away in 2007, and I don’t know if I would have been able to cope with the unbearable sadness of missing you. I hope that day doesn’t come for a long time, but as you have always taught me, you must take things one day at a time. Thank you for giving me this day with you. I have reflected on the world that would be today if you had left us 13 years ago, and it is a much darker, bleaker path that I would have walked, with much less wisdom, guidance, and kindness. Thank you for choosing the light.
Thank you for being the anchor in my life that has kept me tethered to the shore when all I wanted to do was float away. You have inspired me to embark on my own journey of sobriety. You have showed me no matter how many times you fail, it doesn’t matter as long as you get back up and keep going. You have taught me that message applies for both sobriety, and for life. I can never, ever thank you for all of the wisdom you have shared with me in my life and continue to teach me every day. Sometimes I think about how I am one of the luckiest people alive to have my father spared for me when he was so close to saying goodbye forever. You have made me the person I am today, and I think I am a pretty awesome person.
I love you so much Dad.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but I need to say it. If you’re thinking about killing yourself, please don’t. Thirteen years ago, suicide seemed the most logical next step for me, and you may be at that same point yourself. It can get better. Really. Whether you have a Becca, Meri or Libby in your life or not, you matter to someone, and they will not be better when you’re gone. That is mental illness talking. Really. When we deceive ourselves, we don’t even know we’re being lied to.
You may have had it up to f-ing here with “professional help.” I understand. I know I hadn’t been honest with any of the employer-, spouse- or friend-suggested therapists I saw when I was using. Honesty wasn’t possible for me, because I needed, at all costs, to protect my need to use. Give the professionals one more chance. Please.
Peers, at least peers who have been within hailing distance of your situation, can also be a great help. Many of you have seen the only certification or degree I keep on my office wall. It’s from the College of Bad Breaks and Misunderstanding and it declares Keith B. Howard to be a Formerly Homeless Drunk. That, more than any experience or education I have, is what qualifies me to be executive director,
Hope for New Hampshire Recovery is incredibly blessed to have a staff of caring, sensitive, funny people who have one thing in common: we’ve all gazed into the abyss, then taken a step back, whether that black hole was crack, heroin, alcohol or suicidal thoughts, we can help you where you are, and walk with you to find the help you need.
Before you eat that bottle of pills, slice that forearm, taste a gun barrel or make a noose, please read over Becca’s letter above. Print it out, fold it up and carry it in your wallet. The future is a big place, and I’m absolutely willing to bet there is someone in your future who would love to write that letter to you instead of folding up a funeral card.
If you’re reading this as an email, look at the names and numbers at the end. If you’re on the Hope web page (hopefornhrecovery.org) look at the staff list of names and numbers. Call one of us. Write one of us. Text one of us. You aren’t alone, no matter what your addiction or your mental illness tell you.
You matter. Really! I matter. Really! We matter. Really.