Today, Craig Miller is a 42-year-old who lives happily outside of Boston with his wife and two kids. But throughout his teens, he attempted suicide multiple times and was in the hospital five times for suicidal ideation. And when he was 20, he took so many pain pills as part of yet another suicide attempt that he was essentially in a coma for three days. Somehow, though, he survived, more or less, unscathed physically. In fact, when he left the ICU, the doctors told him that he was lucky—he should’ve had permanent brain damage. It’s the psychological and mental healing, however, that’s still ongoing.
I was 8 years old the first time I considered suicide.
And over the next few years, suicide was all I thought about. I mean, literally all I thought about.
It was the solution to every problem I had.
Unfortunately, I grew up in a typical American household — divorced parents, alcoholism on both sides, not much money. My mother had a lot of undiagnosed mental health issues. I didn’t know what I’d be experiencing on any given night. It could be really loving and kind, or the house would literally get torn apart — furniture broken, doors broken, like, crazy stuff.
What made it so much harder for me was that I was being molested by a guy in our neighborhood in a crawl space beneath my house. It was like something you’d see in a horror movie. I could hear my family’s footsteps on the floor above me. I was being bullied and picked on in school for it, too. Kids around the neighborhood knew that this guy was doing stuff to me because he’d tried it on them as well, but they were stronger than me.
I never told my parents. I never told teachers. I never felt safe enough to talk about it with anyone. If I’d gone to my father, who was a Vietnam vet and severe alcoholic with major anger issues, and told him I was being molested, there probably would’ve been a murder. That’s the last thing I wanted to happen: Police and news and everyone knowing about what was happening to me. I didn’t want a scene. I didn’t want drama. I just wanted it to end.
I started, though, having a lot of mental health issues: Depression, anxiety and signs of OCD. Like, I would have to flip a light switch a certain amount of times, or walk right down the center of the sidewalk. If I veered off to the left or right, that meant something horrible was going to happen. I knew it didn’t make sense. But I knew I had to do it because if I messed up, I thought I’d get molested or beat up. It’s almost like I was controlling the outcome of my life by these minute things I did during the day.
The molestation stopped because when I was 14, we moved out of the city and into a quiet country town with one traffic light. I looked at it as my opportunity to start over. It was like a Cinderella story: The girls thought I was cute, and the guys thought I was cool. I dated a beautiful girl for two years, and eventually, she started to learn, “Oh, this guy’s got issues.” I was hiding and burying things, and not talking about them, which is one of the worst things you can do.
When she broke up with me, I was absolutely devastated.
It was more what she represented than anything else. It was the first time in my life that I said, “Maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe life is okay.” I fell in love with maybe being okay. When that was stripped from me, life came down like a hammer and chopped up my hope.
I’d cut myself like crazy because I wanted some expression of how bad I hurt. The reality was if people looked at me and saw me scratched, cut and bleeding, I hoped that they’d say, “You must be hurting so bad inside to do something like that to yourself.” I wanted them to look at me and say, “Holy shit, I get it, you’re going through some serious stuff.”
That’s all I ever wanted.
My suicide attempt at 20 wasn’t a rash decision. It was something I’d thought about for months. My life was going to end, and that was okay. I didn’t want to hurt anybody or upset anybody, I just wanted to leave — to calmly and politely bow out. There was nothing symbolic, and no particular reason for when I did it. That was just the day I was done. It wasn’t a bad day or anything. I just knew it was coming, and I was at peace.
That was the most dangerous thing — I was very comfortable with the decision.
I’d moved in with my dad and his girlfriend, and I was paying rent there. One night I went home and that was it: I did what I had to do. The suicide-prevention field discourages people from talking about means or methods, so the way I describe it, which I’ve been told is okay, is I say I filled my body with pills and then I went to sleep. I was on disability at the time for a degenerative bone issue in my back, and I’d saved about three months of medication. My father found me the next morning. I wasn’t responding so they called an ambulance. I was in and out of consciousness a lot for the next three days.
There’s no moment that I can say changed me, but if there was anything, it was when I was in the intensive care unit. My brother was sitting next to me. He and I have this weird relationship where we don’t know how to communicate with each other. Now, though, he was really upset. He looked at me and said, “What’s it gonna take to make you want to stay?”
That was the most profound question I could’ve heard. At that moment, I could have given you a hundred reasons why I didn’t want to stay, but not one reason why I wanted to remain on Earth. I had nothing I wanted to live for. I could lie to doctors, therapists, family and friends, but I couldn’t lie to myself. And when I started asking myself what would make me want to stay, it wasn’t financial security, a good job, a family or being loved. I wanted none of that shit. All I wanted was to be okay with being alive: To wake up in the morning and not be scared and not think about ending it.
You could’ve put a million dollars in front of me and I would’ve chosen to just be okay.
That began a 10-year process that I spent on my own, inside myself, trying to figure out how I was gonna live with the past that I had.
It took me a solid decade to do so. Today, I’m married with two children, and I’m a manager at an engineering company. I speak all around the country. I’ve also been in two documentaries and written three books. My relationship with my family is better, too. My two brothers are extremely proud of me, and after my dad finished reading my book, he said, “I’m sorry.” It was the first time he’d realized everything I had gone through.
But while I have people around me who love and care about me, I have to give myself a lot of credit for what I’ve done. I mean, I’ve had support, but I’ve made myself do this.
At the same time, I want people to know that if they’re going through stuff, they don’t have to do it alone. I needed my own self-discovery process — or whatever you want to call it. I had to do it that way to empower myself. But if I’d gotten help, I believe that it wouldn’t have taken so long, and it wouldn’t have been so difficult.
During those 10 years, I’d still sometimes get suicidal thoughts. When it was getting dangerous and I found myself starting to plan things out, I’d meet with somebody. And since I’ve gotten involved with suicide prevention, I saw a counselor and went back on medication, because speaking in front of people can be overwhelming. I’m talking about the deepest part of myself to groups of people. It’s not that it hurts me or it’s tough to bring it up, but when I speak to crowds, I feel like I have to give 110 percent to deliver on the expectations of what they hired me to do.
My wife came with me when I gave a talk in a local area one night. There were a lot of tears and emotion. After I got done talking, there was a line of people who gave me hugs and cried and all kinds of stuff. It was the first one my wife had gone to, and as we drove home, she was like, “Now I see why you do this.”
I look back at my life, and in some ways, mental illness was a blessing. It had value, because maybe having it was the most efficient and direct way to self-discovery that I ever could’ve imagined. What else could I have gone through that would have driven me so deep inside myself to explore my thoughts, my feelings and my emotions? Not to mention, learn how to control them.
I can also say with a pure heart that I valued every single step of the way, every scenario I’ve gone through, every feeling I’ve felt. I’ve learned to make that part of who I am.
And so, I’m not a victim by any means, and I hold no one blame to for what I’ve gone through.
— As told to Adam Elder