Before evangelist Jay Lowder answered questions from The Christian Post about his reaction to the suicide of comedian Robin Williams and how he talks about the subject of suicide at his conferences and speaking engagements (Part One), he shared about his own struggle with suicidal thoughts while in his twenties that led him to put a gun to his head, finger hooked onto the trigger.
Lowder has been a full-time evangelist for more than 20 years. As founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries, he has participated in hundreds of community-wide events, rallies and conferences around the world. He has appeared on various national radio and TV shows in the past, and is also author of Midnight in Aisle 7.
Since the death of Williams, Lowder says he's asked himself: "What lessons can be learned? How can I play a role in helping others cope?" And he says he is reevaluating his responsibility to leverage his experience "to prevent others from the same fate."
Below is Part Two of Lowder's interview with CP that includes his testimony about his suicide attempt and a summary of how his life changed forever.
It really started to unravel about the time of my freshman year in college. I was leaving college and moving back to my home city. I moved in with an old buddy of mine from high school who was in a rebellious state as many 19-year-old guys would be. I just wanted to get out from the leadership of my mom and dad, not because of any fault of their own, [I was] just a typical 19-year-old guy who "knows everything."
His (roommate) background included the fact that his mother committed suicide when he was 10. He was at the (their) house when it happened. But it was just a real tumultuous time in my life. Everything was coming unraveled. I was no longer in school, a relationship that I had been involved in for a good two years – that relationship became a broken relationship. On top of that, I lost the car that I was driving and lost my job. So, it was just a series of traumatic events, especially when you take into consideration (I'm kind of fast-forwarding to the age of around 21) all these things happened over about a two-year time frame. If you put [all those things] in the context of most 21-year-old guys – your car, your job, your relationship, college – these are things you really wrap-up your identity in. The losses were things that were very important in my life and probably in the lives of young men that age. I felt like I had lost my identity.
I had a real bout with depression, a real bout with not knowing who I was or what I wanted to do, no real direction in my life. And this pressure came not only with the breakup of this relationship, but this came with the financial pressure of not having a job on top of that and to look for an escape. For me, alcohol was a great way for me to avoid the reality of where I was in life. Of course, if you abuse alcohol very long and you get to a state where you become not only physically dependent but you become emotionally dependent because it's a coping mechanism. That was my way to escape from reality of where I was in life after months of pain in that continued state – it's just like a hole. I don't know how else to say it other than it's like being in emotional quicksand. It's that proverbial tunnel, but besides that it's a cave. There's just no way that you can find to escape.
Very few people knew the depth of this emotional struggle that I was going through. Obviously, my parents knew I was going through a difficult time in my life, but I was afraid to communicate the depth of my struggle. I really got to a place where I feared living more than I did dying. That's really what suicide is. It's not that the fear of death, it's the fear of life. It's the fear of tomorrow.
The constant abuse of alcohol. I thought it would be an escape and it was an escape temporarily, but it eventually led to an even deeper, darker depression, struggle, emotional handcuffs that I couldn't escape. So, I contemplated, thought about ending my life a few times. I actually considered maybe just wounding myself. Of course the idea behind it sounds foolish, but at the time – if I just wounded myself then it would get some of the attention that people would recognize that something wrong.
Finally, one day I decided to end my life. I woke up with a tremendous hangover about 12 noon, in the place we were living in that was kind of a shack. I had nothing, didn't have any furniture, I slept on a sofa. I walked into the bathroom as I normally did and splashed cold water in my face, as a way to wake-up and gain a little bit of consciousness. For some odd reason when I looked in the mirror I saw myself in a different capacity than I had ever before. I came from a successful home, my dad was a successful entrepreneur … was really a business mogul in many ways. When I looked at myself in the mirror I was thinking, 'Man, I'm just a complete loser. I came from this great family, a successful home, and here I am, 21 years of age with an alcohol issue in my life, a depression issue in my life, no job, no car, no girlfriend, nothing. So, I decided to end my life. I walked back to the sofa and pulled out a 22 caliber pistol. I had it since my earlier years, I used to take it out when I rode horses out in the country. …I loaded the gun and I was sitting there in my underwear, tears rolling down my cheeks, and I pulled back the hammer, and was about to end my life.
It really boiled down to two questions. I never really thought much about life after death, but began to think, okay, once I pull the trigger what's going to happen? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Does it even matter? And then the other question that really ran through my mind was is the gun strong enough to kill me? It seems a rather trivial question in light of where I was emotionally, but at the time, [I thought] what's the big deal? I didn't want to be a vegetable. If I was going to do this, I wanted to end my life so that my mother would not be saddled with the responsibility of taking care of someone that was physically alive, but mentally brain dead. I had seen something on television that gave me assurance that if I put the barrel to my temple that that would ensure me that in fact the gun would kill me … and in regards to the heaven or hell question I didn't really know the answer to that, but I felt like that if heaven's real that maybe I will get a chance to get there, and if it's not, well, I'm not really convinced that hell could be much worse than the hell I'm living in now. That's basically how it was.
It's funny because now I realize that for people who are believers the truth of it is that the closest they are going to get to hell is life. The flip side, for people who are non-believers, probably the closest thing they are going to get to heaven is this life.
Anyways, I sat there with my head between my legs and I pulled back the hammer, put my finger on the trigger and this is what it boiled down to. As I was literally putting my finger on the trigger and squeezing on the trigger, hand kind of quivering, I heard someone pull up on the gravel driveway … [my roommate] never came home for lunch … it was startling because no one came to our house in the middle of the day like that. When I heard the tires on the gravel I just set the gun down on the sofa long enough to peak out the venetian blinds to see "who's here?" When I saw my roommates green Nissan I rushed back to the sofa, disengaged the hammer, put it underneath the sofa, turned on the television, wiped the tears off my face to conceal anything that he might detect that was going on. Without looking at him, I said, "Man, what are you doing home?"
My roommate said, "You know it's really weird, I've been working for my dad pretty much my whole life and my dad can never let me off work early," and he said, "Dad came up to me today and said, "You've been working so hard, why don't you take the rest of the day off with pay?" When he said that, man, it was just a flood of ideas that came into my mind… is this coincidence? Is this happenstance? Is there such a thing as God, who orchestrated this?
I really didn't know the answer to any of those questions at the time, but it was enough to derail the attempt for fear of maybe there was something supernatural about his appearance. …Let me tell you that never, except for that one day, did he get off work early. That was what really halted the attempt. …There was a certain amount of healthy fear that came from his unintentional intervention that caused me to second guess whether that was the right thing to do. You know, I grew up in a Christian home, and that was just enough for me to think, "Maybe God is intervening for me." At the time, I wasn't a believer. I was someone who intellectually believed.
As this whole thing was unfolding, prior to my roommate walking in, I don't want to say that I audibly heard voices, because I didn't, but what I did sense is that it was if two different voices were speaking to me … in the context of thoughts speaking into my mind, but so loudly they seem as though they are voices. You know they are not, but it's a persuasion. During that process there were thoughts in my head that said, "Do it. Just do it. Go ahead." It was as though something was encouraging me to end my life. Of course, now I know what that was. It was the voice of the enemy, but I didn't know that at the time. I just thought it was the voice of reason saying, "Well, yeah, this was the logical thing to do. Your life's a wreck, you never can get it together, so the best thing to do is end it." But again, I know those were the voices of evil. At the same time, there was another voice of persuasion, an influx in my thought process, my heart, saying, "Don't do this. This is not right." At that time in my life, because I was more listening to the voices of pain and suffering in the world, voices of the enemy, voices of darkness because I was living in such darkness it was impossible for me to ascertain what spiritual battle was really taking place.
My roommate since this time, would tell you that he walked into the room and sensed a presence of evil. He didn't tell me that day, he told me this later when he found out about what was going on prior to him walking in.
[After the incident] I never got to the place of putting a gun to my head again, but still thought about it.