By Kent Hutchison
December 25th, the date Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. However Christmas Day, 2011, took on a totally different meaning for Sam Eaton. For this was the day he had set to either end it all or continue to live.
On August 14th, Mr. Eaton, shared his story at 1st Baptist Church in Stryker. He grew up with an alcoholic father that lead to a lot of abuse. At age 12 his father left the family. Although hurting inside, he continued to do well in school and in general. At age 14, his trouble began. “My freshman year of high school things really started to fall apart for me. My grades started to tank. I hid myself in video games. I disappeared in playing them for hours and days. They made me feel powerful! But truly I was just hiding. I spent so many years hiding and not taking care of myself or asking for the help I needed.”
At this time, Sam cut himself off from his friends, quit playing sports, as well as not eating or sleeping well. Sam did get a job to help out his mother and family, but that only added to his isolation.
Although he was dealing with a lot of pain and struggle, Sam continued to act and tell everyone he was fine during this time, but that was far from true. Sam described himself as not a good person to be around then. Although he didn’t realize it until his early 20’s, this is where his depression began.
The problems continued and Sam really didn’t know where to turn. “I didn’t know how to ask for help. Especially at a large high school like mine. There were maybe four counselors for a couple thousand kids. There weren’t enough resources. No one came to my Health class and talked to me or warned me about this. So that is why I am here and what I am doing today. I’m driving all around the country sharing this message because I believe it is so important.”
He continued to battle depression throughout his teens and early 20’s. The problems came to a hilt when he was 23 years old. Eaton shared this struggle, “I was in my second year out of college. I found myself with $96,000 of student loan debt. I was so ashamed and living back at home. I took a new job teaching elementary school, but was living in childhood bedroom where so much trauma and pain had taken place. I ended my relationship with a woman I really, really loved because I didn’t feel I was good enough for her.””Four months after we broke up, she was engaged to someone else. That was the hardest thing I have ever been through!”
Sam turned to alcohol as a way to solve his problems. “Every weekend I got as drunk as possible with my friends. I did this to try and forget who I was and to make all my problems go away. This only made everything worse!” Eaton’s situation and destructive behaviors lead to his ultimatum. “In early December of 2011, I said okay, I’m either going to end my life on December 25th or I’m never going to think about suicide again. Ten years has been enough. Clearly my life is never going to get any better.”
During this time he secluded himself from everyone as much as possible, not taking care of himself. Sam described his routine, “I would just sit on the couch all weekend and cry or sleep. I would hit the shower, turn off all the lights and cry until all the hot water ran out. I went from being the life of the party to someone who struggled to be around other people because they all seemed so happy. My brain was telling me it wasn’t worth it and to just give up; that the world would be better off without me!”
Eaton described the weeks leading up to December 25th. “I boxed up all my belongings and put them in my closet. I wrote 15 goodbye letters to my family and friends. This actually made me feel better. I remember feeling joy about not having to deal with people or my problems because I knew I wasn’t going to be around. The suicide plan gave me a sudden joy. However, I really wrestled with whether to go through with the suicide or not.
Finally, the day arrived. Sam vividly portrayed the details. “Christmas Day 2011. My family went to a Christmas dinner. I stayed behind. I placed a note on the bathroom door that said, PLEASE DON’T COME IN, CALL 911. I sat in the bathroom with a knife and pills and wrestled with the decision for hours. I sat on the floor sobbing in the fetal position. I picked up the knife, put it back down. I can’t even describe all the pain I was in. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, I just wanted my pain to stop. I had no hope in me. The truth is I believed in God during this time and people may say how can a Christian be depressed or think about suicide?”
“I had actually gone back to church that fall and God opened my eyes in how messed up my life was. He was showing me a way to a better life, but I couldn’t see it. Finally, I stood looking in the mirror and started counting back from 10. The sun was starting to set and in my head all this images starting flashing of things I would be missing. I was like my brain was trying to convince me not to do this. I was seeing my sister getting married, my friends having kids and not being there for these things. I kept counting down. At six I starting seeing intense pain, the years of abuse, and just the worst parts of my story.”
Eaton went on to share the moment that changed his life forever: “Finally at three a question broke through. It was in 100 point font, right in front of my brain. HAVE YOU REALLY GIVEN LIFE EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT?” Next was the choice Sam says he was given. There is more to life than this moment.”
Eaton stated that at that time he, in the greatest moment of clarity, stood up. He grabbed the box of things, grabbed the note off the door, and threw them in his trunk. “I started driving the car, sobbing, not sure what to say or do next. Trying to brainstorm what I was going to do to get better and deal with this debt. Finally driving through downtown Minneapolis with skyscrapers everywhere I stopped the car in a parking lot. Nobody was around and snow was everywhere. I just watched the numbers tick by on my clock, 11:57, 11:58, 11:59, midnight. I made it, I made! Ok, that’s it, that’s your choice. Choose to stay. Chose to live to the best of your ability. Fight for a way back.” Sam cautioned that some may consider him the hero of his story, but he emphasized his is not, but rather the hero is Jesus.
Eaton went on to share what happened the day after the attempt. “I said okay God, clearly the way I am living and the choices I am making aren’t working. You take it, God, and I will listen.” Sam shared that in the days and months ahead he slowly started to discover what his life was meant to be. He started to get through his struggles and find a new creation through Christ. Eaton credits verses Romans 8:9-11 as being his story. “Live your life on Gods terms and do what the Bible says. This will lead to a life you are proud of, make you feel like you are a good person, and that you are going to make a difference.” Eaton knows that God lead him from the pit of death to now chasing an abundant life and sharing his story to help others.
Throughout his presentation Sam stressed that he relies on his faith in God to help him through his constant battle with depression. He recommends starting each day by reading the Bible as well as noting three things you are thankful for.
Along with his personal story, Sam’s presentation also provided information on depression and suicide. He explained what depression is: Persistent feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness typically paired with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep. He also shared that 1 in 5 adults in America experience mental illness, and 1 in 6 battle depression at some point in their lives.
Sam provided that on average for teenagers depression begins at 14 years old. By the end of the teen years 20 percent have had depression. Unfortunately 80 percent of teens fail to receive help regarding their depression. Untreated depression can lead to substance abuse, academic failure, bullying, eating disorders, and even suicide.
Mr. Eaton provided the following warning signs of depression:
- An irritable, sad, empty, or cranky mood and belief that life is meaningless.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
- Withdrawal from friends and family.
- Under or over eating.
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
- Loss of energy or fatigue.
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Sam stressed that depression is treatable. The key is to getting help. He emphasized sources to get this help included physicians, mental health resources, counselors, support groups, making lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, medication.
According to Eaton there are facts that everyone should know regarding suicide:
- 44,193 Americans died from suicide in 2015. That is a 30 year high.
- On average 121 suicides occur each day.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for adults.
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-24, trailing only accidents.
- Each day, on average, there are over 5240 suicide attempts by students in grades 7-12.
- No study has found that talking about suicide leads to more or increased suicidal thoughts.
Eaton emphasized that all studies indicate that talking openly about suicide actually reduces the risk and increases the likelihood someone considering suicide will seek help. He went on to provide warning signs to look out for regarding suicide:
- Always talking or thinking about death.
- Clinical depression.
- Having a “death wish”.
- Losing interest in things once cared about.
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless.
- Putting affairs in order, changing a will.
- Saying things like, “It would be better if I wasn’t here”.
- Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to very calm or happy.
- Talking about suicide or killing oneself.
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
How can you help friends who are struggling? Sam recommends these steps:
- Take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously – it’s a cry for help!
- Call 911 – It’s better to lose a friend and keep them alive.
- Tell adults that need to know – Parents, family, a teacher or counselor.
- Don’t be afraid to openly discuss suicide and depression.
- Eaton closed by stressing to not be afraid to talk about suicide, or sharing if you have feelings of suicide. That all threats need to be taken seriously. You can be the difference in life and death for someone! Information on Sam and his mission can be found on the Internet at recklesslyalive.com, on Facebook at RecklesslyAlive, and on Instagram @aliverecklessly. His story on his struggle with suicide can be found on YouTube by searching “Choose to Live: The Day Suicide Didn’t Win.”
- For more information and resources on suicide prevention please go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-8255.
Kent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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