Friday, June 29, 2018

Until Death Do Us…


I have had the great fortune of engaging in several intimate conversations lately about the recent epidemic of suicide among “successful” business, sports, entertainment, and other notable personalities.  As I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special “Nanette” (watch all the way to the end to get the point), I was overwhelmed with the importance of Hannah telling her lived experience – not the comedic theater she used to alchemically deflect the embodied pain of inhumanity.  I sat with a group of entrepreneurs just a few nights ago in New York and shared my lived experience.  These impulses converged to convince me that it’s high time I wrote about my life and why I’m sick and tired of people being shocked, surprised, or bewildered by those who end their lived torment!  My exhaustion comes from the simple fact that our social fabric seems incapable of withstanding honest critiques of what we’re doing to destroy our humanity and in so doing, leads those who are in positions of prominence to meet all too often, a hopeless end.

“David,” you ask, “what does suicide have to do with the economic and business themes of Inverted Alchemy?”

Well, here’s the simple answer followed by a much longer explanation.  Instead of focusing my efforts on the enterprises to which I have allocated much of my energy, most of my life my attention has been shame management and a struggle to find a reason to persist.  My professional and corporate success have been miniature triumphs over my self-deception and perceived worthlessness.  Had there been genuine conversations about what was really happening in my life, my effectiveness could have been significantly improved and the environments I managed could have been less filled with conflict.  And even in my writing here, I’m still entirely encumbered by the social shackles of propriety seeking to mute what could be considered criticism of individual actors in my life’s journey.  So even in this moment, I’m not at liberty to tell the whole truth.

As early as I can remember, I was indoctrinated into what Gregory Bateson referred to as the “double-bind” – in his view the precursor to schizophrenia first detailed in his 1956 paper Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia.  In Southern California during the late 60s and early 70s, my early life included an amalgamation of anti-war protests in San Diego, “spirit-filled” psychedelic religion, and exhortations to “critically examine” consensus thinking (provided that that thinking didn’t critically examine the wrong things… which I did).  Love peace… but beat a child to instill discipline.  Think critically… but ignore the inherent contradictions in Biblical texts or catechisms.  Be “filled with spirits”… but make sure that the hallucinations you have are sanctioned by the adults who know what is right.  Be non-conformist… but be sure that your selected path is “right”.

In my adolescence in Pennsylvania, my puberty emerged in a community that distorted “love” in every dimension.  In religion, “love” was a vindictive God using shame and guilt as his only instrument to extract adherence.  In sexual interactions, “love” was the reserved for the proprietary sacrament marriage.  Attraction was lust, lust was sin, and sin was to be hopelessly avoided at all costs.  “Truth” was the providence of religion or science.  Questioning the inconsistencies or hypocrisy in either was evidence of a social deficiency.  Material “wealth” was the basis for denigrating comments and doing “More With Less” was a monastic ego intoxicant.

From April 8, 1977 until August 8, 2017, I didn’t have a single day in which I didn’t feel worthlessness and shame.  Shame for my perspectives that were not consensus.  Worthlessness for my abject failure in most of my relationships.  Shame for my human desires that were constantly suppressed with social stigma and apathetic neglect.  Worthlessness when – celebrated for my loyalty, intellect, or capabilities – I knew that I couldn’t awaken basic kindness in those who most benefited from my existence.  And above all, from Thanksgiving Day 2007 until Thanksgiving Day 2013, the knowledge that every effort I had made in my most personal and familial relationships had placed me on a collision course with the inevitable end of my marriage.  For 14,732 days (40 years and 4 months), I saw this world as a place in which I had little relevance.  I had few adults with whom to speak.  And with the advent of social media, I began the insidious deception of projecting an illusion of success in my personal and professional life with the mistaken impression that if I promoted the best of life – celebrated with gratitude the amazing journeys that my efforts made possible – somehow that would awaken in those closest to me the values that I so deeply desired to see manifest.  And it’s this last thing that elucidated the most harm.  By making it appear that everything was great, no one saw that inside I was collapsing under the weight of the illusion I was propping up.

On October 2, 2013, I was done.  The psychological and physical pain with which I lived each day had grown into a malignancy in my mind so much that I spent most days thinking about the ways in which I could end my life without leaving my children in pain.  I had made a life of providing for others.  I had been a master entrepreneur building enterprises that spanned the globe and impacted the lives of billions for a better future.  I had loved relentlessly.  I had overcome pain, injury, torment, ridicule, treachery, greed, and every manner of inhumanity.  I modeled a life of generosity beyond anything I had ever seen or experienced.  But the broken, shameful, worthless man was louder than all these things.  I couldn’t see any path to persist.  I was my own unsolvable paradox and the cacophony in my mind was killing me.  And I didn’t make it on my own.  I’m still on this planet because of the love of 3 people.  One business colleague and my two children.  At the darkest end, my daughter held my hand to keep me here.

I don’t know what happens to others but I do know that once I decided that death was a plausible escape from the pain of living, a new level of despair sets in.  I resented a world that allowed a “me” to get to this point.  I resented relationships that didn’t respond to explicit requests for help made worse by the mere fact that I had to ask for something that was self-evident.  My public speaking was celebrated but my anger was ever-present.  My intrepid willingness to take on genocidal mining operations, corrupt governments, white collar crime, covert black-ops, corporate malfeasance bordered on reckless as I figured that my life’s futility might as well be used to stamp out tyranny.  If it got me killed, all the better because it would be the honorable way to go.  In point of fact, from the Nicaraguan war in 1986 until August 2015, I can confidently state that much of my global gallantry for the advancement of humanity was equally fueled by my indifference to my own survival as it was the genuine compassion and fortitude I had for the manifesting of a better world for others.  When being tortured by a gun-wielding guard, he yelled in my face, “I could take your life from you right now.”  I responded, “You cannot take what is not mine to give.”  This sounded stoic.  It was, in part, but it also was the statement of a man who had given up on living.

Today, I am choosing to Fully Live, not just survive like I did in October 2013.  That choice was ignited in 2015 when genuine humanity manifest in my discarded existence.  And while Kim has worked relentlessly to help me see the value in what my life has accomplished, she’s still sees the scars – both literal and emotional – that served as sentinels guarding the darkness in which I lived.  Slowly, I’m chipping away at the 5 decades of inhumanity that planted the seeds of shame into the mind of a little boy with an unusual sense of perception.  Those seeds, watered with blood, bruises, and neglect, grew into the vines that nearly choked the life from me.

And what am I doing about the suicide epidemic that now serves as one of the top 10 causes of death in middle aged men and women in affluent societies?  Well, thanks for asking.

  • 1.      I’m asking people how they’re doing and actually listening for the answer – not just the words but how those words are spoken.
  • 2.      I’m reaching out to people who I see struggling.  I’d much rather offend for asking than let someone suffer in silence.
  • 3.      When asked about my business and commercial success, I’m sharing the uncomfortable personal stories that are about navigating my personal life.  Ironically, when I’m doing this, the conversation invariably becomes much more genuine and the commercial and business facades crumble in favor of authentic human interactions.
  • 4.      I’m constantly honoring the lives of those who stood with me in my darkest hours and making sure to remind them that my life is an extension of their love and kindness.
  • 5.      And when others are at the edge – or regrettably find themselves beyond hope – I am prioritizing their living over any of my own agenda.

Because, if we’re serious about our alleged concern about suicide, it’s high time we do something long before a man like me has to beg for mercy and kindness.  If we’re not emanating kindness and sharing love from a life worth living then we’ve broken a sacred trust with our fellow humans.  And if we pretend that the “workplace” is not a suitable place to have these kinds of conversations then that simply means that we’re fueling the very desperation that leads to lives that end for lack of meaning and value.  As a business owner, I know that I cannot succeed if those around me are not operating at the best.  I know I wasn’t for 3 decades and I’m done propping up the illusions of social indifference at the expense of my well-being and that of others.