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I Thought My Family Would Be Better Off Without Me

Anytime I see an ambulance on the road with its siren and lights on, I am reminded how that ambulance was once for me.

In the summer of 2018, I attempted suicide. For years after that awful day, I struggled to understand how I didn’t die. It didn’t logically make sense to the doctors who cared for me either. There is no other explanation other than Jesus saved me.

I honestly thought my family would be better off without me. That lie didn’t develop suddenly, it happened slowly over time. I can trace the string of lies I believed (the sneaky ones that feel like manipulated truths) all the way back to my childhood.

I grew up in a Christian home in Portland, Oregon. I even attended a Christian school most of my life. I was a good kid and did relatively well in school, yet I felt so inherently evil. I was regularly reminded that I was a sinner, and my flesh was weak. Scripture was misused to scare or manipulate me. When I disobeyed or made a mistake, shame and guilt were laid upon me heavily. I was told I had “disappointed and broken God’s heart.” In my mind, that meant I was a disappointment, therefore I was worthless. The pressure to be perfect “like Jesus” was overwhelming and felt unattainable. I desired to be seen and heard.

When I married C.J. (my childhood sweetheart), I wanted to be the perfect, submitted wife as I was taught to be. I thought that meant setting my own wants and needs aside so that I could best support my husband. C.J. had dreamt of being a doctor since I had known him. Supporting his dream felt idyllic at the beginning, but it began to sour after we moved to Arizona so he could attend medical school. Without realizing it, we began to live very separate lives. I worked full-time, took a community college class here and there, and volunteered at church. Meanwhile, C.J. was a round-the-clock student. He hosted and led study groups in his spare time. Usually the study group met in our apartment, and when they finished, they played video games. (These were the days of Halo LAN parties. If you know, you know.) I started to feel unnoticed which triggered deep-seated fears and insecurities. I missed my family and friends at home. C.J.’s school load was insane, and most of the time he couldn’t join me on a visit home or really for anything social.

I reached my limit one day when I came home to the remnants of a LAN party. Clunky TVs, pizza boxes, and beer bottles were everywhere. My heart separated from C.J.’s that day. After five years of marriage, we had become roommates. It didn’t feel like there was anything special or magical left between us.

On a visit home to attend a wedding, I reconnected with an old friend. He made me feel noticed, seen, and beautiful. I never imagined I would have an affair, but it happened. I felt so dirty and ashamed after committing this awful act of infidelity. I called C.J. to tell him that I was moving back home to Oregon. Blindsided, he flew over immediately to talk in person. I didn’t plan to tell him that I had spent the weekend with another man, but once I saw him, I began to weep and confessed what I had done. Angry and hurt, C.J. took the next flight back to Arizona. When I returned, he had moved out of the apartment. The weight of his absence was crushing. At that point, I had no friends and no community at all. I felt so alone.

We weren’t going to church at that time. I had become bitter over our church experiences. We had searched for the “perfect” church. (Let me tell you a secret: there is no perfect church!) We found ourselves in a cycle of finding a church; I would get involved right away, I would get easily offended and annoyed by “churchy” things, and that would become our excuse to leave. We would find a new church, and the pattern would repeat.

I hadn’t prayed in a long time. There I wept on the floor of our apartment, and I began to pray. I went to church alone, and soaked in the Presence of God. My marriage was falling apart, and yet I still felt that God loved me and He would take care of me. After a month of separation, C.J. and I met. He visibly saw the change in my countenance after I had given my heart back to the Lord, and so we began rebuilding our marriage through counseling and attending church.

In the years following our reconciliation, we began having children. I started experiencing postpartum depression. My doctor prescribed anti-depressants and for the first time, I started taking medication. C.J. began residency which was far more intense than med school. He was hardly ever home. Some nights he slept at the hospital. In his last year of residency, he was made chief. He is a natural leader, and the hardest working person in the room, but I didn’t see it that way. I was alone again, and I resented C.J. for it. I didn’t feel he cared about me and the kids; it seemed he said “yes” to everyone but us. I jokingly told people I was a single mom. We started talking about divorce again. I sank into a deeper depression. My doctor increased my medication dose. C.J. says I became a zombie after that.

C.J. was accepted into a fellowship at the University of Colorado, and we prepared for our move to Denver. I hoped the move might offer a fresh start, but C.J. and I were in constant opposition. It felt like we were holding our breath to stay together. In Denver, we began marriage counseling again and found a church. C.J. worked hard at the hospital and often stayed late. I filled my loneliness by volunteering in worship, kids, and women’s ministry. I wanted to believe myself when I told others how I loved being involved, but the truth is, I felt crushed under the pressure to be a part of everything. I didn’t want to disappoint, so I said “yes” to everything and everyone. I thought I was putting others before myself in a way that I thought was biblical, but in reality, I didn’t have good boundaries, and didn’t know how to say “no.”

I sank more deeply into depression. My medication dosage was increased, and so did my alcohol intake. On a few occasions, I got really drunk and caused scenes. There was the time I was sent to a police box at a concert after a woman accused me of pushing her. It was July 4th, and I had been drinking all day (according to culture, that’s what you do). Another time, I had an unknown amount of glasses of wine at a dinner out. Once home, I took a hot shower and passed out, plugging the shower drain. The bathroom flooded, dripping water through the lights in our living room beneath. It became a downpour. Our ceiling had water stains for years after that.

My mental health was declining. We left the church. I was taking several medications and drinking heavily. C.J.’s schedule couldn’t accommodate marriage counseling any longer. We were talking about divorce for the third time in our marriage. The height of my drinking came on a family vacation to Disneyland. I spent the last day of our trip alone so I could sit by the pool and drink. After a lot of drinks, I stood up at the bar and collapsed, hitting my head on the concrete pavement. The paramedics were called. I likely had a concussion. The hotel manager had to track down C.J. and the kids. C.J. assured the paramedics he could care for me. I woke up in the shower, C.J. hosing me down. My clothes were stained with vomit. I had a large bruise on my face that grew to a black eye. I was embarrassed my kids had to witness all of this; I felt like a complete failure in life.

About a month later, C.J. reached his breaking point. He said I had a choice to make, alcohol or him and the kids. He said if I wasn’t ready to make that decision, he would call a lawyer to file for divorce. I was gutted. That is when I decided to end my life.

I fully believed that C.J. and the kids would be better off without me. Suicide seemed a selfless act for my family. By removing myself, I was eliminating the source of so much pain, embarrassment, and disappointment in their lives. I devised my plan within thirty minutes.

I took my kids to a friend’s house to play. (I understand this part can be very hard to hear, and I don’t want to cause any triggering emotions by sharing the details of this trauma.) I will briefly share that my plan involved lots of pills, alcohol, and self-harm. I parked in the far corner of a parking lot. I left a note in the seat next to me, assuming no one would find me until maybe C.J. saw the location of my phone.

But someone “happened” to see me and alerted a nearby store manager. This man, my forever hero, opened the car door and called 9-1-1. He sat with me until the ambulance arrived. I was in and out of consciousness.

I awoke in the hospital with stitches up my arm, and bruises all over my chest from the sternum rub. I don’t remember saying anything – or really much at all – but, apparently I told the staff that this was all C.J.’s fault, and I didn’t want to see him. So he was unable to visit me. After a couple days, I was admitted to a mental hospital. It was the scariest three days of my life. The lady in the room with me screamed all night. A guy down the hall threw furniture – he even threw a chair through the wall. The showers didn’t have hot water; the drawstrings were removed from my pants; we had to stand in line every day for our medications (just like in the movies); the food was the worst I had ever tasted. It felt like jail.

I was afraid C.J. wouldn’t want to see me, but when I allowed his visitation, he came right away. He held me and we both cried. I felt loved again. Suddenly, I was glad to be alive and saw so clearly how twisted my mind had become. This was the moment I recognized the lie (that my family was better off without me), and the impact it could have had on my kids and husband.

From there, I was admitted into a thirty-day inpatient program at a mental health facility that dealt with both mental health and addiction. I learned there that I wasn’t addicted to alcohol, but I abused it to cope with my mental illness. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder with OCD and anxiety. I was placed on five medications. An anti-PTSD was one of them to help combat my trauma and risk of flashbacks. Some of the side-effects were nightmares, and let me tell you, I’d rather have a nightmare than a flashback any day.

By this point, I didn’t even know if there was a God. And if there was, I was angry at Him. I asked C.J. not to pray in front of me anymore. I wouldn’t allow Christian music in the house. The therapy sessions I attended were AA focused (Alcoholics Anonymous) with a similar 12-step program. They said in order to heal and move forward, I needed to admit there was a higher power. The point was to recognize that something bigger than ourselves is out there, and we can’t take credit for being alive on this earth. I was able to listen to these therapists, because for once, I was hearing this from someone other than a pastor.

When I came home, I began a long, slow process of healing. I was grateful to be back with my kids, but I struggled with embarrassment and shame for what I had put my family through. I was advised to talk with them about the truth and was given age-appropriate conversation suggestions.

For a year, I stayed sober and coped with food. I gained thirty pounds without realizing it, but I didn’t care. I was alive and wanted to celebrate that. We went on dream trips and made great memories. But something was lacking. I was willing to admit God existed, but I hadn’t opened my heart to Him. I knew C.J. was praying for me.

We found a new marriage therapist and stayed faithful to our twice-a-month sessions (and still do to this day). Within a year, I was off all my medications. The following year brought the pandemic. With C.J. being a doctor, this added an intense stress in our home. I could feel depression and fear trying to creep back in. These couple years were filled with intentional family time, focused breathing, and working on practical aspects of our marriage. It was all so good, but there was an emptiness at the same time.

On a really tough emotional day, I found myself searching for “today’s Christian hits.” The first song that came on was “My World Needs You” by Kirk Franklin. I was undone. The bridge lyrics repeated the name of Jesus over and over. I hadn’t felt the warmth and power of God’s love in years, and maybe never to that depth. I listened to it on repeat, and eventually other Christian songs. One day in the car, an Elevation song played. They sang, “What would you do if He walked in the room? What would you shout if He walked into the room? What would you say if He walked into the room?” Hearing these lyrics made me feel exposed.

What would I do if Jesus sat down next to me? Childhood memories surfaced. The fear tactics, shame, misuse of scripture; the spiritual abuse from authority figures, the fear and anxiety as I tried to please my dad. I strived to live up to my dad’s expectations and approval. I desperately tried to do all that was asked of me for fear of being punished – for fear of being a disappointment. I wanted my goodness recognized. I couldn’t contain the anger I had buried deep inside. I was a wreck.

C.J. sat with me in the car as I cried and shared how I felt. He listened to the song and said if Jesus walked into the room, he would run into His arms. He would sit and talk with Jesus, dance and celebrate with Him. I had never pictured Jesus that way. I had only seen God through the lens that I saw my dad. We re-listened to the song. I felt the reactive layers over my heart melt away, and I let the love of God in. I desired Him! I wanted to seek Him!

We gave church another try. I have a whole new perspective on church now. To me, it’s a place where we can come together with other messy humans, and admit that we aren’t perfect, but want to be in God’s Presence. I have grace for others and myself. I don’t expect people (even pastors) to be perfect. For me, the point is to find a place where pastors speak LIFE and live the love of Jesus.

God has used the hands and feet of so many people in my journey – the therapists I have seen (and still see), the paramedics, the man who sat with me in the car… help has come from so many unexpected people.

It’s Jesus’ unconditional love for me that rescued me. He brought a peace and joy to my life that I cannot keep to myself – I must share it! I’m here to tell you that you are not alone in your struggle or brokenness. He is with us and nothing will keep Him away! He will never stop loving us!

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Melody Kleck
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