By: Sharon Nelson

I got as close as I ever would to ending my life when I was 28 years old. My mental health had deteriorated to a point where I felt helpless to find a way out of the darkness of depression and self-loathing I existed in. Instead, I turned to alcohol and other destructive behaviors to cope with my pain and that led me deeper into the morass of hopelessness. I teetered on a precipice, barely clinging to life. And I realized that if things didn’t change, I wasn’t going to make it.

That was years ago. Now, I know that I had so many reasons to live. Since then, I’ve had a child, completed 3 college degrees, wrote a number of songs and made a CD, practiced as a school psychologist and taught college courses. I’ve seen 100s of exquisite sunsets, had thousands of delicious meals, and enjoyed countless moments of reveling in the beauty of nature. And all these years later, I love to dance, to move freely with other human beings to a groovy beat and smile at one another. I love to sing. And laugh with family and friends. And explore. Life is beautiful!

I don’t know for sure about any existence after death. But I do know this: I’m so grateful that I was fortunate enough to choose life over death. In doing so, I’ve had the opportunity to truly live. To love and be loved. And all I had to do was this; I had to recognize and admit my problems and do everything I could to address them. Everything. I had to make wellness and recovery my number one priority.

In the beginning, recovery was slow – I faltered and fell. Overtime, I discovered that, if I was really serious about getting well, I must be fearlessly honest with myself and others and I must commit to my path of recovery. That didn’t mean that I’d never fall off the path – I’ve fallen off plenty of times. Thankfully, recovery leaves plenty of room for imperfection. However, what I’ve practiced through the years is a commitment to getting back on the path of recovery as soon as I become aware that I’ve strayed from it and then do my best to stay focused.

Once I became serious about recovery and put forth the attention it requires, I began to experience profound changes. Life was less chaotic and more peaceful. There were more and more moments of happiness. I experienced freedom from fear. And I started having fun! But the most exciting change of all is that I became less self-absorbed and began to find meaning in helping others that struggled like I did. So, when I was asked by my recovery group to share my experiences at a women’s prison, I said that I would. I’d never spoken publicly before, and I was afraid, but my desire to be well and to help others was stronger than my fear.

When the evening of the event came, I had no idea what I was going to say and, I as walked toward the podium from which I would speak, I still didn’t know. But then it hit me – there was really only one message that I had to share. I stepped up to the podium and introduced myself to the audience and then said, “I’m really glad to see you all here today. I have to tell you that I am so, so nervous to be up here. I probably won’t speak very long. But I’m so grateful and I want to tell you why. Before I was really in recovery, I thought about ending my life all the time. I hated myself. I hated the world. And I hated everything in it. And now I don’t. Now I love.”

“You save the world when you save yourself.”

Stephen Mitchell