Life

Oct 05, 2016 by Will Maule

Interview: The Pastor Who Attempted Suicide

Steve Austin has had a remarkable journey from darkness to light, and from death to life. Everything seemed to be going well on the outside. He enjoyed academic success, got married, went into ministry, and with a packed schedule, those closest to Steve thought everything was working out. But inside, he was despairing of life itself. Racked with depression, addiction, and shame relating to his experience of sexual abuse as a child, Steve eventually hit rock bottom. He attempted to take his own life with a massive overdose, and that was almost the end of his story. But God was not finished with him yet, and Steve made a miraculous recovery. He is now seeking to help others who suffer from mental illness through sharing his own story.

Steve details his incredible journey in his new book From Pastor to a Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible and HelloChristian.com caught up with him to ask more about his intentions behind the book, and how God rescued him from suicide. 

1. Could you tell me why you wanted to kill yourself? How did your life get to a point you felt like suicide was the only option? 
Steve Austin: "I think anyone who says they want to kill themselves is lying. I didn't want to kill myself. I just wanted the pain to end. The paranoia. The depression and shame. The addiction. If those things could have vanished and I could have been healed, I would have never considered dying. But I was raised in a Christian environment where it was all about prayers of faith and healing and oil on the forehead and falling out in the spirit. I was never told about counseling or therapy. And to take medication would have made me less-than a full Christian. Where I am from, you can either be a Christian or you can be "crazy", but you cannot be both."

"In my situation, I was faking it - faking life, faking confidence, faking that everything was okay. No one - not my best friend, not my mother, not my wife - knew the depths of my despair. No one suspected the church youth leader and class president longed to die because he was so ashamed of his own childhood sexual abuse. No one felt the dampness of my tear-soaked pillow as I begged God, night after night, to heal me from my raging porn addiction."

"If the Church taught me anything, it was how to perform, so I continued to do that until I nearly died. I allowed people to see the guy who was always “on”. The good husband, the big personality, the singer, the smiles. Everyone assumed I was on top of the world. No one knew it felt like the whole world was weighing on me. Shame is a silencer, and I was convinced no one would understand or care to hear about my “craziness”. As a pastor, I was scared to death of my perfect image being shattered. And no one showing me grace."

2. It is amazing that you’re still alive! How did you manage to survive? Did God have other plans?
Steve: "It is amazing, right? Survival started with God whispering these words to me in ICU, "I'm not finished with you yet." From there, the grace of God looked like my two best friends and my wife. Basic survival began in the psych ward, learning to admit I needed help, and it continued with therapy and counseling once I was released.

"In the past four years of recovery, I've learned that God is nothing like the celestial Santa Claus I once imagined, making his list and checking it twice. God isn't nearly as concerned with who is on the "naughty list" as we are. Grace isn’t limited to gold cross necklaces that hang on the necks of little old ladies. Grace doesn’t only dwell in the multicolored glow of stained glass windows and creaky wooden pews. Grace is available every second of every minute for every human being who will ever live. To bind our wounds, heal our hearts, and accept us just as we are. Grace has changed my life."

3. In the book, you talk about how your parents refused to visit you in the hospital after your suicide attempt. Why are so many people frightened of dealing with those who suffer from mental illness? How can the Church reduce the stigma?
"I am from a spirit-filled church, where we believe in anointing oils and prayers of faith. In this world, medication for emotional issues is not really accepted. I can talk about addiction, but if I mention medication for mental illness, a team of people preps to cast out a demon."

"The Church ostracizes people who need faith and community the most. Even well-meaning pastors, offering a prayer of faith at an altar call, will say God can “heal the minds” of those with anxiety and depression. Even if God can, this kind of talk just makes us want to slink back into the shadows and disappear. Healing sounds so great, but comfort and inclusion sound even better. The Church’s attempts to encourage or heal are actually causing even more shame for a person who already feels they are not enough."

"I want the Church to do more. That might include some research, definitely some reaching out. What would happen if the Church said to those with mental illness: you are different, but not less? What if the Church could break down walls of shame and begin a healthy dialogue? Isn’t that what every person wants – to be heard and respected? To feel as though we belong."

"In my experience, mental illness causes a person to look at a certain point in time thru a zoom lens. As emotions go up, rational thinking goes down. As the Church, this is the perfect opportunity to offer some of that “peace that passes understanding” to someone who feels the constriction of anxiety around their throat. Helping someone who is panicked to slow down, look at the larger picture, find God in the ordinary moments, and see all they do have to be thankful for just might save a life."

4. What has Jesus said to you throughout the dark periods of your life, and how has he impacted your life as you've moved forward into a season of healing?
"Interesting question. I'm working on a new book now, "How to Find God in the Dark". For me, I haven't seen or heard God much in the dark periods. It's awfully hard to see anything in the dark. To use Christianese, I've seen God during "mountaintop experiences", when times are good, but have I seen God in the midst of darkness and despair? Not really.
What I have been able to do during the darkness is remember the light. Remember the truths I've learned, the experiences I've had, the goodness I've been able to know in the past, the kindness of a friend, a Scripture or a song that has spoken to my soul. It's the good times that make the bad times mostly manageable. At least, that's been my experience."

5. Your book is getting a big response! Why is it so important for you to tell your story? 
"Thank you! Lives are changed by storytelling. Recovery has given me permission to tell the truth, so I share mine boldly. My goal is to be respectfully raw. To never shy away from hard conversations, but to connect with others in their brokenness. Because we're all that - broken. And we're all in this together.
I want people to know that it's okay to have a meltdown. And that even a pastor like me has found myself in desperate times, where I needed something other than Jesus. Like a nap, and strong medicine, and a good hard cry, and a friend who would lighten my load for a while."

You can buy Steve's Book From Pastor to a Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible here. Make sure to visit iamsteveaustin.com to keep up to date with Steve's writings, resources, photography and speaking engagements. Follow him on twitter @iamsteveaustin.

Check out the video below for more information on the book. 



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