Even responsible gun owners don’t always know what lurks in the minds of their children. I know, because my parents didn’t.
I am a wife, mother, nurse, sister, daughter and friend. I have an enviable life, a comfortable middle-class existence, and a career that I love. I pride myself today on my inner strength, my sense of humor and resilience.
Yet, 22 years ago, when I was around the same age as Adam Lanza, I wanted to blow my brains out.
It’s a long-buried memory, and a shameful one. I’ve never spoken about until now, not even to my husband.
To the casual observer, I was the furthest thing from the picture the media presents of Adam Lanza–gregarious compared to his withdrawn, empathetic compared to his reported inability to feel others’ pain. I had an abundance of friends, was always on the go, and had a loving man in my life. I was always smiling, always laughing.
But I was also always drinking. I had been teased relentlessly as a child because I was hearing-impaired, bookish and shy. Drinking stopped the pain, at least for a time, and I became outgoing, social and vibrant. I didn’t share these feelings with anybody—not my friends, not my parents. No one would have guessed—no one did guess–how hopeless I felt on the inside.
In 1990, my alcoholism was raging. I was consumed with murderous rage and self-hatred for the person I had become. Each night I would silently creep home, drunk yet again, and calculate how to sneak into my parents’ bedroom and steal the .38 that my father kept in a shoebox in the closet. I knew that the hollow point bullets were in the junk drawer downstairs.
My father kept a gun in the house because he was in law enforcement. He thought none of his children knew where he kept it, and that it was safe because it was unloaded. I was obsessed with visions of loading the bullets, one by one, into the gun and ending it all. I was terrified of a future without alcohol–couldn’t even envision it. Still, I knew I had no future the way I was living.
Mercifully, I would pass out before I could act on my impulse to exit this life. My blackouts may have been my saving grace; I’ve since learned that an active plan to kill oneself, like mine, increases the likelihood that a person will be successful.
Eventually, a friend who’d gone into Alcoholics Anonymous encouraged me to check out a few meetings. I’ve since attended countless AA meetings, and done everything I can to banish that hopeless young woman from my memory. That friend saved my life. I am one of the lucky ones.
But the Newtown massacre of innocents and the inevitable questions raised about gun control have me flashing back to this dark chapter in my life. That’s because Adam Lanza and I had one more thing in common, besides an impulse to end our lives: guns in our household that we had surprisingly easy access to.
By all accounts, Lanza’s mother was attentive and concerned about his well-being. My parents, too, were almost picture-perfect: a unified front, firm without being overly strict, encouraging and involved. They had no idea their daughter knew where they kept an unsecured gun.
I never told anyone what I was about to do or how bad I felt. We may never know, but I guess Adam Lanza never told anyone either. And now small children, school staffers and their families are paying the price for the fact that he got to the guns in his house before his impulse passed and before anyone could help him.
The skeptics reading this will of course make a distinction between us, since he murdered innocent children, and I only wanted to kill myself. That is true. But we were both children of gun owners who harbored violent ideations. We both had easy access to guns, and the people who loved us had no clue what we were about to do. My generous, loving parents still have no inkling that the very gun they kept in the house to protect our family against intruders came very close to ending my life.
The NRA and Second Amendment proponents talk endlessly about responsible gun ownership. But even the most upright gun owners don’t always know what lurks in the hearts of their family members.
I had long since put those suicidal feelings in the rearview mirror of my life. I married a wonderful man, have two teen daughters, and lead a normal, healthy life. The only clue to my past is that I’m not afraid to ask about guns.
When my daughters would have a playdate or a party at someone’s house, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask whether they had firearms and if so, how they stored them. My daughters used to beg me, “Please don’t ask about guns–it makes you look weird!” But when it comes to advocating for my daughters’ safety, I’ll take weird over dead any day.
Because of my history, I worry they’ll drink and abuse alcohol. I maintain a no-tolerance policy about underage drinking and have been forthcoming about my own addiction. I try not to ask generic “How’s school?” questions and instead ask them how they are feeling that day.
But the biggest breakthrough of all is that I let them read this piece. Now they know that the firm taskmaster of the house was once a scared, mixed-up and impulsive kid, and that things can get better with time, love and effort.
I’ve broken my silence because I desperately hope it might save someone, feeling the same way I did so many years ago, from doing something that never, ever can be undone.