It has been found out that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Many people who are suffering from suicidal thoughts are going through a lot of mental and emotional pain. Yet it has been difficult to seek help because of the stigma around it just as it is hard to find the support system for those who have done it. Cleo DeLoner is an Army Veteran and former police officer who went down into depression and attempted to take her life. Emerging from that, she lives to tell her story and give inspiration to those who have been affected by suicide – from those who have thought about doing it to those who know someone dear to them who are going through the struggle. Cleo talks about surviving suicide, finding healing, thriving through, and helping people save their lives.
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Surviving Suicide: Healing, Thriving, And Saving Lives with Cleo DeLoner
This one is going to be massively unique. I’m excited about this episode. I say that at the beginning of most shows because I am usually fairly excitable, but this one is unique to me. I feel a soul connection to my guest. We’re going to be talking about a lot of things that are going to seem dark to a lot of people. I want to give some advice at the beginning, stick through this because the woman that I’m about to introduce you to is a warrior, a survivor and somebody that I admire. I get goosebumps when I think about all of the things that she’s been through. She’s here and she’s got my twisted sense of humor and that helps us get along quite well. Without further ado, I would love to introduce Cleo DeLoner. Welcome to the show.
I’m interested in our conversation. This is a big deal and it’s been a part of your life for a long time. I’ve been affected and impacted with my friends, in the past and some of my family members. The way that you look at this and your specific pathway is unique that it’s going to help a lot of people. Number one, anybody that’s contemplating suicide, especially because of your experience in the military. In your experience there are 22 vets a day, 22 warriors a day that are committing suicide looking for tools. The thing that I love about our conversation is it keeps getting deeper and deeper. There are more things and more tools because you’re not only a survivor, you’re a thriver.
You’re somebody that has come back. You’ve gotten off of meds. The reason why you want to listen to this entire show is whether you’re thinking about or have thought about committing suicide or are touched by it in your life, you’re going to learn some things. You’re going to learn some tools. You’re going to have some places to get pointed to be able to improve the situation and to have people think about it in a different way, i.e. saving lives. That’s what this show is about so stick with us. Cleo, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself and roll as you do?
My name is Cleo DeLoner. I live in Arizona. This is going to be some substance about suicide. I’ve attempted three times in my life. Incidentally a good friend of yours, John Duffy, introduced us. I’m grateful that he’s connected us. He and I were having a conversation one time. I called him to say, “I connected with your buddy, Jason and this is what happened.” I was explaining to him that suicide attempt survivors, not the stigma of having done that because automatic you’re labeled as crazy or insane or selfish. It goes beyond that. At the time that I had attempted, I didn’t know this. One of the stories I was telling him was that I decided to go down to the pool hall and shoot pool. It was with the guy that cleans my swimming pool. I was playing billiards with the pool guy. I left my cell phone at home intentionally and I go to the pool hall. I was a smoker back then. It’s almost been a couple of years since I quit smoking. I was nursing a beer for three hours, shooting pool and kicking his tail.
I’m an author. My publisher called me and Cleo always answers the phone, but Cleo didn’t answer the phone. He leaves a message, “Give me a call.” I didn’t call him back. He figures, “Maybe she’s out, I’ll call her cellphone.” He calls my cellphone, no answer. He texts me, “Cleo, where are you?” He blows up my landline and my cellphone. He calls another buddy of mine who lives in Tennessee where they both live and he starts blowing up my phone. They get ahold of Boone Cutler and Boone blows up my Facebook page, “Cleo, remember the Spartan pledge,” and people are like, “Cleo, where are you? Call somebody.” Meanwhile, I’m shooting pool and smoking cigarettes. Everybody’s trying to get ahold of me. This is because of my past. I’m done shooting pool. I’m driving home. I got a cigarette in my mouth. The window is down, the music’s blaring.
About two weeks prior, somebody had moved in across the street, a new neighbor. As I’m driving down the street, I see a cop car in front of my neighbor’s house. I’m like, “They’ve already got the cops in this house. What is going on?” I pull into my driveway and there are two police officers and they’re trying to pry my metal roller shields off my window. I’m like, “What is going on here?” I pull up, kill the music, roll up the window and kill my cigarette. I get out and I’m like, “Can I help you?” They’re like, “Are you Cleo?” I said, “I am.” They’re like, “Do you have any weapons on you?” I’m like, “I do, as a matter of fact.” “What do you have?” it was the female officer. I said, “I have a knife in the small pocket of my back.” She goes, “Please don’t stab us in the throat with it.”
I said, “What are you doing here?” She goes, “Do you have any ID?” I said, “I’m going to reach for my wallet.” I gave them my license and I said, “What’s going on?” She goes, “Your friends in Tennessee are worried about you. They couldn’t get ahold of you. We’re doing a welfare check.” They’ve even called the psych ward in Phoenix to see if you were a patient in the psych ward.” I’m like, “What is going on? I was shooting pool. There’s chalk all over my hands.” They’re like, “You’re not in trouble or nothing.” I’m like, “Why were you trying to pry my window open?” They go, “We were trying to get into your house. We went into your backyard.”
I should have prefaced all of that with the reason that this happened, not because I’ve had three suicide attempts. It’s because the most brutal suicide attempt that I had that I perpetrated upon myself was in 2002. I was living in Michigan and I was married and I was having a bad time. I drove to a river and I sat on the tailgate and I put a rifle to my face and I pulled the trigger. I fired a bullet into my face. I never lost consciousness. I walked around and drove. That’s a whole other story. This is what suicide attempts bring. If you are lucky enough, assuming you feel lucky. These are the things that you’re going to experience.
When I call up a friend of mine, my English professor who’s my writing mentor, he’s known me since 1988 when I was eighteen in college. I call him up, “How are you doing?” He’s like, “Is everything okay?” I’m like, “Why wouldn’t it be okay?” I was like, “Why do you always ask me that?” He goes, “I’m worried.” I’m like, “Stop worrying.” It’s more than the stigma that other people give. It’s the stigma that your loved ones give because they’re in a perpetual state of worry. If they can’t get ahold of me, “She must be dead.” I was having this conversation with Duffy.
Let’s rewind a little bit. I came from an abusive childhood. I was the white kid of the family. My mother was a full blood Hispanic kid and married a Native American man. All my siblings look Native American. I grew up in a traditional Hispanic home. I was a constant reminder of her trauma. I’m the product of rape apparently by a white man. I was this constant reminder of her trauma. Being a human being, she couldn’t just lock me in a closet although she did a few times. She took it out on me. It was constant abuse, neglect, hatred and vile things that no child should ever have to hear coming from the person who’s teaching them about love or should teach them about love.
[bctt tweet=”Nobody can really put a number on the percentage of your life.” username=””]
After slapping me or punching me or hitting me or pulling my hair saying horrible things, oftentimes its’ followed up with, “I love you.” For a long time, I associated love with violence. I love you or I love you and then you’re like, “Is that what’s going to come next?” It rewires your brain. It isn’t even wired properly at the time anyway because you’re a child and your brain hasn’t technically fully developed. I’ve been told that even back as young as age twelve I was suicidal. That’s terrible that a child should have those intense feelings of wanting to end their lives. Their life should not be so bad they’re thinking at age twelve how to kill themselves.
You and I have that in common. I did the same thing. I contemplated I had the knife and it was all around that person as you said. It was that person that was supposed to love me, that person that was supposed to protect me. I was afraid that I had broken his favorite glass. It wasn’t even me. It was my little brother and I was going to take the rap for my little brother. I was afraid of what was going to happen over a glass at that same age thinking, “It would be better to go ahead and take my life than to go ahead and face what I’m about to face whenever he finds out that his glass is broken.”
The thing about an abused child, a couple of things is they learn quickly how to become manipulative. We’re trying to manipulate the situation to get out of the next beating. A lot of people know the cycle of women that deal with domestic violence. They get knocked out and then there’s the honeymoon phase where they get the roses and the candies and, “I love you. I’ll never do it again.” There are the buildup stage and that person’s walking on eggshells, anticipating the next beating and then there it is. It’s the honeymoon phase again and it goes and goes. It’s similar for childhood abuse.
The last interview I did with the dating coach, Traci Porterfield, a beautiful light of a human being. I was diving into my relationships. One of the things that I told her that I’d never said publicly before was that I learned to lie. You used the word manipulate, which is spot on and perfect. I learned to lie because I knew if I said the right words to him how to avoid a beating. I learned how to lie, which taught me that instead of being blunt and straight forward like you and I are now, that’s a learned thing. I had to get over the fact that it was telling people what they wanted to hear. It wasn’t a lie for a lie’s sake. Even when my ex-wife would ask me, “Where are you?” I’m like, “I’m on my way,” when I hadn’t left the house yet. I thought that’s what she wanted to hear.
It’s basically being forced to become manipulative. You don’t even know what that means. I’m trying to avoid getting the life kicked out of you. Later on, as I was growing emotionally and through all the years of therapy, I realized how manipulative I could be. How sometimes I was purposely, but 99% of the time it wasn’t intentional. I had to keep it at the forefront of my brain. When I was interacting, engaging in dialogue with somebody, don’t manipulate. Don’t be passive-aggressive. I had to retrain myself to not be manipulative because nobody’s tried to beat me up now. She doesn’t have that power over me anymore. She hadn’t had that power over me since I left at eighteen to go to college, but I had spent most of my life being manipulative because I didn’t know any better.
When I do my speaking engagements, I talk about the fact that all of us have a story and all of our stories are identical and they’re totally different at the same time. You and I have an identical story in the sense that we’ve both experienced love and sorrow and hatred and pain and all of these things. They’re completely different in the sense that we’ve experienced them in different ways. I never tried to minimize anybody’s story. People find my story and my life tragic. To me, I don’t know any different. It’s not tragic to me. I lived through it. I’m here. One of my psychiatrists about a few years ago put a number on it and this terrified me. It was startling. He said, “Cleo, 87% of your life has been nothing but violence and trauma.” I’m like, “87%?”
At the time, I was 41 years old. In my brain housing group, I’m like, “You think about the college football star, girlfriend is the cheerleading squad. Mother, father, spot the dog, white picket fence and everything is perfect. They break up,” but 0.0007% of his life is traumatic. I think about my warrior brothers who were in Special Forces. I have some buddies who were Special Forces who were deployed eight times to the sandbox, whether it’s Iraq or Afghanistan, who’ve had similar childhoods to me. Now, they’re in the sandbox for the eighth time being hunted while they’re hunting the bad guy. They’ve got the same combat PTSD that I have multiplied by a million because it’s their eighth trip. What is their percentage? They’ve had the same childhood. They’ve deployed eight times. They’ve lost buddies. They’ve done all the stuff that combat comes with. It’s got to be 100%. It’s such a startling number to think. Nobody can really put a number on the percentage of your life that’s been that way.
It’s a perspective that when people hear that, they might go, “Maybe my life isn’t so bad. I’m not alone.” Those are the two options. My life isn’t as bad as I think it is. If it is, I’m not alone. In my opinion and this is what connects us. It’s not about just surviving, it’s about thriving. It’s about being able to take what happened to us and be able to be exactly the opposite. I tell people all the time that my adopted father tried to beat the life and the spirit out of me. All he did was made me one servant-oriented person.
People that generally go through that trauma and violence and come out the other end, their mission is to prevent others from going through because they know how crappy that feels. Sitting on that tailgate that day, you asked me a specific question, “What went through your mind before you pulled the trigger?” I told you that last bit of energy I had was used to pull that trigger. I did not want to have one more thought and one more feeling. I didn’t want to take one more breath. I wanted it to stop. Having pulled that trigger, imagine my surprise when I realized I was alive and had not lost consciousness. Some people take a punch to the face and they’re out for the ten counts.
This was a .22 hollow point to my face. The barrel flushed to the point where I had a muzzle burn. It burns the flesh. It bled for two weeks. I’m walking around the psych ward with Kleenex, blood dripping. Realizing that I was alive and then going into survival mode and trying to get help because I knew I needed to get back into town. I don’t want anybody to have those intensive feelings. I don’t want them to be enveloped by that intensity of darkness to the point where they’re sitting on any tailgate or standing on a building, whatever it is the method that they choose.
This was a result of what I call the PTSD pancake. You can get the short stack and the high stack. Think about all these layers of pancakes as bits and pieces of trauma through your life. The syrup and the butter can represent some of the love and the compassion from friends that you meet along the way. It’s not the substance of the meal. The pancake is a substance of the meal, all that trauma. The shooting was a result of the PTSD pancakes, all these layers and layers. We all have a breaking point. My threshold was long gone. I couldn’t do it anymore. This was after many years of abuse and neglect, struggling through college because of the mental health issues.
[bctt tweet=”The future belongs to the broken.” username=””]
I joined the United States Army. I was military police. I did most of my time at Fort Bliss, Texas after my AIT in Fort McClellan, Alabama. I got stationed at Fort Bliss. I was there the entire time except for two deployments. I deployed to Hurricane Andrew in ‘92. We were only there in Florida for a month, maybe a little bit over. In January ‘93, I deployed to Somalia. We were one of the first units there in Somalia. The first American troops that landed there were December 8th when the Marines pulled up on the beaches of the Indian Ocean and we got there a little over a month later.
I’m 22 years old. I’m naïve. I’m full of compassion and wonder and I’m curious. I’m a curious individual. I remember stepping off the plane and being suffocated by that heat. I’m like, “Take your breath, 130 degrees.” I’m looking around I’m like, “It’s going to be interesting,” and then they started issuing as live ammo and I was like, “This is for real. I could die. I might have to kill somebody. This isn’t training anymore. This is the real stuff. We’re in another country that people that want to kill us.” Within several hours of being in that country, all my compassion was gone. Over the years of healing from my time there, I’ve got little bits and pieces of my compassion back but not all of it unfortunately.
It’s such a short amount of time to lose. One of the things that I get from you is you have gained a lot more of it back then you give yourself credit for. You have a deep regard for how your words, you use the phrase wordsmith with me. I view myself also as a fellow wordsmith. You put a lot of responsibility on yourself of how your words are going to impact others. You’ve even pulled yourself off the circuit for a bit because of worrying about that impact. You’ve got a lot of that compassion, but a lot of this pain. As you said, when you come out the other side of it, the beautiful thing about surviving that I would say to survivors as I’ve had multiple conversations, multiple interactions with people that have contemplated, attempted and have family members that they’ve lost. On the other side of this, you’ve developed a muscle that most people don’t have, for empathy, for understanding and for things that tweak people. Maybe their burger came out five minutes too late or their steak came out a little bit underdone or whatever it is. It develops in us this ability.
There’s a line in the movie that says, “The future belongs to the broken.” That’s because the broken have that thing called empathy. It’s because we have that association of caring about someone else, sometimes more than we care about ourselves. That’s what’s going to heal things. We think we’ve broken, we’ve made mistakes, and you tried to commit suicide. I did all of the stuff where we go, “We’re such failures. Who’s going to listen to us? Why would they listen to us?” That’s why Misfit Nation is full of people that have messed up in life, even if it’s not ourselves, it’s somebody else that goes, “You messed up. You need to stay right where you’re at. Do not advance. Stay there and wait until they throw dirt on top of you.” That’s what this show exists for is to tell people like you and me and that stuff that we went through was to tell us not to do it anymore and to start learning new skill sets so that we could go out and inform and educate other people. Bring that love and bring that empathy to bear because it’s the most powerful weapon that exists on planet Earth. It’s loving someone else enough to get out of our own thing and to care more about our message getting through and giving them tools to be able to avoid that process. I love you for that. I love your spirit. I love your heart. I have much admiration for you.
I know that God gives us the life that he gives us because that’s what we can handle. I wasn’t given the life of a twelve-year-old on the streets of Chicago selling my body for my next meal. I couldn’t handle that. As violent and traumatic and tragic as people find my life, I am grateful for every microsecond of the many years that I’ve lived because it’s made me who I am. Those are all tools that I’ve developed to go out and help others. If somebody is suicidal and had been suicidal, say for a couple of months, and they’re contemplating, “This is it. Goodbye, cruel world.” If something I say to them or help them with can get them through that in a few months versus the many years I went through and then they can go on and give it to the next person and help the next person. It’s like tiny fragments of our self that we give away to make the big picture of all of us. We’re all tiny fragments of this giant puzzle.
The cool thing about Misfits, as your people call themselves, is I would much rather have a conversation with you 24/7, five days a week, twice on Sunday than some dude that’s got his briefcase and his cell phone. He’s a broker. He’s going to Wall Street. He has no substance in his life. He’s got no life experience. He doesn’t read. All he does is watch the stock market. He’s got the perfect little life. He’s super rich. He eats sushi every night for dinner, but that’s boring. I want to talk to people with substance because every conversation that I have, I don’t care if it’s 30 seconds or three hours, there are two things. I want to learn something and I want my soul to be touched. Somewhere in that conversation, I want what that other person says to touch my soul. Even if it’s one phrase, one word, one sentence, even a look that they have. If we all thrive to being curious, more curious, wanting to learn from whomever we’re conversing with. If we’re engaging in dialogue with the homeless guy on the sidewalk in front of Circle K versus the minister that’s praying for us, I want to learn something. I want substance because I’m a curious person because I’m an intense person because I have little use for innocuous conversations.
Vapid conversations make me want to puke.
What’s the point? Why are we wasting time talking about this?
It’s an important subject, Cleo, because nowadays you see a lot of people. I can’t remember who said it. I would love to give credit for it. I didn’t come up with it. It wasn’t my origination, but I heard it said that people’s realities are interacting with other people’s facades. That creates this whole other social media. Was it worse or better than it was? The bottom line is it is what it is. Social media is not going anywhere. You better learn how to deal with it. Be a grownup and figure it out. If you’re depressed because somebody else’s posting a picture up there next to a helicopter and you went to high school with them. You have a world or a life that you are living now that is not what you expected it to be, just understand that picture that you’re seeing, even to your example that person that is the broker eating sushi every night, we’re interacting with their facade.
What you’re saying and why I created this show and the interaction that you and I had specifically, it’s that your reality and my reality are interacting together. At that moment, something real happens. In that interaction, there was magic that happened. What that means is it impacted my thinking, which then ultimately will impact my behavior in some way. That’s your pay it forward, that ripple in the pond, that piece of the puzzle that may be missing for me to be able to go out and impact in some other way at a deeper level than I could have had I not met you and vice versa. This day and age, what Cleo said are important for us to understand that your reality needs to interact with other people’s reality. You need to be curious. Be open to the fact that even in disagreement, your belief can be strengthened. If it’s wrong, it should be changed. Instead of holding on doggedly to a belief because your parents believed it or because it’s been driven into us by society, life is changing all the time. It’s an evolution.
Who I am now, who you are now is not anywhere near the same. Not any part of your body, your cells, your heart, it’s all been regenerated since you were 22 years old. You’re literally not the same person. That’s an important part for people to understand is that making sure that your reality is interacting with somebody else’s reality. Even if your reality is that you’re interacting with them and something about them upsets you, figure out what’s going on inside of you instead of blaming that on the other person and thinking they need to change. The only people that can change per our conversation are the person in the mirror.
[bctt tweet=”The most powerful weapon that exists on earth is loving someone else enough to get out of our own mess and to care more about our message.” username=””]
I’m going to share something with you. I don’t know that I’ve ever shared this publicly. Somebody said something to me when I was fairly young, I’m guessing early teens. It always stuck with me. Surprisingly enough, I haven’t gotten tattooed on my body yet, but this is incredibly profound and devastatingly sad and true. The parallel lives that you and I have lived. This is what they said to me, “You make everything that is good hurt to prove to yourself that it is real because the only reality you’ve ever known is pain. If it doesn’t hurt, you don’t believe that it is real.” Having lived the majority of my life that way, I self-sabotages. We self-sabotage. It’s like, “I’m happy. Things are going great for a couple of weeks,” and then I realize, “I’m happy. I don’t deserve this,” and we self-sabotage. This is common for children who are abused and neglected. They grow up to sabotage their relationships, their finances, their jobs and everything about their life on a subconscious level. They’re sabotaging it because they don’t think they deserve it. It can be good because there’s no pain in this. If there’s no pain, it can’t even be real.
What you said is deep and impactful. It made me stop and think. It made me stop and think. Everybody can think back in their own life and they can see where something was going too good and you made a realization about it. Even if it’s unconscious or conscious when we start to sabotage so that we can go back and start having challenges or pain in our life. My life, your life, the life of a lot of our audience has felt like a battle. I can’t remember even some of the stuff you brought back to my mind about my childhood. I hadn’t thought about that broken glass because I don’t remember huge swaths of my childhood because of the trauma. We go back and we think about these things and we think to ourselves no matter how old we are. We look back at our life and we think about that percentage about how much of our life has been in pain.
When something’s going good, we have to make it hurt to make it feel real. I remember it was not too long ago. It was about a few years ago. I had gotten past the stress of money. I was sitting on a beautiful porch in Hawaii overlooking the ocean. The sun was setting. You would understand this. I’m not afraid of anything. I’ve been through hell and back. My body jerked because I was like, “There’s nothing wrong right now.” It was foreign to me. I started to go, “What is this feeling?” I dove into it. I figured it out. Like you’ve done, we all come up with our own solutions to figure this stuff out. I wanted to acknowledge how powerful what you said is. It was one of those moments when my entire being shook and I went, “There’s nothing wrong right now.”
You stepped out of your comfort zone. The pain, the misery, the violence, the trauma happens frequently and that becomes our comfort zone because that’s what it is 24/7 almost constantly. When something good is happening, that’s out of our comfort zone. It’s completely backwards in, “Normal people’s lives.” Their comfort zone is sitting, watching that sunset at the ocean. That’s normal people’s comfort zone.
It’s why they can’t understand sometimes. When you’re like, “I don’t understand why you’re depressed. I don’t understand why you’re upset. I don’t understand why.” This is why. It doesn’t make us better than. It makes us a different configuration. Everybody’s got challenges. You can’t minimize anybody’s pain because their pain is their pain no matter how deep it is. When you’re dealing with somebody who is suicidal and you don’t have that configuration, this is why you don’t understand them.
To the audience, I shared this piece with Jason to give him an idea of my writing style.
Just so everybody understands what’s about to happen, she’s a beautiful poet. Her words are powerful. You’re going to enjoy this. You have two, three or maybe even four pieces that you’re going to read verbatim. I’m looking forward to everybody reading it.
My intention is to write what I call an I Am series. I Am PTSD and I Am Suicide have both been written. I’m going to write I Am Combat, I Am Courage, I Am Hope, I Am Loneliness, I Am Depression so you’ll understand it. Here’s I Am PTSD. “I have many aliases. Soldier’s Heart. Battle Fatigue. Shell-Shock. Broken. I am like no enemy you have ever fought. I can control you. I own you. I insert horrific memory memories in your head at my beck and call. I watch you from a distance as you stare at nothing. I startle you back to reality. I freeze the most graphic images in your mind, forcing you to witness the horror over and over again. I feel your rage. A feel your hatred.
I take you close in my arms, away from everyone who cares about you because I am jealous. When I have you isolated all to myself, my relentless assault intensifies. My voice is all that you will hear. I will convince you that you are worthless, guilty, a burden, unloved and unlovable. I will bring you to your knees. You will try to crawl your way out of the maze of confusion until you collapse face down. All the while, I scream at you to end it. I will drive you to a depth of darkness and no amount of light will penetrate. I will envelope you in total and utter unimaginable despair. The emptiness you feel carries 1,000 echoes of the suffering that I inflict. You will make futile attempts to silence me with your pathetic pills, your bottles of booze. You have believed that I have retreated, but I am still with you waiting, watching patiently.
Your staggering drunkenness brings you to a state of unconsciousness. You are right where I want you. I now bring you the images in full color. I add the sounds of screams. Hovering over you, I watch as you twitch, toss, turn, punch the air, cling to your blankets and scream, “No.” I drench you in a cold sweat, forcing you to awaken sitting straight up as you gasp for air. You don’t like to talk about me to your loved ones. Why would you want to? How would you describe me? Am I just a voice in your head? Am I the monster who has taken up residence in your mind? Better to just stay quiet. Keep this affair between us. I’ve convinced you that they don’t care, that I’m the only one who cares. I’ll never leave you alone. This road that we stumbled down together is a road I walk with many. I sabotage every relationship they have. Their loved ones retreat, leaving them lonely. They fought me. They fought hard. In the end, they also come to me. Odds are you will too. You have embraced me without even knowing it. I have you in the corner of darkness providing you with an instrument of death. I have encouraged you, guided you, and defeated you. Now, I can sit back and watch your sad finale. I am PTSD.”
I want to save for most people associate PTSD with combat or war. There are probably a million of your audience out there that their PTSD is from different things. People can get PTSD from rape, domestic violence, botched surgeries, natural disasters and car accidents. There’s an array of ways to get PTSD. Mine is combat PTSD in addition to the childhood abuse PTSD. Normally, when I talk about this stuff, it’s in reference to my PTSD from combat. I’m not at all minimizing those who have PTSD from something other than combat, whether you’re a veteran or not. There are many veterans who have PTSD from MST, which is military sexual trauma, being sexually assaulted in the military. Some of it on top of combat PTSD. That piece is not specifically about combat.
[bctt tweet=”You’re probably the piece of the puzzle that may be missing for other people to be able to go out and make an impact.” username=””]
Eventually, no matter where you’re at, your stuff catches up to you. This is one of those things you think you’re going crazy. There are all kinds of stuff that happens when you’ve gone through traumatic scenarios, abuse, everything that you mentioned. You think, “I’m going to bury it. I’m going to stuff it down.” It catches up to you. This is another great lesson from the show. It’s best to get it out. Talk to somebody. Find somebody, a professional. I remember distinctly going through this and I buried it because I left my house on Thanksgiving Day when I was fifteen. That was when I got kicked out. I had to feed myself and put a roof over my head ever since. You bury that and then there’s a break where you’ve got enough money and you’re not in massive survival. That’s when the stuff shows up.
I remember distinctly one day going, “I’m having a hard time swallowing.” I finally made an appointment with an ear, nose and throat guy. He asked me a question, he said, “How much pressure or stress are you under?” I was like, “What does that have to do with anything?” He said, “You should go talk to a psychiatrist.” I literally got almost angry enough to punch the guy because I’m like, “Are you calling me crazy?” It got worse. I had tricked my mind into the fact the only thing that I could swallow was baloney that was smothered in mayonnaise and soup that didn’t have any chunks in it. I instantly lost 35 pounds. Finally, they figured out, “You’ve got PTSD,” and all these other things. They diagnosed me bipolar, I wasn’t. You’ve probably been through the same thing.
The issue is they give you a pill. I can’t speak for all other people because I’m sure that it helps some people, but for me, it made me a walking zombie. It ended up one drug to the next drug and, “You must not be bipolar. You must be this,” and they worked their way through it. The issue is that there was trauma. It had to be dealt with. There are different ways of doing that and by no means am I giving advice. I’m not a doctor to people. What I will say is that the mental side of things manifests themselves in a physical fashion. I thought I had a brain tumor. I thought I was having heart attacks, panic attacks, all of the stuff that goes along with it. I love that piece you did. That’s a prelude to another piece that you’ve written.
When I shot myself, I had been home from Somalia for nine years. I hadn’t dealt with any of it. I thought I was too tough a cop, too tough a soldier to have any problems. I had been a cutter since age thirteen. It wasn’t until college that I was diagnosed as a borderline personality disorder. That is as accurate and real as the PTSD. That day when I decided, “This is it. I’m going to kill myself.” I hate when people who don’t know anything about suicide, not having felt the feelings, not has known anybody who has attempted, who have succeeded, who has felt that way. The extent of their knowledge is watching Oprah or some TV show. They have no knowledge about this yet they want to tell me what you did was selfish. They want to tell me that it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Let me tell you how long I’ve had PTSD. That’s not temporary. There might be one good reason to kill yourself, even though I’ve attempted three times. Apparently, I’m not good at. I suck at this. I might as well try to start living. My three biggest failures have become my three biggest successes. Clearly, I’m not good at killing myself. I thought the gun was a sure thing. The second time was carbon monoxide. The third time I swallowed 90 sleeping pills, I woke up three-and-a-half days later in the hospital. The only good reason to kill yourself is a terminal illness. For those of us who have attempted, we don’t want to suffer anymore in the head or in the heart because we’re emotionally exhausted to the point of almost emotional paralysis. It’s incredibly painful and I would much rather feel physical pain than emotional pain, which is probably why I started cutting at age thirteen. I cut my face, the same place I shot myself. It’s complex and there’s a lot of dynamics there and a lot of variables there, but essentially there weren’t any red flags for me.
In my writing, because I’ve been writing since I was a wee pup. The next piece I’m going to read is I Am Suicide. It’s similar to I Am PTSD because all of these afflictions, alcoholism, drug use, suicide, depression, all of these things have similar things to them. Here’s I Am Suicide. “The whisper of death. Why is the first question people ask about me. I am difficult to fathom. Shocking. Unbelievable. I assure you I’m very real. My targets are the vulnerable. My body count is high. My methods are numerous. With the help of my best friend, depression, I lure you in. I turn to for days, weeks, months, sometimes years before my final move. I leave you alone for short periods of time, making you believe that I’m gone, that you are strong.
When you least expect it, I strike again pulling you down, dragging you behind me, leading you to my lair. I inflict relentless emotional torture until you beg me to take you. I bloody your hands just as I did your heart, mind and soul. I have become your only answer because of who I am, you will be ashamed to tell anyone about me. Step by agonizing step I will lead you to the edge, cheering you on as you teeter. You’re trembling hands clenching the gun, the razor blade, the rope, the pills. With a final whisper, you plummet to the unknown. I am coming for you too. I am suicide.”
The emotion and the power and the description behind suicide because suicide’s a true coward. It comes at us when we’re most vulnerable. It doesn’t have the balls to come to our face to face and challenge us because it can’t win because we’re too strong. These Misfits, these people of yours, these broken people of the world, we’re too strong because we’re too stupid and stubborn to give up. We’ve been discounted so many times. We’ve had many horrible things happen to us. Everybody is expecting us to give up. Suicide has no ammo unless we give it to it. I made these entities that can be challenged and faced and fought and ultimately defeated. The way that piece ends, “I’m coming for you too.” He’s been chasing me since I was brought into this world. PTSD ends with, “As I sit back and watch your sad finale,” meaning suicide. They’re linked together.
Not minimizing other people’s problems or stories or issues. It’s baffling to me that someone will kill themselves or make an attempt on their life because of a breakup, whether it’s husband, wife, boyfriend and girlfriend. It doesn’t matter. That seems a lot of value placed into a person that because they don’t want to talk to you anymore, you got to kill yourself. I understand losing your house, losing your job, losing your family to some death or car crash where you lose seven of your fifteen family members, whatever. I’m not saying that my problems are any worse that legitimize the fact that I shot myself in the head because my problems are so much worse than somebody’s boyfriend that broke up with them. It’s not that, it’s just I don’t have that much value in relationships that I would kill myself because of my boyfriend broke up with me.
Give some people some tools. This message is for everybody that that is impacted in one way, shape, or form or the other. When you’re dealing with somebody who is suicidal, has committed suicide, attempted suicide or had been successful in your life. It impacts that whole circle around you. This message is for everybody. From your perspective, because you’ve attempted three times in a quite dramatic fashion. You’ve got all of these other issues that you were talking about. What are some tools that people can find? If we’ve got a vet if we’ve got someone with PTSD if we’ve got any of the things that we’re talking about if anybody is depressed. What are some tools because you’re very self-effacing, but you’re funny and I feel your heart?
I feel your spirit. It’s dark and deep and it was heavy. I told a couple of people after we talked I’m like, “I have this weight on me after this conversation.” It wasn’t a bad weight. It was heavy because I had a real interaction with somebody. The empathy thing, we take people’s stuff on and then we have to deal with it ourselves. At the end of that transaction between two people, both people are left better off. What are some tools that you would suggest for people that are in this world of suicide and depression or dealing with somebody?
[bctt tweet=”Make sure that your reality is interacting with somebody else’s reality.” username=””]
The first tool should always be talking. Reach out to somebody, but make sure that it’s somebody you can trust. If I called you up Jason, I said, “Dan, I feel like I’m going to eat my gun. I’m not doing well,” and I don’t have trust in you to understand that I need to purge these horrible feelings. You freak out and you call the police to my house, which has been done. The SWAT team came for me. If I don’t have the trust in you to say, “I’m feeling suicidal. I can’t lose this urge to hurt myself and need to talk it out.” That’s the first thing, talk it out.
If there is nobody for whatever reason you can’t talk to because they don’t exist. You don’t trust somebody to that level. There’s always a suicide hotline. I’m not going to tell the horror story of the suicide hotline because I don’t want people to not use the suicide hotline. This was my experience because of my history. The thing that I recommend most to everybody I speak to, whether they’re suicidal, normal, PTSD, whatever is to write. I recommend that people write what I call an emotional journal. It’s quite simple. People are like, “I can’t write,” unless you’re going to write a bestselling novel. This is an emotional journal.
Say that you get up every day at 9:00 AM and you go to bed at about 10:00 PM. Every couple of hours set an alarm on your phone. Carry a little notepad and a pen with you or type it into your notepad on your phone. When that alarm goes off, you write down the date and the time and you write what you’re feeling. It doesn’t always have to be bad either. It can be, “I’m feeling good. I had a great lunch with Joe Blow over there.” Write something. What happens are three things? If you do this over the course of about a week, you’re not going to need the alarm anymore. You’re going to randomly pull out that notepad and start writing what you feel.
The reason it’s important to write down the times and the date is that you can go back and you’re reading over this emotional journal. These only need to be one or two sentences or a paragraph, whatever it is you feel you need to write. You can go back and say every day at 1:00 your emotional journal entry was negative and you’re like, “What is happening before 1:00 every day? What’s happening in my lunch hour? That’s when I call my spouse. That’s when I got to do this,” so you can change that behavior so that your 1:00 entry now you’re feeling much better emotionally. It’s a profound tool. It also displays patterns in your day about the best and worst times in your day emotionally. I’m not talking physically. I’m not talking spiritually. I’m not talking financially. I’m not talking about anything other than your emotions.
You don’t have to show this to anybody. You can rip it up and burn it after a few months or if it’s not effective for you if it doesn’t work for you. If you don’t learn something about yourself within the first week and start seeing patterns of what’s happening in your daily life emotionally, bag it. Find something else. I always encourage people to write. Let’s say, Jason, you and I become besties. You’re my best buddy. You call me up you’re like, “Cleo, I’m going to be out of town or I’m going to be out of the country for the next week. If you need somebody to call, whatever.” I don’t want to call anybody else. I want to talk to Jason. I’m going to write to Jason.
I’m like, “Jason if we were on the phone right now, this is what I would tell you.” When we write it, it becomes a physical thing, like how we’re talking versus texting somebody. If you text me and say, “Cleo, how are you doing?” I say, “I’m fine,” but she can’t hear the inflection in my voice. You think it was fine, but I could be sitting in that corner right there with a gun in my mouth. You don’t know until a couple of days later we get a call. We have to get away from behind the screens of computers and phones. We have to hear each other’s voice. Go shoot pool, have a beer, drink a cup of coffee, whatever it is but put eyes on somebody.
I rarely leave my house. I went to leave my house to go buy some tobacco. My battery was dead in my vehicle because it’s been that long since I’ve even started it. I rarely leave my house, but people know me well enough that if they want to know how I’m doing, they’re going to hear my voice. I can’t hide that. I’m an honest person anyway. Talk to somebody either face-to-face or by phone. If nobody’s available, write it down as if you’re talking to that person or the suicide hotline. Beyond that, what I do a lot is I sleep it off. The one most powerful important thing that I have learned of being enveloped in this darkness for many years is it always gets better. The whole, “This too shall pass.”
I can tell you how many times, even in the last many hours that I felt like eating my gun, but I knew it would pass. It may be two minutes, two hours, two days, two weeks and two months before it passed. I may be enveloped in that darkness for a long time, but I will come out of it if I don’t give in to that little coward suicide. There are a million tools that you can put your toolbox and try them out like, “This wrench doesn’t fit. I need a nine-millimeter wrench. I need a crescent wrench. I need pliers. I need a hammer.” Sometimes you need a hammer. Whatever tools are not working in your toolbox, get rid of him because it’s going to make more room for tools that aren’t going to be effective.
You can write, you can talk and you can sleep. Please stay away from drugs and alcohol though because they’re natural depressants and they will intensify the depression. That voice will start speaking to you. That inner monologue, “Do it.” I wrote a piece called The Whisper Of Death. It’s that whisper that has become my only friend. “Do it. No one’s going to miss you. Nobody cares. Just do it.” Alcohol and drugs intensify them. Stay away from that as much as possible. Don’t self-medicate to get through it because you’re compounding it and making it ten times worse.
I know a lot of people would deal with issues with drugs and alcohol. If that’s your coping mechanism, fine, but try your best to find a healthier way to cope with it somehow, some way. I know that this is going to pass for me nowadays when I start feeling that way, I don’t reach out. I don’t call anybody because the more people in my life that’s like, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “I’m fine.” I still feel I can be a burden to people with my darkness. When I cross that threshold of healing and started healing and I moved past that, I know that I can depend on myself, rely on myself to get me through it somehow, some way.
A lot of people who are billing those feelings, they’re rookies. They’re infants. They don’t know. They’re scared like, “Why am I feeling this? This is awful. This is horrible. What do I do?” That’s who I’m telling this to, for anybody. Sometimes I want to reach out to somebody, I want to call somebody, but I don’t want to talk to anybody for a couple of reasons. I don’t want to worry about them. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to take up their time because I know that they have a family and a job. It’s like, “Cleo, you can do this.” My own motto is that I continue putting my left in front of my right, marching to the cadence of life. In the military, we marched the cadence. The cadence of life is what I march to, put my left in front of my right.
[bctt tweet=”When something’s going good, we tend to make it hurt to make it feel real.” username=””]
Those strategies, there’s two that worked for me. What you’re talking about, how I would verbalize what happened to my life was that my peace was disturbed. I’d figured out a way to cope with my life and that was by ignoring it. All of a sudden, my existence was I can’t ignore it anymore. That was my peace being disturbed. I went through all the stuff, the drugs, the depression, the alcohol, and the self-medicating and then doctors medicating. Ultimately, driving towards the day that I sat on a cliff with a gun and not doing it. This is the thing. I tell people, “Don’t do it.” We all have different ways of communicating to different people, but I think it like, “Don’t do it. Stay here.” Staying out the day, take a nap. Take a walk. Go, high-five somebody. Go find somebody that’s worse off than you and love them.
I learned a couple of things in my own journey because I’m not a person who can take drugs. I eventually get to a place where call me a control freak, call me whatever it is. I don’t drink heavily. I’ll have a drink every now and again. I don’t do drugs. When they started putting me on these drugs, I felt like I was out of control out of my body. I do my best to find natural ways to deal with stuff that’s going on. One of the things that worked very well for me was understanding, “Yes, this too will pass.” That was a big one for me. Once it happens and then I go through that, I went through it, now I’m on the other side of it.
I know the pattern. I know the thought process. I know that there’s a cadence of things that happen. My brain starts thinking thoughts. It changed my pattern of breathing. This is for panic attacks. I’ve never had one ever since I learned this is that panic attacks are a cadence of thoughts that lead into breathing. If you interrupt the breathing pattern instead of short and shallow, you’d start breathing deeply. It changes everything else. If you have a set of words that are ready for you, then you can use those. The way that you’ve done it is by writing.
I created a cadence for myself. This goes into neuroscience and neural net pathways and all of the ways that we think is that you can interrupt that and rewire it. It’s called neuroplasticity. We can recreate our entire environment, our entire world, our entire thought process with physiology, focus, language and emotion combined with intensity and repetition. That’s a formula that worked for me. Not a doctor, it worked for me. Instead of thinking what’s wrong and, “I’m depressed,” I would go into this state. Tony Robbins teaches about state and he saved my life. I was on all kinds of drugs and the antidepressants and all this stuff.
When I learned state management, instead of thinking all those things, you put yourself into a place of strength. My cadence became, “I am a powerful world changer who enjoys every breath.” I would run and I would scream because deep breathing changes your state. Deep breathing and yelling and screaming. It’s not like I was an insane person. It changed everything. It changed that wiring. Now, I’m a powerful world changer and I enjoy every breath because I’m a comedian. Like you, it’s either you laugh or you cry.
Sometimes you laugh so hard that you do cry.
I’d rather do that. Laughter, making fun of things, changing your state, changing your breathing, taking your nap, the suicide hotline, staying away from drugs and alcohol and writing. Words are power. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Ivy, to this day is my hero. She saved my life by teaching me that I can create my own universe with words. I could escape the stuff that I was going through at home by writing stories and saying, “I am this thing,” like you did with your writing. By our language and by learning to write and not stuff on Facebook or responses and stuff like that. Get deep. Go get a dictionary and learn the depth of this beautiful thing called language that we can all participate in that then change and impacts your behavior.
All you’re doing is reacting to those words and whatnot. I love these tools. I love you, Cleo. I love your spirit. I love your laughter. I love your dark. I love your light. I love the path that you’ve walked specifically so that you could come here and have this conversation with me. That my people and the Misfit Nation can hear from yet another person that said, “I’m going to die, but that’s not now.” Thank you. You’ve written a book that I highly recommend. Tell everybody how to get ahold of you and how to follow what you’ve been through. If there are other things that we didn’t talk about now, but what we talked about was exactly perfect and I appreciate you.
I’ve written two books that are available. I’ve written other books, only two are available. The first one is titled Triggerpieces because I call my stuff pieces; the pieces of my heart, my mind and my soul. Most people call them poetry but my stuff is not, “Roses are red, violets are blue. You love me, I hate you. Roses are red, violets are blue. I’ll lay down suppressing fire for you.” There’s some intensity behind it. They are pieces that can trigger you. Some are true stories, some are from nightmares, and some are from things rolling around in my military mind. There is some intensity. There’s some lighter stuff. Not much in Triggerpieces, it’s pretty dark. Most people tell me, “I can only handle a couple of pieces. I have to put it down.”
Some people said I can’t even finish the whole book. There’s stuff in there about child abuse, about cutting, about depression, about stuff I saw as a cop, combat. It’s a variety of things. The second book is called Zero. All these pieces were written since my treatment. The reason I titled it Zero is that many veterans when they get out of the military, especially combat vets, feel much like a zero. They have no worth, no value in society, not even to their loved ones. We’ve been used up. People who have the affliction of any mental health, depression, bipolar, PTSD, whatever it is also feel much like a zero. They’re worthless. They have zero value. Nobody cares what they have to say or think or what’s happened to them.
These people that oftentimes feel like a zero or have felt like a zero, these are the ones that I’m talking to. These are the ones that are killing themselves. You have shown me, Jason, that I do have value. “Cleo, you are not a zero. You have value to me, to the Misfit Nation. You have value. You have worth not just in your words and your writing, but your sense of humor, your light, your dark. All of us feel like a zero at some point. All of us get down on ourselves that poor self-esteem. Put a one in front of that zero. Add another zero and several more zeroes. Don’t be a zero. Don’t let suicide or this affliction win because you feel like a zero. That’s why I titled the book, Zero. They could both be found on Amazon. You can search for my name Cleo DeLoner. Both of those books are available on Kindle and for a hard copy. I have two Facebook pages. One is my book page. The name of the Facebook page is A Soldier’s Journey And The Battle Within. That was the title of the first book that I published. I have another page on there that’s titled Dear Suicide, Nobody Dies Today. It’s a place where you can go write a letter to suicide. There’s no political, there’s no arguing, there’s nothing to switch you writing to suicide.
[bctt tweet=”It always gets better. This too shall pass.” username=””]
I want to share this last piece. Basically in closing, my hashtag mark is #NobodyDiesToday. That’s in reference to the veteran suicide. One of my signatures in the email is, “We must honor the deaths of yesterday, accept the deaths of today to prevent the deaths of tomorrow.” I’m a big advocate for suicide prevention, mainly my brothers and sisters, but anybody. I don’t want anybody to have that feeling. It’s terrible. I’m a wordsmith, but I don’t even have the ability to describe that intense, emotional pain. That depth of pain where it hurts to breathe, it hurts the blink, it hurts to think. I don’t want anybody to get to that point to where they shoot themselves, OD on pills, slice their wrist, hang themselves, drive their vehicle into a wall at 100 miles an hour. Nobody dies today.
I’d love to hear your parting piece.
This goes out to everybody in our audience. I don’t care if you’re dealing with depression, drugs, alcohol, divorce, suicide or whatever it is. I want you to tell that thing that you’re dealing with, “Bring it on.” It’s titled Bring It On. “I know who you are. I know what you can do. I know the power you have held over me all these years. I know about the pain that you bring with anger by its side. I have seen what you do to the weak. I have seen you destroy the innocent. I have this to say, ‘Bring it on.’ I’m ready for you. My weapons will not be the anger, the pain that you have used against me. They will be my friends with love by their side. My weapons will be my strength, courage, character. You may bring me to my knees, but know that it will only be temporary. I will rise against you. You may make me try. Good. That’s what I need. You fear the tears that will fall from my eyes. You fear the love that I have for my life. You fear me. I know that now and I no longer fear you. You can no longer control me with anger, hatred and pain. You will no longer torture me and you will never defeat me. You can’t destroy me. I know who you are. Bring it on.”
Not much left to say after that. Bring it on. It’s a powerful thing for Misfit Nation to know and understand that the things I’ve seen with the Misfit Nation, with you, are the indomitable human spirit. It’s that spirit that keeps going and keeps looking for other places to serve, to learn, to lift other people up instead of tearing them down. I don’t have many words in closing, which is rare for me, because you’ve said it. Misfit Nation, bring it on. There is a you that exists that the world hasn’t seen. It’s afraid of you showing up at full power and it tries to scare us.
It tries to put us in a closet. It tries to bury us with our mistakes. It tries to bury us with trolls out there that try to attack us online and in person and with rumors and with lies and with backstabbing, with all the other things. All I can say is that summarizes the spirit of the Misfit Nation because every one of them is out there screaming at the top of their lungs, “Bring it on.” Cleo, thank you for being here. Thank you for staying. Thank you for trusting me enough to do this. I know it took trust. It’s not beyond me that you trusted me to be here to have this conversation and I genuinely appreciate it. Thank you, Misfit Nation.
Buy her books. Find her page. Look her up at YouTube, she’s everywhere. Share this message because there are vets out there that are contemplating. There are warriors, there are non-vets, there are people, there’s your best friend, there’s your ex-wife, there’s your father, there’s your mother, there’s nobody that’s immune to this. We have to be the ones that step in, change state and remind them who they are and what power they have to touch even one soul and one spirit. This isn’t as lighthearted as a lot of my stuff. Bring it on and let’s go save lives. Save your own life. Stay and love deeper than you hate. Thank you, Cleo.
Thank you, Jason. Nobody dies today.
- Cleo DeLoner
- Traci Porterfield – previous episode
- Cleo DeLoner – Amazon
- A Soldier’s Journey And The Battle Within – Facebook page
- Dear Suicide, Nobody Dies Today – Facebook page
- A Soldier’s Journey And The Battle Within book
About Cleo DeLoner
A proud Veteran of the War in Somalia, serving as a Military Police Soldier, a three time suicide attempt survivor, an author, a public speaker, an ardent supporter of our Military and first responders and an outspoken champion for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issues and Suicide Prevention.
Cleo was born of a rape, conceived in violence, raised in neglect, shame, and abuse. She experienced incredible trauma while in Somalia where she survived a horrific firefight, struggled to save a severely mutilated child and was forced to drive through women and children with her HUMVEE to save her fellow military brethren.
After returning home, Cleo served as a police officer, a corrections officer and a counselor at her church. Unfortunately, her internal battles only intensified. She found herself combating the anguish, the pain, the nightmares, and the screams by taking countless prescription medications, suffering through hundreds of electro-shock sessions and being admitted to mental health facilities well over 30 times.
Cleo is a remarkable storyteller, not only a story of immense pain, but a story of remarkable strength and enduring hope. She has a remarkable way with words that put you inside some of the worst situations imaginable, and bring you out the other side with a joyous tear in your eye. Cleo’s journey and courageous path to healing is nothing short of a miracle and is a story not to be missed.
Author of TriggerPieces and Zero, available on Amazon.