A new life: In wake of suicide attempt, Plate finds gratitude comes naturally
Erik Plate pointed the muzzle of his brother’s gun at the side of his head, and pulled the trigger.
But the .45 didn’t fire.
Plate hasn’t told many people about that moment. It was the summer of 2018, just a few months after his brother had died, unexpectedly, of a heart attack. It was only eight years after his mother had died, unexpectedly, of a seizure and 16 years after his father had died, unexpectedly, of a heart attack.
“I’ve been scared to talk about it,” Plate said.
But he’s not scared anymore. Or, at least, he’s now more brave than he ever was afraid. The hammer clicked, but the round didn’t exit the chamber.
Instead, a new life emerged.
Plate was 14 when his father died. He was living in Illinois at the time, his mother and brother back in Craig with a stepfather. He says now he can’t remember much of his life before his father’s sudden death.
The Craig Press is holding an event titled The Longevity Project in which a panel and keynote speaker will address local and national mental health issues. The event is $10 to enter, Wednesday, September 22, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Come learn more with us about this critical issue.
“My therapist says that’s trauma,” Plate said with a chuckle. “I guess it makes sense.”
That’s the nudge down the slope that brought Plate to his Steamboat Springs kitchen table, holding his dead brother’s gun, trying to end his own life.
But in those 16 years, there was more tragedy. More frustration. More pain. Mom died; they didn’t really know why. Brother died; same story. The latter death culminated in Plate’s own decision to instruct doctors in Idaho to remove his brother from life support. Later, there was family drama. There was professional frustration.
“Then it was two weeks after (my brother’s) funeral,” Plate said. “And I made a decision — a snap decision. I was sitting there, had had a rough day at work, and I had a .45, my brother’s. It had a full clip.”
Plate, matter-of-factly, mimes a pistol with his thumb and index and middle fingers, cocks the make-believe gun back, points his fingers at his temple, and mock fires.
“Nothing happened,” he said. “The round failed.”
Now, he said, that round sits in his nightstand — a reminder of his second life.
“It’s a .45, hollow point with a little tap on the bottom,” he said. “A failed round.”
Awareness washed over him in that moment. He touched his head. Was he dead? He wasn’t.
He disassembled the gun, locked it away and tried to take stock of what he had just tried to do. Revelation months later of his attempted suicide led to Plate losing his job, and that was another moment of darkness — but nothing could be as dark as the kitchen table.
“That gun not going off is such an eye-opener,” Plate said. “I wouldn’t be here.”
He remembers now sitting on his front stoop weeping in the wake of his firing.
“I just said, ‘I’m so sick of losing,’” Plate said. “I’m so sick of it. And I decided, I’m done losing. Ever since then, sure there’s minor setbacks, but everything is going up. I try to tell people, you can be at your absolute darkest, but you can always get better. It can always get better.”
Plate, who lives in Craig and now works to help people experiencing addiction to recover and rebuild, said his near-death experience has informed him of the pain others experience.
“I’m so passionate about this,” he said. “I almost killed myself. Such an irrational moment. Pop, then nothing.”
But Plate got help. He got support from friends and entered therapy. He’s full of gratitude now.
“There’s a song, a line in it that I love,” Plate said. “It goes, ‘You can always get better, because you’re not dead yet.’ That’s stuck with me. It guides everything I do. I’ve got faith things will work out, no matter how bad they seem. I see silver linings in everything. If my brother hadn’t died — and I wish so bad I could have him back — I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be back, I wouldn’t be talking about this. I think he’d be proud of me.”
Plate says now the key is help. Get help. Offer help. Give help.
“Those three words are so hard, but they save lives: ‘I need help,’” he said. “And then four words, ‘Do you need help?’ That word is so hard to say. We’re scared of being judged or seen as an outcast or lower or the black sheep. I want people to know it’s OK to ask for help. That’s why I have to talk about this; scary as it was.”
September is Suicide Prevention Month in the U.S., and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week.
From suicidepreventionlifeline.com: “We can all help prevent suicide.”
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