How do we process this?
In light of the recent tragedy, in the death of one of our fellow Couchsurfing hosts, (name protected) I thought I should shed some light on the background of the situation. Many are in shock over this incident and reasonably so. To see the Headline “2 dead in a Murder/suicide on Chicago’s north side” would not phase most. However, when you continue to read and you find that it was a friend, the element of shock settles in.
After staying at his place last year, I gave him a copy of my autobiography. After reading my story, He opened up to me about his background and I began to mentor him, as part of what I do. With the background He gave me, I can’t really say that I am shocked that he committed suicide, however the murder part was more of a surprise to me, although, with suicide comes desperation. I do remember one conversation when we talked about our suicidal attempts in the past, he said that if he ever killed himself he would want to take all of his enemies along with him if was going to kill himself anyways. I understood the line of thinking, even though it wasn’t rational to most. This was over a year ago.
He was an interesting character to say the least. If you ask many who knew him, you would get many different opinions. Like everyone else, he had a story in life. His childhood was not the greatest. He went through much suffering as a child and young adult that most would never understand. He faced setbacks and challenges put before him the best that he could. He did what most of us who have been through tough times did, he survived. As an adult, after several life changes, and life decisions that brought him to where he was in Chicago, He came to a crossroads in hos life. He decided that his life was going nowhere and that his alcoholism was gong to get the best of him eventually. He had most of his “community” in online forums and blogs, where people understood him. He came across couchsurfing.org and that began the new chapter in his life.
He opened up his home to men and women from all over the world to stay for days and sometimes weeks at a time. The culture of Couchsurfing is that of helping each other out and experiencing new places and learning about new people. Each person who is a Couchsurfer has a different reason for why they are a part of that community. For him it was a unique reason. He had come to the place in his life where he needed a reason to wake up in the morning, and hosting Couchsurfer’s did just that. It gave him a purpose in life.
He began hosting multiple people at a time. People from all over the world wanted to come visit Chicago so he was busy EVERYDAY! When he had guests stay, it gave him a reason to keep his house “clean” and it gave him a reason to make food- most importantly it forced him to stop drinking everyday- which was one of his greatest struggles. To host surfers was a form of accountability on his journey to freeing himself from alcoholism. His great depression that he faced was easily forgotten about as he had joyful, new faces in and out of his home all the time. With each new person brought new stories to Michael’s world. He began to hear about journeys that others took and he began to gain perspective.
It can be argued whether this was a healthy coping mechanism or not. Couchsurfing was to Him as drugs are to addicts. It was an addiction. His “power hosting” became a race and a point of contention in many threads. He would take pictures of his guests and post them in groups to share with people how many people he hosted each night and what his new tally of Couchsurfer’s was. He began to cling too tightly to the numbers aspect of it and lost focus of what the intent of Couchsurfing really was. This made many avid Couchsurfers upset and uncomfortable and confused many who were new to the community. He began to have unrealistic expectations of guests and would be territorial when they would come and go. He was opening his home to people and yet they would leave during the days to go explore the city of Chicago and come home late at night to sleep and then be off to a new city the next day. To him this felt like abandonment. He then began to feel as though he was being used. This brought back many negative feelings from his childhood and he started thinking irrationally. He started drinking again and would get angry. He stopped hosting for a short period and even ran into some trouble with the Couchsurfing system where his profile got deleted.
There was a case where this was due to two homeless people that he let stay with him for a short period that refused to leave. The cops were back and forth to the home and it was very hostile. He felt like a prisoner in his own home. Once they left he drank heavily again and his past continued to haunt him. After many of us wrote to the Couchsurfing board, he eventually got back onto the Couchsurfing site and began to host. His thinking had already become irrational.
Through a separate online site he met somebody that was willing to move in to his spare room to help him with rent and also let Couchsurfer’s come and stay in the common rooms. This new roommate was a very hostile situation as well. When it got out of hand and He wanted him to leave, the man refused to go. He then became desperate. After cops coming back and forth to the home, and then resuming his drinking habits, He finally broke.
He had reached out to a few people and made mention of suicide and about “getting rid of this man and then himself” but the comments were easily overlooked, because who would expect that from him?! He reached out to his “ friends” on forums and messaged previous Couchsurfer’s, but everybody has their own lives and futures. The people who he considered his new “family” as he worded it, were now too busy for him and had forgotten to write back. It brought him back to a negative place in his childhood where he was neglected and abandoned and in many ways abused. This solution to his problems had now become another “attacking force on his persona”.
He had posted quotes about the imminence of death on Facebook and posted pictures of the grim reaper and graves to his public pages. It was easy to look past. Not many actually understood what was going on inside his mind. He was desperate and looking for help but he looked to all the wrong places. He refused to turn to God or have faith in anything because he wanted to figure it out on his own and not have a “higher power” decide his fate. So he chose his own fate.
That fateful day in June, He and his roommate had a disagreement and he had clearly pre-planned in his mind how he was going to handle it the next time around. I talked to him the day of and he was at a peace about things. The happiest he had been—in his mind, the suffering was finally going to end. Later that day, when he requested for me to call him, I, as many other was too busy to get back to him, and this was only hours before the incident. Who can say what it was he wanted to talk about, I doubt he could have been talked out of it maybe he just wanted to say goodbye, or maybe he wanted me to hear it. I will never know but I will remember the desperation and the hurt that he always talked about and I will always wished he had looked upwards instead of down, but he had no hope and he would not allow himself to look elsewhere for help.
With mental illness there is no rationale in these “psychotic breaks”. Was what the roommate did, worth losing his life over, I am not the judge of that, nor can I say that anybody ever deserves to be murdered- but what’s done is done, and many will continue to wonder, “why?” and we will always say, “what if?”.
What I will say is that you should not blame yourself if you were one of the people whom he reached out to that day or even the week prior. Everybody has their own schedules and lives to live and as much as we try we can not help everyone. As a mentor, and life coach, it is hard for me to accept when I lose one of the people I was trying to help, but it comes back to the fact that you cant help somebody to change if they do not want to change. Change comes from within.
It has been confirmed that he shot his roommate and then he shot his dog, (She did not die instantly, as of 3-4-15, she is at a local clinic and they said that she should survive but will need therapy) following these two gunshots, the final one was to his own head. The autopsy report proved that it was his own hand that shot himself based on the forensic ballistics aspect of the gunpowder and size of the exit and entrance wound on each subject. His ETOH level was extremely high. He had drank heavily prior to this all taking place. Does that justify it, NO! However, it was a factor and alcohol makes people irrational. When you have a mental illness alcohol intensifies the neurological patterns of psychosis. This was a sad day in the heart of Chicago and many are mourning his death while others are sitting back to say, “I told you so”. Regardless, It has happened and his pain was valid and his story affects others.
Maybe this will be a motivation and reminder to you to pay attention to red flags when people are crying for help. Never ignore the small comments about guns and suicide, rarely are they minor comments. Every word spoken has a purpose. Please take mental illness seriously and remember that we all have a purpose in life and our stories all connect somehow. Don’t get caught up in the busy-ness of life where we get task oriented and we forget about the people we meet along the journey. Everybody that you meet is for a purpose. Try to figure out what each one means. Don’t waste your life…it really is short.