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Believing a lie almost killed me

Col. Daniel Cook, 621st Air Mobility Advisory Group commander, wants all Airmen to know they matter and shares a vulnerable moment in his life when he contemplated suicide. (Courtesy Photo)

Col. Daniel Cook, 621st Air Mobility Advisory Group commander, wants all Airmen to know they matter and shares a vulnerable moment in his life when he contemplated suicide. (Courtesy Photo)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Remember that old saying, “Perception is reality?” I believe this is a big lie.

We have never won a war off of “perception.” I understand the original meaning, but somewhere in the translation we started believing it literally instead of as a precaution against overlooking the power of perception in the human psyche. 

If our technical manuals were written on information which was less than trustworthy or off of a perception, then we would be seriously hindered in the performance of our jobs. It would degrade our operations and send uncertainty through our ranks. We would make bad decisions, all because of misinformation or said another way, lies. Something less than the truth is a lie and lies can be very disruptive in organizations and life.

I’m not writing this article to talk about perceptions or mistrust in organizations, but how it affects our lives. To do this, I must become the most vulnerable I’ve ever been as I have never shared this story and use the word “I” more than ever before. However, if this helps one person, then it is worth it. So, as a 46-year-old, commander, colonel, husband and father of four, here goes nothing.

The big lie I believed was not just a misperception, but rather, a distortion of what reality was for me growing up. My parents were divorced in a time when divorces were viewed very negatively and the unfortunate few who went through one were plagued as being a stigma to society. This happened when I was relatively young and my dad was stationed at Zweibrucken Air Base in Germany. So, my mom, sister and I left him in Germany and moved back to the states. I didn’t see him much for about three years while the divorce was being settled. We saw him about twice a year after that when he returned and joined the Air Force Reserves.

We were poor and this precluded my father or us from traveling much. Our hardships continued, I remember my mother paying for our groceries with food stamps, kind of embarrassing at the check-out. The living arrangements were less than ideal as well. We stayed in government-subsidized housing or jumped from house to house with family. As a young teenager, I remember just wanting my life to end.

You see, the big lie I bought into was the world would be better off without me. My family would be better off without me. Heck, I didn’t wear the right clothes, didn’t say the right things, didn’t have good grades and was an extra mouth to feed. I felt like such a burden. The days were dark and I wanted out. I thought for sure God didn’t like me either. These were lies, especially the last one. While there were some bad things happening and some truth to my situation which was influencing my belief in these lies, the truth was quite the opposite. The world is better with me and the bigger truth is the world is better with you.

Today, we are haunted with a staggering number of suicides. Airmen are choosing to take their lives at an alarming rate. In 2019, nearly 80 Airmen have committed suicide and we are, unfortunately, on pace to exceed 150 suicides this year. No matter where you are in life, no matter what you’ve done and no matter how dark it looks today, there is hope in knowing you matter. Everything you do, everything you say matters. You are making a difference in the world and in our Air Force. We need you. This world needs you. You matter. Before reaching a point of no return, I realized I believed a lie and ever since have tried to make each day better.

The old saying, ‘Your attitude determines your altitude and not your aptitude,’ comes to mind. Attitudes come from our beliefs and our hope for a brighter day. I look back 33 years to the day when I put the butcher knife down. I am so thankful for the life I have lived and for all I’ve been through because it has shaped me. Getting up when this world knocks us down is the only mission…one day at a time. 

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t cured cancer or set any Olympic records, but with every Airman I’ve been able to help, the missions I’ve been able to complete, and the children I’ve helped raise, I am thankful I started believing the truth. In my own way, I have made a difference in the world and the truth is you can do much more than me. I believe you will and I believe in you. So, are you going to make a bad decision off of misinformation? Are you going to believe a big lie?  Or are you going to believe the truth and continue in your own way to make this world a better place?  I hope you choose the truth and because you are the only you this world will ever see.  You have a purpose. You matter this is the truth.