Can You Die While You're Still Alive?

Updated: 2 days ago

Please note: This article contains references to my own personal experience of mental health, sexual trauma, drug abuse, alcohol misuse and recovery.

I've written about Life After Death before, but feeling as though you've died while you're still alive is one of the most tragic and soul destroying events for any human being to experience. You could even call it Death During Life.

If you're not sure what I mean by 'dying while you're still alive', then maybe it hasn't happened to you and if this is the case, I am happy that you have been spared. Unfortunately, some of us experience situations in our lives that stop us from living, sometimes we're aware that we have died and sometimes we're not. I don't mean physical death. I mean the person who we were dies and the hopes and dreams of who we were die along with them too.

Sometimes a life event stops our lives dead in its tracks. Grieving for the loss of a loved one... experiencing physical or mental abuse... suffering sexual trauma... these events can be so overwhelming that no matter how happy, ambitious, contented or determined we were before events like these occurred, everything grinds to a halt. We stop living our lives and that little spark inside of us that made us who we were is snuffed out. In effect, we may be physically alive, but we have stopped living.

You might think this doesn't apply to you and never will, but it can happen to any of us, at any point in our lives. It can happen to us as a child, young person or any person at any point in adulthood.

What I'm talking about are events that happen to us, through no fault of our own. Often they are events that strike us like a bolt out of the blue. Completely unexpected. Completely devastating. Like a surprise nuclear attack with radioactive fallout radiating out in every direction as far as the eye can see. No escape route. No path to safety. One single, lifechanging event that shakes our foundations so hard we lose confidence in who we are, stop believing in our dreams, start doubting ourselves and begin feeling as though we are no longer worthy.

At the time, we might try to rationalise what happened, even blaming ourselves, which helps us to make sense of it... for a while at least. Getting to a stage where we stop shouldering the blame for these types of events can take a lot of time. Often, it takes a combination of hindsight, maturity and developing a strong sense of self-awareness to be able to look back and realise that one single traumatic event that happened long ago in our past, stopped us from living our lives and realising our potential.

When we experience any kind of trauma, our mind and body go into protection mode. This is an instinctive response to protect us from similar events ever happening to us again. Many people refer to this as the 'Fight or Flight' response. When we experience a trauma so powerful that it completely shatters our sense of safety, our mind and body puts us into a constant state of protection. And this is what happened to me.

It took me years to realise that what I went through had wrecked my life. I had convinced myself that the choices I made after that event were sensible, adventurous and well thought out, when in reality, I was in a constant state of blind panic, running as far away and as fast as possible from what had terrified me.

It was 1994. I was a good looking, skinny, 5 foot 9, 19 year old... a bit cocky, on the surface appearing over-confident to hide my shyness (like most teenagers I was a bundle of contradictions), but I was happy, ambitious and enjoying life to the full. For the previous two years, from the age of 17, I had been living my dream as a member of a band in London.

Steve Wentworth at 19 years old.
Steve Wentworth at 19 years old

It was December, and we were in the middle of a season in pantomime (for my friends in the USA, a pantomime is a kind of traditional, theatrical entertainment usually produced around Christmas). We were starring in a show and mixing with celebrities who we had only seen on TV and in movies. We were having a great time and the future looked bright for the band.

It was after one performance when we were approached by a man who told us he was a talent agent. He was a tall, overweight, balding man and his frame made him very imposing. He wanted to talk to us about representing us and offered to take us out for a drink. Eagerly, we accepted his invitation.

He took us to a bar at a hotel to 'get to know us', but it quickly became apparent that he had other intentions and was directing his attention almost exclusively at me. I was extremely uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but the others wanted to stay and see what this man had to offer the band.

As the evening progressed, his attention became even more unbearable. He kept touching me, making sexual innuendos and behaving inappropriately towards me. Despite my intense revulsion, my lack of confidence meant I thought I had to remain polite, put up with it and not make a fuss. I whispered to one of my bandmates that I needed to visit the bathroom and asked them to keep the agent away from me while I quietly slipped away. I thought I had been discreet, but when I visited the bathroom, that's when it happened. The agent had sneaked into the bathroom and was waiting quietly outside the stall. When I opened the door he forced his way in.

I won't go into the details of what happened, but I was more scared than I ever had been before in my life. Despite how big he was and how skinny I was, I fought him as hard as I could. Severely shaken up, I eventually managed to escape him and ran upstairs to the rest of the group.

I was out of breath and could hardly speak, but I was angry and horrified that despite seeing how inappropriately this man had been behaving around me, and that I had asked the other band member to make sure he didn't follow me, they had allowed him to. That's when one of my bandmates told me that I should have 'taken one for the team' for the sake of the band. When the man who attacked me never returned to join us at the bar, the rest of the band blamed me for ruining their chances of being signed by him.

I continued through the matinées and evening shows, but a part of me had died. That spark had been extinguished. I was constantly looking over my shoulder and my protection instinct had kicked into overdrive.

When the shows finished in January, we returned to the house I shared with the band in London, but I no longer felt safe. I didn't realise what was happening to me or why I was no longer happy being in the band. All I knew was that I needed to be somewhere different... anywhere but there, with anyone other than the members of the band who hadn't protected me in my most vulnerable moment. I wanted to do anything but performing on stage again. So I ran.

I ran away from London, across the country to North Wales and to Manchester where I partied and drank too much alcohol until I blacked out. I took drugs to run away from the pain, to the point where I hardly remember a lot of what happened. It felt as though by being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, I could escape the past and start living again, even if it was just for a few hours. In reality, I felt dead inside and was desperately self-medicating, trying to find a way to resuscitate myself, but instead I was slowly self-destructing.

I still loved the idea of performing, but every time I was offered an audition or started to work towards my dream, I ran away again. I was invited to audition at Paul McCartney's drama school in Liverpool, but I cancelled and ran away. I started collaborating with a producer to write and produce my own music, but I ran away. Every time there was a chance of being noticed, I ran away.

Half of me wanted to perform and follow my dreams but every time I tried, the instinctive, protective part of me went into overdrive trying to prevent what happened from being repeated. It constantly kept me running. The problem was, I wasn't consciously aware of what I was doing or what I was running away from.

It wasn't until about 20 years later that I started to piece it all together. At the time, there had been a lot of high profile sexual abuse cases in the media and I couldn't escape the stories in the papers and on TV. It felt as though everywhere I looked I was being forced to remember what had happened and the more I thought about it, the angrier and more depressed I became about how one person and one event had totally changed the course of my life and turned my dream into a living nightmare.

I reported the sexual assault to the police, partly because I wanted justice, but mostly because I was concerned that he might do something similar to someone else and felt it was my responsibility to make sure he didn't. To my surprise, the police officers were supportive and very kind. I told them that I didn't know the name of the agent who had attacked me, so following my interview with the police, I contacted one of the members of the band to see if they could help. The bandmate pointed me in the right direction and through a bit of investigation, I identified the man. I contacted the police and they brought him in for questioning.

I was shocked to learn that when the police spoke to him, it turned out that he wasn't really an agent at all. I suppose he had been posing as an agent to get access to young, naïve kids like me. All this time, I had been running away from someone who I thought represented the industry I wanted to be a part of, when in reality, he hadn't even been working in the entertainment industry at all!

Unfortunately, the member of the band who helped me identify the attacker, refused to cooperate fully with the police when they interviewed them. To this day, I'm not sure why. Maybe they genuinely didn't remember what happened, however, they were the person I had asked to prevent the 'agent' from following me downstairs to the bathroom that night and they were the one who saw how shaken up and distraught I was. Or maybe I mattered so little to them, that they didn't even notice how distraught I was that evening. But because they wouldn't confirm or deny what happened to the police and stand up in court to testify against the 'agent', the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to allow my case to go to court. The courts said that in effect, it would have been my word against the agent's. To this day, I don't know if the 'agent' did anything similar to anyone else. I'll probably never know.

The band member not cooperating with the police has always struck me as something I can't understand. I thought this person was a friend. I've always been the kind of person who would stand up for someone who was in need no matter what. I believe in justice and I passionately believe in doing the right thing. This is when I learnt the hard way that not everyone feels the same.

I had bravely reported what had happened to the police, but still I had no resolution or peace of mind that the agent hadn't and wouldn't do something similar to anyone else. So I tried to make the best of the situation. I tried to convince myself that at least I had gained the ability to speak about what had happened for the first time in my life. So I gave myself a pat on the back and tried to get on with my life.

I naively assumed that just because I had gotten what happened off my chest and reported it to the police, that everything would be OK and I would be able to put the past behind me, but what I wasn't prepared for, was the depression that followed.

For decades, I had been delaying the response to the event and it had been festering inside me. The depression that hit me was so deep and so dark that I couldn't function or do even the most basic tasks such as washing, dressing or looking after myself. I had no path, no life purpose, I was filled with regret that I hadn't lived my dream. I was angry at the man who did this and I was angry at myself for allowing him to disrupt my entire life. I felt completely lost. If I'm totally honest with you, I felt as though my life was over and I wanted to die, but something deep inside of me wanted to live. I like to think that the something inside of me that wanted to live, was that skinny 19 year old younger version of me. He was yelling at me not to forget him or give up on him... Yelling at me so loudly that I eventually spoke to my doctor to get help.

The last few years have been hard work. I had two sets of counselling with two different psychiatrists, both of them excellent in their own way. Without either of them, I'm really not sure where I would be right now, but counselling on its own didn't fix me. I don't think I'll ever be 'fixed', but counselling started a deep exploration of myself. It helped me to gain a deeper sense of self-awareness. It taught me to love myself, be kinder to myself and to find the real, authentic Steve. In doing so, I had to reconnect to that younger, naïve, fun-loving version of me whose spark was extinguished all those years ago. Instead of feeling shame and regret when I thought of that 19 year old version of me, I had to honour him and celebrate his memory.

From the outside, I'm sure most of my friends, family and acquaintances never had a clue about my inner emotional turmoil. Most people only saw a young man who had turned his back on a career in the entertainment industry; a selfish, self-absorbed teenager living a reckless, irresponsible, hedonistic lifestyle with no thought for anyone but himself, happy to throw away opportunities and let other people down. The reality was very different.

Later on in life, I tried to justify the fact that I was no longer in the entertainment industry and living my dream. I used to tell people that if I had made it big I would have ended up overdosing on drink and drugs; that I didn't have the maturity to be able to handle the pressures of fame. The truth is, the drink, drugs and lack of selfcare were a direct result of the attack. If the attack had never happened, I would have been that same, happy, ambitious teenager, and the likelihood is, I would have been involved in the entertainment industry to this day.

For the last 25 years I thought I didn't have a path or a purpose. Nothing I did since the attack made sense. Work, relationships, friendships... everything I did felt distorted and I felt totally out of place, until one day it dawned on me. I DID have a path and a purpose and it had been right under my nose all along. My love of performing, singing and acting had never left me. It had always been there. I just didn't have the tools and self-awareness to move beyond the fear that had been instilled into me following the attack, but now I do.

Over the last year, I've been studying acting online with an incredible teacher in London. My teacher specialises in a technique called Method Acting; a technique that requires the actor to develop deep mental discipline. It allows you to delve deeply into emotions and past events, recall the associated emotion, use it and release it afterwards. It's a very powerful, and often misunderstood, psychological tool that when used correctly enables actors to perform in a way that is indistinguishable from real life. The ability to recall a specific emotion, feel it, experience it and then release it has a deeply therapeutic and liberating effect. It's not about burying emotions and ignoring feelings, it's about understanding them, recognising them, experiencing them and developing a greater sense of self-awareness.

Not only does actor training help me to honour that 19 year old version of me, but the Method Acting technique also helps me to untangle the emotions I have experienced over the years and put them to good use.

We all have our life stories and we all face tragic, lifechanging events, some of which gently nudge us onto a new path, others that shake us to our very core and have lasting impacts that continue to effect our entire lives.

I've shared my story about how a part of me died because of someone else's actions. For 25 years, I wandered through life like the walking dead; physically alive, but inside my spark had died. I have experienced regret and anger that so much of my life has been wasted because of one event. But if there's anything that can be learned from my story, it's that things can and do get better and we're never too old to revisit our dreams. The more of us who share what we went through, the easier it is for others to come forward.

If you can relate to anything I've written about, please be kind to yourself. If you're ready to move beyond an event that shook you to your core, speak to someone you know or book an appointment with your doctor.

Talking about what happened to me has saved my life... in more ways than one.

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