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story.lead_photo.caption Marc Mero wrestled professionally for 14 years, winning the Intercontinental Championship title in 1996 after defeating "Stone Cold" Steve Austin while wrestling for WWE.

Christmas Day of 2003 should have been a joyous occasion for Marc Mero — he had relished a lucrative career as a wrestling superstar who had defeated "Stone Cold" Steve Austin to become the Intercontinental Championship Belt in 1996. Instead, because of alcohol and drug use, his life had spiraled out of control, destroying relationships with friends and family. That hallowed day found him reflecting upon his financial and emotional ruin while in the shower of his home gripping a handgun with the intent of ending his own life.

"I can remember sliding down the wall of the shower and everything flashed before my eyes. I saw images of loved ones who were no longer alive," the retired professional wrestler said. "Then I saw a gruesome vision of Hell, and I knew that is where I did not want to end up."

It was a critical point where a life-altering decision was to be made. He slowly placed the gun aside, asked God for forgiveness, and began the slow process of recovery after making the commitment to remove the toxins of drugs and alcohol from his life.

"That's the moment I found true happiness!" he exclaimed during a recent interview. "I was on a mission to help others, and that's when everything truly began to change in my life — I knew that I was blessed with both purpose and passion.

"I had been at the top of the world in my career as a wrestler with organizations like the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling, but I reached the point where that career was over because of bad choices. I was divorced, working as a personal trainer at Gold's Gym and, at that point, I truly believed there was no one I could talk to about what was happening in my life."

The onset of depression and "hitting rock bottom" were experiences that nearly ended in suicide for the former superstar, but now, after overcoming the adversity brought on by unfortunate decisions of the past, he has dedicated his life to shepherding others through such trials in their own lives.

Mero enjoys traveling the country and visiting with high school students and various adult groups about not dwelling on the mistakes of the past, instead, leaning on the hope and promise of the future. Recently, he has shared his suicide prevention message with soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

As noted in past mental health data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day. In an effort to curb this alarming trend, the VA established the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

"I often share a slightly different message depending on the groups that I present, but I always try to stress to the adults that they should avoid becoming complacent in their lives and thinking that 'those were the days.' These are the days!" he exclaimed. "We can grow through grace and knowledge, and we should never believe the best days have passed us by."

Growing up, Mero was raised in a Jewish family (his grandfather changed their name from "Merowitz" to "Mero"), but sometime during his 20s, he made the decision to give his life to Christ. The years leading up to that fateful Christmas Day of 2003, he admits, were filled with "backsliding" in his faith, but he has since renewed his Christian commitment, which became a focal point in his own recovery.

"One of the first things that I did was to ask the Lord for forgiveness, but the hardest thing for me was to learn to forgive myself. When I was finally able to accomplish this through much personal questioning, that's when I reached a new level in my own recovery. In fact, I often wear a shirt that reads, 'I'm not perfect but forgiven.'"

His personal entanglement with suicidal thoughts and self-destructive behaviors, he believes, has placed him in a unique position that allows him to connect to others who may be suffering through similar circumstances. Despite circumstances where an individual may feel there is nothing left for which to live, he can relate to their emotional battle and help positively redirect their outlook.

"When I meet someone that has reached a difficult spot in their life and possibly contemplating suicide, I truly understand what they are going through because I have been there."

Mero will soon visit Jefferson City to share his message of hope during a suicide awareness program sponsored by the Department of Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars. The free event will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, with seating available for the first 1,000 attendees to arrive.

"One of the things that I try to stress to our youth is the importance of relationships — because when you someday leave this earth, you are going to want your family close by your side. At that point," he added, "no one is going to care how many followers you may have had on social media.

"True, lasting happiness comes from helping others, and I look forward to sharing my story and message with others to help them find hope in their hearts."

For more information about Marc Mero and his suicide awareness and anti-bullying outreach efforts, visit thinkpoz.org.

Jeremy P. mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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