"I Was Almost a School Shooter": A Conversation with Aaron Stark

How does a person get to the point of planning a school shooting? And what might prevent them from actually following through with that plan? This week the Mental Health Mamas are joined by Aaron Stark who shares very openly about how he was almost a school shooter. You will not want to miss this conversation and learn about what stopped him from becoming another statistic.

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Tina: Hey, everyone. I'm Tina.

Serena: And I'm Serena and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience, who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website noneedtoexplainpodcast.com.

Tina: Last week, we dropped an episode with Scarlett Lewis who lost her son in the Sandy Hook tragedy 10 years ago. Very powerful episode.

Serena: Yes. Yeah, it was incredibly powerful. Scarlett has turned her pain into purpose in a remarkable kind of way through the Jesse Choose Love Movement. And despite the loss of her son, she maintains an incredible amount of compassion for everyone involved. So just as an aside, separate and apart from our work together as the Mental Health Mamas, I had the opportunity to attend a training through my work that Scarlett led in New York state. And she spoke very openly about finding compassion for the individuals perpetuating these crimes and has even spoken to school shooters on her podcast. So one of the names she mentioned in this training was Aaron Stark, who gave a TED talk called I Was Almost a School Shooter. And I knew we had to invite him to talk with us on the podcast.

Tina: Absolutely. And we are grateful to have this conversation with Aaron about what prevented him from becoming a school shooter and what his life is like today. Aaron, thanks for taking the time to be here and welcome to the podcast.

Aaron: Thanks for having me. It's really a joy.

Serena: Yeah. So what we know is that no one that we're aware of just wakes up one day and decides to hurt other people without a story of how they got to that point. So if you don't mind, tell us a bit of your story that led you to that place of almost becoming a school shooter.

Aaron: Well, thank you. And I think you're absolutely on point with that that no one ever starts in the pitch black. You have to get there from somewhere. So for me, I started, I grew up in a really, really violent and aggressive house. I had my birth father from birth to five was like Stephen King, like every form of abuse possible, like rapes and beatings and violence and every kind of abuse. My mom left him got with my stepdad around five and that went from Stephen King to Scarface and went to crack cocaine and running from place to place from the cops and lots of crime and violence. And over the time, I was the fat dirty smelly kid. I was the one who was the cast off who was kind of like the, the, my older brother was the man of the house de facto, basically, like you took control of everything and I was the one you had, he had to, he had to, was the burden he had to handle. And I moved, I went to like 40 different schools. I never went, I never was at a school longer than six months, either from getting evicted or from the cops coming in, showing up or social workers trying to intervene and us running or however it was.

And over that time, I really adopted that kind of dirty, disgusting persona as who I was that I, I thought that if there were good people and bad group people in the world and I must be one of the bad people. So I was going to do everything to fit that. And then as I grew into puberty, that really took shape in that, that kind of toxic persona, I, I, I made it my own identity, you know, I was searching for someone to be. And that's who I decided I was. I was going to be the toxic nasty one who was going to be dirty and smelly and mean.

And the abuse at home continued and spiraled out of control and just it got really, really bad and ended up leaving home at about 14 years old. I ended up on the streets bouncing from friends house to friends house. And along the way, I, the, I was self harming really bad. The, I just grabbed that time in my life, like I was living in a giant tsunami of pain, like everything was sloshing back and forth and it didn't really have any control or agency over any of it. But when I self harmed it, it gave me like, it was a grounding, even though it was really negative and harmful. It was a pain that was real and that was mine. And it was over the time that the chaos just got worse and worse and worse. But I also developed a group of not friends, but what I call now disaster groupies, kids around me who kind of wanted to live vicariously through my damage, like they didn't know anybody who was like me, they didn't have anybody who was going through the hell that I was going through, but they wanted to push me as far into the dark as possible, like see how far I could go. So when we would sit around talking about, we wouldn't sit around talk about like girls and sports and TV shows, we would talk about killing people. If you're going to kill 10 people, what would you do? If you're going to shoot up a school, what would you do? And looking back, it was a bunch of depressed kids kind of navigating depression, but no rudder. But that's what it was of time was just, it was like a in-person Reddit forum basically.

And that, that just spiraled more and more to the point where I was, I ended up in the shed of one of my actual friends and my only actual friend, honestly. And he was letting me sleep in his shed because his parents wouldn't let me sleep in the house anymore. And I was, I, I was cutting myself so bad, there was a giant pool of blood forming underneath me. And I was in this big puffy gray recliner chair and I had like red wood slats in the roof like gaps in it. So the rain was coming down. And I thought like, I'm going to die. I have to do something I'm going to die. And so the only thing I could think of to do was call social services on myself because they had intervened a couple times in the past. So I figured I might as well give it a try. So that morning I asked, I knocked on my friends back door and borrow bus fare and use the phone, set up an appointment for social services later that afternoon. And when I got there, they didn't just bring me and they had brought my mom in also. And so we sit around a table of a bunch of social workers and they're like, so what's your problem? And why are you here? And I produce a bloody razor blade like a square box cutter style razor blade. And I throw it on the table. And I said, that's my problem. And I whipped up my arm and I show them fresh cuts. And I say, I feel like I'm nothing. I feel like I'm nowhere. I feel like I'm at the bottom. My mom, who was the most practice liar I've ever known and still is, honestly, she got them to believe that I was just making it all up. But I was just doing it for attention. And so they sent me home with her. As they sent me home with her, we got a couple blocks away from this place. She turned to me and she snarled and said, next time you should do a better job and I'll buy you the razor blades. And I was like, okay, fine, you think that I'm the monster. I'm going to be the monster now.

And that sent me off on what I call my scorched earth time where for the next nine months, I went through and I burned down every every last positive relationship I had. I did everything I could to destroy it. Like I would find out what would offend you and do that specifically just to make sure that you hated me. And in that time, I went to as many family members as I could snuck into their photo albums and got every picture of me as I could and gathered them all in a pile and burned them. So I there's only like five pictures of me that exist before the age of 15. And so now after nine months of that of complete scorched earth of annihilating every bit of positive in my life, I'm now alone. And I'm in the field behind the Casa Bonita restaurant. If you guys ever watched the show of South Park, they did a whole episode on Casa Bonita. Literally that restaurant that I was behind. And so it was the field that there. And I was I had been homeless for months by then and I was living in the field surviving off of free samples from the grocery store and tried to evade the police. I hadn't changed my clothes in months hadn't changed my socks in weeks or hadn't changed my shoes and weeks. I wasn't wearing socks. My feet were literally rotting off of my body. And so I'm in I'm waking up in the morning and like shaking so bad from the cold that I feel like I'm having a seizure. Like I can't even barely make it to the grocery store. I'm like, I gotta do something. I'm gonna die. I don't get myself some help.

So across the street from the school that I was nominally at because I had to be enrolled in school and I had to be at the school of the place because otherwise I get arrested for truancy. So but across the street from there, there was a building that said mental health. And I didn't know what it was for. I didn't know if what it was about. But I knew last time I had worn someone when I was coming in that that ended really terribly. So I'm just going to go in cold. So I just showed up and it was a therapy place. They have me see a young woman. I think she was in her early 20s. I don't really remember much of that conversation because all I remember is the end of it. When she said, I'm sorry there's nothing I can do. I can't help you. And I walked out of that door and it was night time like six o'clock at night when I walked out. It was dark. And I felt my brain break. I felt my brain just snapped like a mirror. And I found out it was under that tsunami. Like when you go all the way to the bottom of that tsunami, I was talking about it gets really quiet and it gets really still because there's really nothing left to lose. There's nothing left to care about.

Tina: Yeah. So let me stop you there at the bottom at the breaking point. And let's unpack a little bit of what's going on because I do think your story is not a story that most of us can in any way relate to, right? The fact is your family were not your people. No, clearly at all. They never were there for you. I'm sure there's more to the story about your siblings. Do you only have one brother or are there more?

Aaron: I have one older brother who's two years older, but I have twin and younger sisters who are 10 years younger.

Tina: Okay.

Aaron: And so the abuse that they went through makes my mind pale in comparison.

Tina: Yeah. And the kind of unfathomable pain that you went through is is horrible. And I would say the idea in this world that no one would listen is it's hard. That's hard. It's hard. It's hard to wrap my brain around that, right? You went for help. You needed help and no one helped you from your family to professionals, right?

Aaron: And I was just explaining that because I work at day job. I work at a full time at a gas station and I'm am assistant manager to gas station these days. And so I was just explaining that to my coworker last night about the difference between feeling invisible and feeling unseen. Like there's differences there. Like the difference, like there's she's like, well, I like to be alone. I'm fine with, I'm fine with being alone. Like, yeah, well, there's a difference between being being alone all the time and being okay with that and feeling like nobody knows you exist. When I was a teen back then I would walk around and ask my the people I was around. Do you remember me when I leave the room? Do you know who I am when I'm gone? And I felt like I was nothing. And so yeah, I think that although I do have to take issue with one thing you said, I do think that a lot of people can identify with that. I think that at the bottom of it, that sense of worthlessness and that I'm not good enough. And I'm I don't belong in my world that while my story might seem outlandish, I really don't think that there's much, it might be a gradient of pain, but the pain is still the same.

Tina: I agree with that. I absolutely agree with that. And I think that you know, that that is true. I think we all question that. I just think yours is so extreme. I mean, yeah, I'm having a lot of feels here about about people who didn't see you. Right. And so so let's go back to the bottom and you what we know to be true. And Scarlett said it last week, which was hurt people hurt people. And so I'm curious how you get from that point of, you know, you are in horrible pain to kind of focusing that pain outward and wanting to hurt others.

Aaron: Well, honestly, when my brain snapped, that kind of crystallized the moment, like it all the plans I had thought of with those those disaster groupie friends, all the different talks about where are you going to go? That just kind of like solidified, like, okay, I'm going to scream out and I'm going to cause as much damage as possible. And we're going to die while doing it. And my two targets was either going to be my school food court or the mall food court down the street. And I knew where to get the gun because this was mid 90s. So it was gangbangers were everywhere. So this was like boyz n the hood area. And so the they would bring guns routinely in the school and then flash them around. And so that wasn’t the problem. But the honestly, the the the places I had targeted weren't even really the targets. That was the damage I was going to cause to make my parents deal with making me. I wanted to I wanted to make my parents deal with creating a monster.

And the plan came together when I was sitting with those disaster groupies. When we were talking about everything and it just kind of crystallized, like everything kind of it was like a trauma bubble. Everything was had been kind of building up to this point. And I feel like my humanity had kind of been refined away. Like the ability for me to feel the ability for me to to care about the potential damage that I was going to cause was gone by that point. And the plans were I had been working on them for a long time. It was kind of like a multi-stage setup. Like the city wanted to do the task groupies that I was with. And we we'd talk about different ways to kill people. And so I knew from that what the weak points in the in the targets were. And I knew how to get a gun. And I knew right. It just everything was going to come up to a head. Everything was all it was like multiple plans at different times that I'd all scaffold it together. That was all going to explode at this moment.

And so I set in motion to plan to get the gun. Because like I said, I knew where to get them. They were gangbangers that hung out next to the ROTC room next to the high school. They had brought in guns a couple times to the school. And like flashed them around and stuff. And so I walked up to them like, hey, can you get me a gun? Hopefully one that shoots a lot of bullets. I was like, yeah, sure, get me an ounce of weed. And he just had bot drugs for my family before. So we knew that I was a possible source for drugs. And so that was actually the easiest part. I went to my mom's house. And one of my brother's friends was sleeping on a floor. And I stole a whole outside of his pocket. And mind you, this was mid 90s. So we're talking like $400 worth of drugs. But it was nothing to me. It was just it was just a theft. So I went and gave it to the guy and he's like, okay, give me three days. I'll get that for you. So that was like, three days was the countdown.

Serena: So I'm just going to I'm going to interrupt here real quick. And I just want to say just to comment, Tina and I have done a lot of work around ACEs or adverse childhood experiences. And what we know is that the higher the ACE score, the more likely we were to have all those long-term physical psychological challenges. And what I would say is it sounds like your ACE score would be off the charts. Like I don't even know if they could, you know, sort of.

Aaron: So I never had heard that phrase until recently. I had the honor of going and speaking to the Uvalde teachers. And I saw the screen who had listed the 10 ACEs things. And I'm like, oh, yeah, I have all those plus like four or five.

Serena: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So what we want to know is what was it that so we know you didn't to become a school shooter. Right. So you're waiting for the gun. What stopped you from following through with that plan that you had created?

Aaron: Absolutely. So at that time, that that moment of those three days, I think that my internal mood then shifted. I didn't know it at the time, but I think looking back, I was saying goodbye. I was going to the people that I actually cared about. And in a much more peaceful, much more loving way, I was closing our relationships. I was giving away my comic books, which were the only things that I cared about comic books, whether when I moved from house to house and had to go from state to state, and like the four o'clock in the morning, someone throw a duffel bag at me saying, yeah, five minutes grab all your stuff. We got to get out of here, which happened more times than not. The only thing I would ever take was comic books. I was a huge comic book fan. And right then, I was giving them away. I would walk up to people and just hand them a whole stack of my comics. And in that time, I went to the only good friend I actually had, the friend who’s shed I was in that time, his name was Mike. Now, when I was 12 years old, he was 10, I was 12. We bonded over comic books, of course. He was the lived at the opposite end of one of the blocks that I lived in, but before I moved. And he had the exact opposite life that I had. He had very loving, caring, stable family. His parents actually still live in that house today. He was supported in everything he wanted. He got to go to college. He got to go have all his dreams. Like he would write a Christmas list and actually get the things on his Christmas list, which to me was mind blowing. I didn't know that was a thing. So we bonded early on over intelligence and deep conversation. He was the one good friend that I had. And I went to his house to say goodbye. And when he opened up the door, he didn't know what I had planned. In fact, he didn't know what I had planned until 2018 when I came up with my story. But he did know that hell I was living in. He knew that the whole time he had been my friend. I was almost 17. I was late 16 early 17, right at this time. And he knew the whole time we were friends, he never came to my house. We never had a sleepover at my house. I would go spend weeks at his house, but he never will come to my house. So he knew the pain that I was at. He saw the cuts of my arms. It was him that I went and cried with after my mom told me that I should have done a better job. And I'll probably show by the rest of the way. And he looked at me and he brought me in. And he sat me down and treated me like I was a person. I felt absolutely inhuman. I felt like I was a walking ball of destruction. Like I was nothing. Like I was a void ready to explode. And he, him bringing me in and we sat down, we had a meal. He gave me a shower. And it wasn't just hanging out with a friend. It's really important to note that it wasn't just to hang out with a buddy and you know, it was good.

He reminded me of the tiny granular bits of humanity that I had completely lost. Like, oh, I can enjoy something. Like, I can like food, that little tiny things of that little tiny bits. Like you've heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where you have, you have to have the bottom level of of sort of base survival needs in order to even want something. You want something you can dream for something. I had fallen completely off the cliff of that. So he was like setting the tiny bricks at the very bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and reminding me of my humanity. And truly being treated like a person when you don't even feel human can be absolutely life changing. It can be the most cathartic thing in the world. And I stayed with him for a week. And I never went and got the gun. And he completely diverted my plan.

And before you move on, I just want to give one last one second story really quick to close off the Mike chapter because it's going to, it's an important bit. I never really talked about it much. So fast forward to three years later, we're going to my 19th birthday. Okay. So he managed to get me out of that living situation. And my, my, my, my hell had decreased a bit. And honestly, after that, my feeling got more introverted and introspective, I got repressed and kind of remorseful about what I had planned and was very ashamed. But over the years, the hell of my life was still there. The family chaos was still there, all that stuff in the, in the depression built up, but it was more self-directed. I was, I was, I was suicidal. And on the night of my 19th birthday, I was planning on killing myself. I had gotten a bunch of drugs stolen a whole big bag of cocaine from my mom, a whole bunch of pills for my mom and got a bunch of LSD off the streets. I'm talking large amounts, so way more than enough to do the job. And my goal of that night was to go to that field behind Casa Bonita and kill myself. But I wanted to spend the day being normal. I wanted to act like nothing was going wrong. And so I tried to act as normal as humanly possible. And so during the day I went to Mike's house. And Mike's a very social guy, he has a friend group of his own. And in that friend group was a girl named Amber. Okay. And Amber was always really nice to me. She was very friendly to me. But she would definitely be his friend. She was his contact. So he was like, hey we're going to go kick it at Amber's today. And I'm thinking right on, we're going to go listen to music, watch a movie, great day, great last day. I'm going to spend it with two of my favorite people and then go back to the field and end it. And I get there. And that wasn't it at all. It was actually a surprise birthday party for me. And I walked into about 14 people saying happy birthday. And she had baked me a blueberry peach pie. And I walked past him and threw all my drugs in the toilet. And that was the last time in my life I ever tried to kill myself. And both Amber and Mike are my both best friends to this day.

Tina: Oh, that's amazing. That's amazing. And so what I hear in that, I hear a lot of things. I'm hearing a lot of things and trying to make a lot of connections. And I've heard you say it twice on days that you were contemplative about moving on to something bad, right? Whether it was suicide or school shooter, you I would articulate that you were looking for meaningful connection in some way like you want to savor like you were savoring the food, right? In some in some way that's what you were seeking. And what I guess I want people to hear is we don't have to put a cape on and be a superhero to make a difference in someone's life.

Aaron: Oh, absolutely not. It's the most powerful thing you can do is give love to people that you think deserve it the least because they need it the most. It's it's treating people like a human. I've talked to law enforcement agencies about this and I tried to tell it as much as possible. You can do all the preventive measures you can you can arm all the teachers, you can put bars on all the windows, you can restrict all the doors, you can put guards everywhere and you can get the same effect as with one pizza and ask someone, how are you doing? It's the same impact. Let's the tiniest bits remind the person when you're in that depressed life. When you're in that dark, everybody else in your world sees you as a threat or a or a project. You need to do something that they want to fix or something that they're afraid of. And none of that is a person. And if you're dealing with someone who is only thing that if and when you have that person, when you find that person who's actually going to be a person, the person that are going to test it, they're going to push against it, they're going to shove it and they're going to say, okay, well, do you really, are you really full of crap like everybody else in my life? And so they're going to try and they're going to push and you have to be able to withstand that and be and be the island of normal in the ocean of chaos. That's what Mike was for me. He was no matter what I did, no matter how much my chaos slammed against him, no matter how much I was toxic and insulted myself or insulted him or stole from him or lied to him or whatever it was, he never moved. He never moved. He would tell me over and over again and this is, he would say, you're a good kid in a crap world. Over and over again. And he never changed. And if he asked him today what he did, he'd say he'd just do what a friend's supposed to do.

Tina: He's a good human?

Aaron: That's right. He's a good human. He's a good human. He's the only person in the world that if he insulted my wife, I'd say, well, baby, what'd you do?

Serena: So you let's just shift here for a minute. You kept this secret story for 25 years, including from your family. What made you start to share it with them and the world?

Aaron: Well, part of it was that peril of my mom possibly getting hurt by me talking about it was less than because my stepdad died because I was always, I couldn't talk about much of the details because then she might get beaten. So once he died, it can't have freed me up. Although the chaos still there still hasn't stopped, but that's another chapter of it. But so right at 2018, we're watching the Stoneman Douglas Massacre, me and my wife and my oldest daughter. So she, we were watching the day after the shooting, and we were having a big, tearful discussion about how could someone ever do this? How could you ever get to that point? And as we're having that discussion, I will look on the news that we're watching. And I see a girl come out of the school that I think is still has blood covered on her, and the reporter asks, how does that make you feel? I was enraged. I'm like, what kind of stupid question is that? How do you think that happy? What do you think? She's joyous, of course. And so I went to the toilet and I wrote a Facebook post as we do. And in that, that's the first time I ever wrote, I was almost a school shooter. And by the time I got off the toilet, my wife and my daughter had read it. And my wife had only known about 60% of my history, my daughter only knew about 20% of my history. And so the rest of the day was a big, tearful discussion about how could someone ever get to that point? And we talked about it and I talked about my life. And up until then, I thought it was a giant black mark that would carry around my neck. And if anybody ever really knew me, they would hate me. And I'd be reaffirmed that I really was that monster this whole time. And over the night, that Facebook post went kind of Facebook viral. Got a couple hundred likes and clicks. And at the same time, my local news reporter, Channel Night News, a guy named Kyle Clark, he's doing a mental health week because of all the school shootings. School shootings are big here in Denver. It hits us really hard. We just had the theater shooting a couple of years before. So it's a big thing here. And so they're asking for stories over Twitter. And so my wife's like, hey, use to send them that, they might like it. And so I sent him a thing over Twitter. Well, the very next day there's a camera who at my house having me film me watch read that Facebook post. That video gets 17 million views in a week.

And I go instantly from a dude sitting on my couch thinking that if someone ever found this out, they'd hate me to getting messages from all over the planet. Literally every country I could name India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sweden, Australia, Norway, every state in South America, Canada. And it wasn't just, hey, that's a cool story. In fact, most of them were, hey, that's a cool story. But here's my pain. And here's everything that ever happened to me. And so I ended up getting tens of thousands of diaries from all over the world. And it really showed me a really profound thing that there isn't any difference in the pain that I was feeling when I was at my absolute bottom, when I was feeling like I wanted to blow up the school, then the pain that a model feels when she's throwing up in a cup before a photo shoot, that that's not different. It looks, it looks different. It looks like two species, but it's not. It's the same thing.

So you take that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs concept, flip that upside down. So it's a triangle leads down to a point. Okay. The point at the bottom is self-immolation and pain. I'm not good enough in me. And I need to burn myself apart to fit my world. Okay. Now, as we're, as we're kids, we're taught early on how to express anger and how to express emotions. Boys are taught very early on that anger is currency. Violence is currency. Not only is it a status symbol, but if you, you can be stupid. You can be ugly. You can be smelly. If you can break something, you can exist in the male world. And so if you're, if as you're growing up, that vocabulary will grow. And if you're not taught through, if, if the rest of your life is hell and you're taught how to express just anger and vile, disgustingness the whole time, then that's the vocabulary that's going to grow. And for me, that's, that's what happened was my vocabulary of destruction, just grew and grew and grew grew. But on the other side, and tell me if I'm wrong, because I'm, I'm not a woman. So I can't say this one experience, but I'm a dad of many daughters. And what it appears is that for women, it's more introspective that you're not good enough in yourself. Your body's not good enough. Your mind's not good enough. Your heart's not good enough. You need to, it's, it's more introspective and self-destructive. And, and it ends up with eating disorders and with beauty disorders and with self self-image disorders. And I really feel that if we can teach early on a positive way to express negative emotions, then maybe that vocabulary will grow and we able to teach more and more positive expressions of emotions early on. And we'll have things like grown men that can cry in public, which would be a wonderful thing.

Tina: Right. Right. Yes. So this is what the Scarlett's all about, right? Scarlett is about teaching people how to live with their emotions and how to treat people like human beings.

Aaron: Right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think it's, I think it's ironic and completely off topic. But as we're talking here, I just got a message from Amber, the one I was just talking about.

Serena: No. I think that's not off topic at all. I mean, not off topics. The connection. Yeah. Yeah. So you are now a father of four, right?

Aaron: I am. That's father of four.

Tina: All right. All right. All girls.

Aaron: No, I have two sons, two sons, two sons, two daughters.

Serena: Okay. All right. And your mental health advocate and consultant. And I can imagine, and you can, you know, correct me if this is incorrect, that sharing your story has brought, but I hope some relief and maybe some unburdening to you, but a lot.

Aaron: Yeah. Yeah.

Serena: But I'm also thinking about that 25 years in between, right? And for you to be the person you are today, there must have been more healing that took place. So how did you manage to, you know, get through those 25 years and become who you are today?

Aaron: Absolutely. So the biggest process, first with separation from the from the chaos. That's what Mike was able to do. It took him years to try to get the hooks of my family out of me because it's your family. It's the only like the hardest part about going to get therapy when you're a kid who's in that depression pain is that by getting help, you might blow up your whole world. Your family, your parents might go to jail, your other siblings might go to foster care. You might you end up might end foster care all because you got help. And so it took a long time for Mike to continually work to get the hooks of that out of me. It ended up happening by him moving me out to Kansas City with him one year. He went to Kansas City artists to for college and he moved me out there for with him to go live for a year. And that not only gave me some independence, but it also made my family mad that I left.

So it had like a dual purpose, like how dare you leave, which then pushed me out even more, because now I'm on my own. And that let me start the real process, which was what I call acknowledgement. So I went to the people that hurt me and not in an definitely made, I made a purposeful point to make it sure. It wasn't accusatory. I didn't go there to say you did this and you need to pay and this is what needs to happen and you need to make up for it. That wasn't it at all. I went to the people and said, this is what really happened. Our relationship was fundamentally changed. I don't actually love you and I'm done. And I walked away. And some of the people that I talked to screamed and it was my relatives. It was my aunt's and my uncles and my everybody that was toxic doing cocaine and drunk doubt and beatings all the fights, all the chaos that I happened in my life. I went to that chaos and I told it that it hurt me and then I walked away from it. And some of the people screamed, some of them begged, some of them cried, some of them asked me why. And I didn't care. It didn't matter what their response was. It was at nothing to do with them had everything to do with getting it out of me. Because now I don't have, I never sit and think, man, I wish I could tell that person what I really felt. Man, if I could have just set that one thing to that person, I said, I'm done. I walked away from it. And the first time it happened, it was such a big relief for me. It didn't happen on purpose the first time. The first time was on accident. One of my relatives who I watched smoke crack and tried to kill herself from front of me came up and said, Oh, you know, you love me. And I said, No, I don't actually. And it was like a light bulb went off in my head. And immediately a giant weight lifted off of me. And over the process, it really was like a huge weight lifted off. And then I started on one once that process was done. And I went to everybody that hurt me, I still needed to find out what I was and to gain some positive aspects of me. Because I didn't have any.

When Mike would ask me, what do you want to do? Like, what are your dreams? Like, I don't want to do like, what do I want to be in 10 years? I don't want to be in 10 years. And so I never had that kind of dream of what to do. The first thing that happened was I have the, what the switch for that would have in my first kid, which so my two older, effectively, my step kids from my wife, my youngest or my, my 16 year old is mine from my ex and my youngest as ours together. I don't have step kids. I have four kids. So I don't look at that way. Yeah. Um, but when my 16 year old was born, that gave me something that was outside of me that I immediately cared about way more than anything ever. And it gave me something to care about something to lose. And I never had anything to lose. Like, I was, at that point, I was the most mobile person. Like, I could pack up my whole life and a bed, duffel bag can be gone in five minutes. And after my kid was born, I couldn't do that. And it gave me something to look, look for in a, a gold award course. And it took a long time of personal growth. And honestly, up until I came out with my story in 2018 and finally started talking about it. Like I said, I thought it was a negative. I was still the toxic. I wasn't, I wasn't outwardly toxic, but I was the mean guy. I was the, I was the, the grumpy cranky one. I was the one that was like, I wasn't the friendly one you wanted to hang out with all the time.

And coming out with my story, it really has been my wife and my daughter, my kids call me a emotional baby because before I was disconnected from my emotions, I had like shut them all off. I could cut you off from my life easily. I could be like, nope, I'm done. You're out. And word I've never talked to you again. And since coming out with my story, I can't do that anymore. I don't, I, now I cry at silly movies and I cry at songs and it like weird, like the tiniest stuff. Like I, I, I tell my wife, I smell every single flower. I, I pay attention to every little bit of good that I do. So now I had the honor of flying around to cut the country and speaking it anywhere and that don't want to talk about it. So I get to fly like I got to fly to talk to the kids, people from you've all day and go, I got to talk to the FBI. I got to go speak to the behavioral analysis unit of the FBI and talk to them. It was, I pay a lot of attention to the fun stuff of the trip. Like I'll go to, I went to the Alamo and go check out all the history stuff because my work is I get up on stage, rip my chest open and let strangers poke and prod as much as they possibly can. So I can hopefully not have another me walk into the world. I want to stop more means from happening.

Tina: That's so helpful. It's so helpful because unfortunately many of these people don't survive and can't tell their story, right? And they, they, you, you are a unique voice and I'm grateful that you're helping. And I think these school shootings continue to happen in our country and is our new normal. It is our new, how can we do better? I'm grateful that you go and talk to the FBI and I'm asking you personally like, what are we doing? What could we be doing better to prevent these, you know, future tragedies?

Aaron: The best thing we can do was to reach that kid in the dark that and to try to realize that that kid could be you. And to, I think that as adults, the biggest thing we've done in the negative is that we've indemnified ourselves out of the effectiveness. We have tried to do everything we can to protect everybody from liability and to protect all the adults from getting in trouble as something goes wrong, that we've stopped the ability of most therapy and most school counselors to be effective at their jobs. I think that for the kid in the who's depressed, walking into therapy can be like walking into a room full of spikes that are pointed inside. And, and you never know what you might say because like I said, we're all taught languages of depression and we're taught how to express that. And if, if at home, everybody is screaming their anger and you lie constantly and you're taught just to insult. And everybody at school bullies you so your social life is nothing but insults and anger. And then you go to therapy and you're expected to have a calm reasonable tone and say things that aren't controversial because if you do, then you could have mandatory reporting and mandatory triggers that you've triggered just because you're venting without realizing the gravity of what you're saying. And the, the, the, while that might not, well, that might not happen, that might not appear to happen as much from the therapist's angle. From the depressed kid's angle, it feels like it happens all the time. And so it reduces the effectiveness of that, of the kid actually reaching out for help in the first place.

So the, the easiest on the ground thing that I could say that teachers, therapists, counselors can do to reach that kid in the dark is tiny breaks of protocol, tiny things that remind that kid that you are not a someone who just thinks of it like a checklist who just looks at it like you're a project or who was afraid of you. Someone who is a person on the other side of that, like, like I'm not talking anything that's going to violate the procedure, nothing that's going to break the procedure of therapy, but something like, oh, you like that band? I like that band, but this doesn't do a song. Like, like, little tiny things that humanize you, because I tell you what, that's those two styles of therapy, style one, checklist, and, and you have rules you got to go through and you have the journal, you have these, all these different processes that can turn into white noise and static immediately. And those kind of therapists, you ignore, therapist too, even if you just start with, oh, you like that band, I like that band, you can get the same kind of checklists and same kind of journal, the same kind of process. And that therapist, you end up inviting to Christmas dinner. Because that's so that's where it's about meaningful connection.

Tina: Again, we're circling back to meaningful connection and, and I think you're right about that. And it's a, it is something I've heard in therapy before, like we can't share anything personal, but truly the people we can connected with were people who gave a little bit of themselves so that we could see a little bit of ourselves.

Aaron: So yeah, and, and I've seen it on the ground, my, my 16 year old had to go through therapy for, of his own, for his own issues personally. And that's an exact example. We've had multiple therapists of, of style one that we didn't listen to. We have a therapist, so style two is on our dinner list for Christmas. We literally invite Krista over because she's amazing. Like it's just, it's not a joke. It's real world stuff that the more human you can get, that's why I, when I talk about my things, I try to avoid, if you notice on the point of when I talk about it, I avoid talking about the terms mental health or gun control. Because both terms, I only talk about it and did say this, the both of them are innately confusing in diverting opposite ways. So you talk mentioned gun control, you get lost in the minutiae of the details. Is that a, is that a bump stock? Is that a rifle? Is that what kind of man? I mean, it's, you lose sight of the goal, which is you want to keep weapons that can kill people out of the hands of someone like I was 25 years ago. And if you talk about mental health, it's this big gray amorphous blob. You can't really wrap your hands around it. It's really personal, but it's not really identifiable. So you just, this gray cloud, what is mental health? So I talk about, as, get as personal as possible, tried to talk about how I was depressed and abused because I was neglected and I felt like I was alone. The more that you can see a human adult, the more that you might see a face when you think about it. And the more that we can realize that it's, it's as human as we get that there, that the more we can love, we ourselves will love each other and we can give love, giving love to the ones we feel deserves it the least can sometimes mean yourself.

Serena: That's an excellent point. Yeah. Thank you. So before we wrap up here, I'm curious if there's anything we haven't asked you that you want to make sure that you share.

Aaron: Um, just that I run nowadays I run a Facebook group. So if you want to come and find me, come find me. I’m on Facebook. It's called you are not alone. It's made up of now of like 3,000 plus people from all over the world. But it's not just people in pain, but it's also like doctors and therapists and counselors to kind of create that buffer zone. I was talking about where someone can reach out for help and get a human response without the spikes. Um, but it's just a Facebook group. So with also, if we, if you need help, I can also hopefully get you actual attention.

Tina: Yeah. So are there, are there other ways that people can get in touch with you other than the Facebook group?

Aaron: Yeah. Um, email, um, my Aaron Stark author at gmail.com, um, find me on Twitter at starkdad1313. Um, and I am fully available to go do speeches and presentations. I talked to schools and counselors and therapies and law enforcement and any, anybody who'll listen and I also talked to students too. But honestly, the students are to speak this language fluently, conversations about the students are way easier because they know who they're looking up for in class and they know that oppressed kids and they know what to do when they're when they're in the dark. It's the adults that have to unprogram their own biases. I found it interesting.

Serena: So Aaron, thank you so much for joining us today and, um, and for all that you're doing to share your story with the world and, um, we're grateful for all the work you're doing to make the world a better place for all of us.

Aaron: Thank you for having me.

Serena: And so podcast friends. We are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. We know you have many, many choices out there trying to get your attention and we appreciate that you chosen to spend this time with us today. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts. Leave us a review while you're there, subscribe and share our podcast with others. You'll find more content on our website, noneedtoexplainpodcast.com.

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye!