Country Star Chase Bryant Opens Up About Surviving 2018 Suicide Attempt: 'The Best Second Chance'
"I was chasing success… I wasn't chasing happiness," Bryant tells PEOPLE. "I was trying to be something I wasn't. I was just being who they told me to be"
Editor's Note: This story includes graphic details of a suicide attempt.
It was 2018 when country star Chase Bryant — known best for country hits such as "Take It on Back" and "Little Bit of You" — got into his truck, threw a handwritten note on his passenger seat and drove to a Nashville gas station where he would ultimately place the barrel of his loaded .357 revolver to his head.
All there was left to do was to pull the trigger.
"I just wanted to make it quick," Bryant, 28, says in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, where he talks for the first time about his suicide attempt three years ago. "I just thought, 'I can't do this at my house.' My parents were staying at my place. I couldn't let them see that."
Bryant had had enough. He was tired of being told what to do. He was tired of wondering if he would ever be good enough. But most of all, he was tired of being someone he was not. And in that moment and in that truck, Bryant did the only thing he thought would forever stop his unrelenting pain.
"At that moment, I begged for somebody to listen and I begged for somebody to just come down and help me," Bryant recalls both to PEOPLE and in an exclusive video released Monday that serves as a heart-wrenching message to his fans. "I just screamed out the word 'sorry' as loud as I could, and I pulled the trigger… and here I am."
Because in a twist of fate that Bryant still can't believe, he looked down to see that the chamber in which he had thought he had loaded six bullets, only had five in it. The chamber that was to hold the bullet that he thought would end his life, was empty.
"So, when I looked at it at that moment, it was like, life's too short, don't make it any shorter," Bryant remembers. "It ain't worth it. We all have something to be thankful for, right? Looking back at it now, it's so weird. You're so dark and then all of a sudden you're like, 'OK, I got to get my s— right so I can help somebody else.'"
And that's certainly what Bryant plans to do moving forward. But he is also planning to write another chapter to his miraculous story. This past summer, Bryant went into the studio with producer Jon Randall, drummer J.J. Johnson and guitarist Charlie Sexton to create Upbringing, his debut album and first full-length project. (His 2014 self-titled collection was an EP.) On Feb. 26, the title track of the new album will serve as his first single in more than four years.
"We went to Austin, Texas and we made this record, and it was like putting on my blue jeans and a t-shirt and walking into a studio and not knowing where I was going," Bryant recalls. "[I was] just following wherever my heart was going."
Born and raised in rural Orange Grove, Texas, Bryant was born into music royalty of sorts, as his grandfather had played piano for legends such as Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings. Inspired by a music mix consisting of Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell and Tom Petty, it wasn't long before people noticed that the youngster with the crazy guitar playing skills had in fact inherited some impressive musical genes.
Yet, at the very same time, Bryant says he began experiencing "severe" depression and anxiety, some of which he says was caused by being bullied at school.
"I had friends and I was popular, but I didn't have friends and I was a weirdo. It just depended on the day," Bryant remembers. "And when you spend your whole life running from that and trying to be this, again, this superhero, this guy in a cape, it's like... how many times can you do that? And then you forget about the person underneath all that. You fall out of love with yourself."
But as his career began to take flight, Bryant always seemed able to keep his mental state in check, until he wasn't.
"I want to say it was right after 'A Little Bit of You,' which would have been, God, probably 2016," he says. "That was when things just sort of started to change for me, and I could feel that change coming on. And I think it was because I was having success as somebody that I really wasn't."
Indeed, for anyone looking from the outside, Bryant looked to be having the time of his life, touring with the likes of artists such as Brantley Gilbert and Tim McGraw. But away from the glare of the ever-constant spotlight was a man who didn't even know himself.
"You're with this company that, not to name names, but you're with the company that, at the time, is 'dance, monkey dance,'" he explains. "And I was so far from what I ever was wanting to be."
Granted, Bryant says he will never look back on the work he did back then with disdain. Specifically, he remains proud of most of the music he put out as his star continued its rise to the top. But suddenly, he realized the top wasn't the place he thought it would be.
"I was chasing success… I wasn't chasing happiness," he remembers. "I was trying to be something I wasn't. I was just being who they told me to be. I was doing what they told me to do, and that was somewhat easy at the time because everybody was filling me with this gratification, and I never really had had that from anybody. I never felt that feeling."
But soon, Bryant says he could no longer ignore the pain that continued to bubble up in his soul. In 2017, Bryant found himself in Canada one weekend, opening up for powerhouse Brad Paisley on his Weekend Warrior World Tour, when things began to feel like they were falling apart.
"There were just a lot of things in my life at the time that were changing," Bryant remembers. "I knew that [my 2017 single] 'Hell If I Know' was not the right call, musically. I knew I didn't want to go out and sing that song every night for the rest of my life."
"I mean, I like the song listening back now. That's a part of my career; I can't be mad about it. But it was just another day and another big tour of going out there and being somebody that I was not," he adds.
Looking back, Bryant now knows he probably could have stood up for himself and fought harder to be the artist that truly exemplified who he was as a person, both on stage and off. But emotionally at that time, he just couldn't find the willpower to stand up for himself.
"I was just trying to do whatever I could do to get that part of my life over with," he says quietly. "I knew what I needed to do. And at the time, for me, it was like, what I needed to do was just peace out. That was it."
Bryant began displaying some tell-tale signs that he was a man in desperate need for help, signs that he still can't believe no one noticed.
"I was just a wreck," remembers Bryant, who had gotten engaged to model Kourtney Keller in September of 2017. (He confirms to PEOPLE that they are no longer together.) "I don't know how nobody could see that. And I guess I did a pretty good job at hiding it, and that's not their fault. It's just not."
Following his 2018 suicide attempt, Bryant entered Rolling Hills Hospital, a psychiatric and substance abuse treatment center located in Franklin, Tennessee. There, he began to receive the help he so desperately needed. And now, he hopes to provide help to others who might find themselves going through the same mental anguish he once did.
"When I think about it, I want to be that one empty chamber for somebody," he says. "I want to be that one shot of fulfillment or hope. I hope that this takes that bullet out of somebody's life. I hope this takes it away. Maybe somebody sees this, somebody that's going through something and says, 'You know what? There is hope,' because there really is."
Currently, Bryant is finding that hope in the beauty of Texas sunrises and in the eyes of a new girlfriend. He no longer drives the truck in which he aimed to end his life, but he still owns that gun. And recently, in the back floorboard of his new truck, he found one .357 Magnum bullet.
He believes it was the ultimate sign.
"Now I'm not scared," he says. "I realized everything happens for a reason. There is a purpose. It's like God said, 'Here's your second chance.' It's the best second chance I've ever been given."
"Now I get to, hopefully, one day have kids of my own and raise a family of my own. And there's a lot to be thankful for," Bryant adds. "And I'm just thankful that I made it out of that night."
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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