Chely Wright: Life in the Closet Nearly Drove Me to Suicide

05/05/2010 at 11:30 AM EDT

When she hit rock bottom, Chely Wright came close to ending the life that had kept a big secret for so long.

The country-music singer, 39, who came out this week, says at one point she picked up a gun and was close to pulling the trigger – trapped as a closeted lesbian and afraid of losing everything in a conservative industry that might not accept who she really was.

"I had a 9-millimeter gun in my mouth," Wright said on Wednesday's Today show. "I was living a secret life, and I was very much a country-music celebrity … I gave up hope, and I was ready to take my own life."

The pressure had been building, she said, ever since John Rich of country-music duo Big & Rich asked her if she was gay – the first time she'd ever been asked directly after years of avoiding the issue.

She recalls: "John finally asked me point blank: 'You're not gay. If you are, people won't have it. It's sick, it's deviant, it's unacceptable to country-music fans.' And he said, 'You're not, are you?' And I lied. And I knew that I had gone from not talking about it to being a liar."

The weight of that new burden nearly drove her to suicide – but she managed to face her fears instead. "I stopped praying for what I had always prayed for, which was 'Help me figure out a way to still have my career and everything,' " she says. "My prayer was: 'God, give me a moment's peace.' "

She adds: "I didn't hear God's voice. I didn't see a guy in a robe. But I heard God say what He'd been whispering in my ear all along: 'I expect one thing of you, and that's to tell the truth.' "

Wright, author of the new memoir Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, admits she has some trepidation about how fans will react to her announcement. "I am not not afraid," she says. "But I'm not ashamed." And besides, a huge weight has been lifted. "It feels incredible," she says. "I feel as if it's my birthday."

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