I was 12 years old the first time I experienced suicidal depression. I had no idea what was happening to me, I was filled with joy, but all of a sudden dark clouds of despair began to consume me, and I was left in a fetal position crying out. For six years, I would struggle with this severe depression in secret. This unrelenting haunting by despair created hatred and bitterness in my heart, and more than anything else, I hated God for allowing me to suffer. The hate I had in my heart was so severe that despite believing in heaven and hell, I desired hell more than heaven because I believed God wouldn’t be there.
I struggled for several years completely alone. There is no question in my mind that my parents, who are my best friends, would’ve done everything they could to care for me if I told them about my struggles. I know without a doubt that my brother would’ve been there by my side if he knew what I was going through. However, I told no one. The darkness was “icky,” and it left me stained with a feeling of shame, guilt, and embarrassment that I remained silent about these struggles. My wife, who has known me since high school, was the only one aware of my struggle (besides a doctor) up until just a few years ago. After having a mental breakdown due to church-related trauma in front of my family, I shared with them everything regarding the depths of my life long struggle.
When I became a Christian, it radically changed the way I understood my depression. The depression would still come, and I would still struggle greatly, but it wasn’t as common as it was in the past. Also, I now loved God, and so I was able to cling to him and his word when the dark clouds came in. I was no longer assaulted by despair and left empty-handed, I now could curl up with my Bible and wait for the storm to pass.
Yes, in these dark moments, I have considered suicide more times than I can count. At my worst, I have sought to put action behind these thoughts. I think the worst experiences have been with these dark clouds have come while I have been playing with my children. One of the worst feelings in the world is to break down in despair in front of your children in the midst of playing and them having no idea why. So thankful for my wife in these moments.
Up until a few years ago, my severe depression became relatively dormant. At best, I could go an entire year and have only one episode per quarter, maybe less. In 2016, racial insensitivity and silencing in my church alongside the murder of Philando Castille re-triggered dormant (post traumatic stress), and my depression kicked back in full gear. For the past few years, I have struggled with severe/clinical depression at the same severity as my childhood; only now, it has been accompanied by other traumas. Reflecting on what I was enduring at my church became a sure way of having my depression triggered, and for almost two years, I had cried almost every day as I reflected on church-related circumstances.
When my wife and I left the church, the depression slowed down, but it wasn’t until we left the state that I was able to have it under greater control. Here’s the thing though, anytime I would reflect on my past or past church experiences, whether good or bad, I would begin to struggle deeply with depression again. Deep down, I knew I was keeping a secret, we were abused, and the vast majority of people had no idea what we endured. We heard rumblings from members regarding what the pastors said about our departure and we knew it wasn’t accurate. It seemed clear that an alternate narrative was being spread about our reasons for leaving and it ached that I couldn’t share my own story without being accused of being “divisive” or seeking to “hurt the church”. Also, I was committed to keeping this secret because I feared the repercussions sharing it would have on my family, my wife was still healing from severe trauma and depression as well and I knew that speaking up would potentially put her at risk of further hurt caused by having to relive the past. I wanted to speak, my heart and spirit wanted me to speak, but I couldn’t speak and it was killing me. My soul couldn’t reconcile the secret my mind was keeping, and I continued to lose my hair, gain weight, and have a spike in depression episodes.
Several weeks ago, everything came to a head. I was home alone, depressed, and began to google ways to experience a painless suicide. I convinced myself it was just curiosity but there was sincerity in my search. I was frustrated because every article I clicked on (THANK GOD) was intent on deterring people from going that route or the idea that “painless” was a surety when it came to any form of suicide. If it wasn’t for the reality ever present on my mind that I have an amazing wife and children who adore me, there is no question in my mind that I wouldn’t be here today. Typing that makes me extremely nervous as I know some will jump to conclusions about me, but I want to put it all on the table. Apart from the comfort and reassurance thoughts of my family gave me during this moment, there was another nagging thought in the back of my mind that I couldn’t shake:
“if you do this, no one will ever know what really happened to you. Your family will suffer and they will also never know justice. You know others have suffered and someone may be suffering there now, you can’t take this secret to the grave.”
I couldn’t stand two thoughts, Making my family suffer and dying with the secret of my family’s spiritual abuse. I got off my computer, and I wept. When Vy came home, I shared with her that I had to share our secret, that I couldn’t keep it any longer. I didn’t share with her the depths of the “why,” but she was supportive.
Satan used the secret of our past church abuse and trauma to try and lure me into taking my own life in a moment of despair. This was a carrot he dangled in front of me regularly. He has almost won, but God in His mercy has kept me. After speaking with Vy, I was resolved that I needed to share our secret. Then, Ahmaud was murdered, followed by Breonna, several more instances occurred, and then George Floyd. The racial trauma from these events accompanied by the spiritual trauma of our past church experiences was too much; it was time. Not only was it time to speak about my own experiences, it was time to put everything we have rebuilt on the line so that the evangelical world could know what is happening in their churches and possibly save others from going through what my family endured.
In the coming days or weeks, you may hear statements questioning my motivation for speaking up about the church abuse my family experienced. I am laying it all on the table here; I spoke up because not speaking up was killing me. I love life, I love my family, and I could no longer allow the devil to use this secret as a carrot intended to lead me down the path of unrelenting despair. I did not share what happened to me out of some opportunistic desire, beyond my desire to live, and not allow this secret to kill me. I am fully seeking to claim my life and health back, and I can no longer let secrets that protect people who have devastated my family keep me from doing that.
For those who have experienced Spiritual Abuse
Dear precious soul, if you have experienced spiritual abuse within your church, I want you to know that you are not alone in what you have suffered and you are not alone in needing to heal. What you have had happen to you is evil, wrong, and it is not your fault. I have devoted my life to caring for Christians who have been spiritually abused. I am a specialist in the field of spiritual abuse and yet I myself have been manipulated, gaslit, and am still healing from what was done to me. You are not weak, anyone can be a victim of abuse. Dear person, I want you to know that you are beloved of God and are worth more than all the stars in the sky. You matter, your life matters, & your light matters. You may feel surrounded by darkness and believe you have no more light to give, but if you are In Christ than the light of the universe (The Holy Spirit) is within you and I promise you that you bring light to this world even if you don’t feel like it. I am so sorry for the way the church hurt you, but you are beloved of God and you are his precious bride, regardless of whether or not you are able to attend church services. If you are struggling with profound darkness or thoughts similar to what I share here, please try and find someone you can talk to. That someone may be the national suicide prevention hotline, where someone is always available to speak to you (1-800-273-8255). Healing is a process, and though I absolutely understand the desire for justice, please make sure that you are safe physically and spiritually before you seek to do what I have recently done. We need you for the long haul, and we need you safe and cared for. There are some of us who have healed to such a degree and who have obtained a the necessary degree of safety needed to now be able to speak out. Don’t feel like you must because we have. Every survivor of abuse has the power to choose their pace and whether they name their abuser and if so when they do so. We see you and we will be a voice for you. Please take care of yourself, be safe and heal, you are a light and you are loved.