Disclaimer: The following material may be hard to read. It is an account of an attempted suicide.
I cannot remember pulling the trigger. I cannot even remember the events leading up to the incident. All I can remember is that I was in pain, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain. The physical pain was in my lower back. It was a constant, at times throbbing, at times piercing pain that I was told I would have to learn to live with. I was not learning very well. I injured my back when I was forced to move myself out of a parsonage in fifteen days with almost no help.
The emotional pain was one of deep depression that made me feel useless and without purpose. I had been forced to retire after struggling with a toxic church and incompetent clerical support for two years. I was told I needed to take one for the team. I was abandoned with no support, no help.
The psychological pain was from the belief that I was a failure in life. I was a pastor who had been manipulated, accused of doing something I did not do, and rejected because my last name was Hispanic, and I did not fit into the perception of a pastor that this rural church had formed.
The spiritual pain, for those who understand, came from the likelihood of being demonically obsessed during my two years at that church. I wanted the pain to stop. I felt hopeless. I questioned my faith. Death seemed like the only logical answer. So, at one in the afternoon, in a state of mental illness, I took a .45 caliber pistol, put it under my chin and pulled the trigger.
The next thing I remember is waking up briefly in the ICU of the hospital and wondering where I was. I was told I lost consciousness completely on the way to the hospital due to loss of blood. My family was told I possibly would not survive. I was in a coma for eleven days. I had lost my left eye, part of my jaw and most of the teeth on the left side of my face. I experienced a TBI (traumatic brain injury) with a brain bleed. Still, to the wonder of the doctors and the relief of my family, I was alive. I had failed once again, however, this time for the better.
I cannot even describe the shame and guilt I felt. Why had I not died? How could the bullet not have taken my life? The doctors had no explanation. I underwent 10 hours of surgery after the incident. There are still fragments of the bullet (a self-defense round that was made to create a fatal wound where it hit) embedded in the bones of my face and skull. Yet, in less than a month I was walking (on my own power) out of the hospital and on my way home. I was a suicide survivor.
My suicide attempt was not a cry for help. It was not an effort to get attention. It was intended to be a personal execution. It was, I have no doubt, demonically influenced. This suicide attempt turned out to be an event in which God intervened.
God intervened? Yes, for there is no other explanation. God decided that I would not die. I am a walking miracle.
During my time in a coma I am certain I encountered the divine and the demonic. Many may believe I was just experiencing hallucinations brought on by the trauma of the gunshot wound, but my experience tells me otherwise. There was a struggle for my soul as I lie in the ICU on the verge of death. I can remember some of the struggle that was going on around me. In one encounter there was a struggle between the demonic and what I believe was an angel. The demonic claimed that I now belonged to the dark power because I had committed suicide and violated the law of the church. The angel answered back that I belonged to God and God’s grace trumped church law.
In another encounter, I was asked if I wanted to live. I answered yes. As death tried to pull me into its grasp, the one who asked me if I wanted to live told death I was going to live, that a price had been paid for my life. It was after this encounter that I woke up. I remember asking a nurse what had happened to me. She told me I had been shot. I asked her who shot me. She asked me if I knew and I answered “no”. She then said the report said that I had shot myself. “Oh”, was my reply. I knew she was right.
I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I am certain of my calling to ministry, as someone called to lead others to make disciples, strengthen the church, and help others in their spiritual formation. I have a doctorate in ministry. I have been a Certified Spiritual Director for four years. I had the mental knowledge to know suicide should not be how one deals with the challenges of life. How in the world could I reach a place of hopelessness in my life that I would try to kill myself? How could I do this to the ones I love?
I would counsel anyone who reads this to never, never think that they would not, could not end up in the same situation. The Scripture is true. “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8 NRS) I had failed to be alert. Even though I sought to maintain an active life in prayer, even though I sought to be a faithful servant I allowed the Evil One to deceive me. I allowed my own insecurities to drag me down. I believed the lie that I no longer mattered and in fact was a burden to others by my being alive. I failed to live by the truth, “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (Phil. 2:12 NRS) I had lost hope.
As I was recovering in my hospital bed, I realized that I had reached a point that even though I was striving to give love to others, I did not love myself. I hated myself and thus opened myself to a mindset of self-destruction. I realized that I needed a strength I did not myself have. I returned to the promises of God’s love. I sought to begin to have compassion on myself. I fought against the guilt and self-accusations my mind threw my way. I began to reflect on my situation.
Yes, I had been betrayed, used, lied about, and cast aside by a segment of the church but that did not mean I had been abandoned by God. I was still one who had been called. No person, church member or self-serving clerical authority could take that away from me. Yes, I would still have to deal with physical pain and suffering, but that did not mean God was not with me and that I could not overcome its effects. I need to remember and live by the words:
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5 NRS) I also need to remember: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39 NRS)
And then came the discoveries I did not expect. I discovered both positive and negative things after my failed suicide attempt. I discovered just how much suffering, worry, and anguish it caused my family. I learned how they prayed and prayed. I awoke to their love and support, not to condemnation or judgment. For the first time in a long time I felt wanted, needed, and loved. This was a gift and affirmation from God. Also, so many people sent me notes on how I had helped them. They shared in my sorrow and pain. They offered words of comfort and hope. They affirmed I had been a presence of God for them in their time of need. Again, these are gifts of God.
Now, I am adapting to my new life. I have put together a safety net that includes family, friends, doctors, counselors, and spiritual direction. I am learning to live with sight in only one eye. I am coping with the damage I inflicted on my body. I am learning to live with pain without self-medication or a chemical crutch. And, most of all, I am learning to like, even love myself. God is not finished with me and has lavished on me mercy, grace, hope, and best of all limitless love.