I killed myself on September 1st, 2013.

For ten minutes, my faithfully beating heart [so full of promise, so full of life] gave in to my desperate attempt to wipe away the world and all its sorrows.

Update: We are releasing a shirt inspired by Vanessa’s story next weekend with our merchandise launch. Keep an eye out on our Facebook page and website for the merch launch, and email us at wearecapturehope@gmail.com if you are interested in seeing the design or placing a pre-order.

Since childhood, my name has always been connected with a diagnosis. From Asperger’s to ADHD to depression, labels defined me in the eyes of doctors, teachers, and my own family. I wish I could say my childhood was full of innocent and playful days, made delightfully complete by a run around the yard or a good cartoon. Instead, the evil things I saw in the dark of night often overshadowed those innocent moments. Nightmares and visions of demons and utter loneliness filled my consciousness for years. The depression would deepen and the nightmares would get worse. Gore marred each narrative woven in my dreams – even if my day ended on a “happy” moment, I knew the terror would inevitably come the moment I shut my eyes to sleep.

At 14, I was dealing with the death of my grandfather, a man of God I loved so very much, when my other grandfather passed away. Both of these men [wrought with integrity] died such painful deaths that I convinced myself God must not exist. If He did, how could this happen? How could he watch this suffering, unconcerned and unperturbed?

Meanwhile, I wallowed in my awkward, depressed teenage state. Every day, the bullying got worse. I knew no one could truly understand me. The revulsion I read on the faces of those around me was only exceeded by the hatred I held for myself. My body, my voice, my very existence – these were the things I hated about me. The only way out, it seemed [out of my hamster wheel, the relentless pursuit of something I could not reach], was to end my life.

Logic did not take hold. Thoughts of Heaven and Hell were passing and brief – if Heaven existed, I would be there, at peace, once I had taken my final breath. The disappointment of the parents who had lovingly raised me did not matter. All I wanted was to find solace in the arms of death, that tricky suitor, so intent on capturing me in his loving [strangling] arms.

I had a plan. I sent a mass text message that read, “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m done.” Razors ready, I steadied myself to take that final step.

But the frantic banging on my door of my best friend, who also happened to be my next-door neighbor, interrupted me. She tearfully showed my mother the message and said she didn’t know what it was supposed to mean, and they both came careening up the staircase to find me poised to begin slashing my pain away.

They saved me that night. But for so long, I could not understand why.

Life continued for five years on a steadily declining path. While I had been able to stop constantly considering my demise, I had not learned to see myself any differently. I felt the same, I hated the same. I was the same.

As a teenager, I found that friend named Mary Jane who so enjoyed numbing the ache that was still ever-present deep within me. She served me for some time, but eventually, her high was not enough to lift me out of my despair.

I had been awarded my cosmetology license at 19, but this accomplishment was not enough to quell the voices in my head, constantly reminding me [ripping me apart, bit by bit] that I would never be good enough to achieve anything noteworthy. After all, my job was to fold towels in a salon. My thoughts attacked me over and over, insisting I was going nowhere.

So, I turned to substances more satisfying than marijuana. If it could temporarily squash the anguish, even for a few moments, I would take it, or smoke it, or snort it. I reconciled the terrifying fact that I would have to live out my life like everyone else with a decision to drown my pain chemically.

Then, reality crashed onto me in the form of a massive concussion. At a music festival, crowd-surfing and stoned out of my mind, I was dropped onto my head. I was immediately flown by Life Flight to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, TN, 5 hours away from my home. Later, I found out my life was only saved because of the haste of the paramedics to rush me to Vanderbilt. I almost lost my life that very evening.

Over the next several weeks, I went through the detox process. For me, it wasn’t all the painful physical symptoms of losing the drugs in my system, but the emotional weight that hurt the most. Substance abuse was an escape from a life I could not handle otherwise, and when that was wrenched from my hands, all that was left was emptiness.

After being released and returning home to Ohio, the spiral [twisting, nauseating, panic-inducing spiral] continued. Every mistake I made was another cut to my soul. Under the watchful eye of my parents, the drug abuse couldn’t continue. I began attacking myself mentally, hating every moment a breath escaped my lips.

My worthlessness was confirmed one night when, at a party, two boys I had known for years led me to an empty bedroom in a house and raped me. Their inebriation may have dulled their understanding of what they were doing, but my stone-cold-sober brain and heart experienced every moment of their assault in hideous clarity.

And this made it [my journey to the great unknown] inevitable. My complete lack of all worth was solidified the night my virginity, my one remaining dignity, was stolen from me.

September 1st came. Armed with not only a razor, but scissors, a bottle of Windex, and all the pills I could find, I gave in to the voices that had, for so long, demanded my mortality. I drank Windex, swallowed the pills, and began to destroy my arm. Unconcerned with the appearance of the slashes [for I surely would not survive this night], I tore apart my left arm, containing the main artery to the heart, until the shadows arrived. Consciousness began to fade, and I finally allowed myself to say the things I had been too afraid to speak aloud for so long.

“God, You did this to me. If You loved me, You would have come here and saved me a long time ago, but You didn’t. You hate me, and I hate You.”

As my soul began to cross the bridge between now and forever, I dreamed. I died, and I dreamed.

I was alone, standing in a desert. My feet would take me somewhere, but then I would find myself right back at the start. Escape was the only thought on which I could focus, and instead, I was in an endless loop from which there was no liberation. At last, I curled onto the ground in a fetal position, and realized what a mistake I had made. This was Hell. The thing I feared the most – true, paralyzing loneliness – was exactly what I was experiencing. But I had been seeking freedom!

I came to this realization at the same time an elephant appeared in my dream. Wherever the elephant walked, life followed. In the vast expanse of empty desert, grass and flowers grew in its wake. The elephant sat in front of me and a dogwood tree rose from the ground beside it. I curled up next to its warm hide, desperate for anything that felt like warmth or companionship.

Then, a voice spoke to me.

“You are not dead; you are asleep. Because your purpose has not yet been fulfilled, you will awaken. You can’t play God; only I am God. Once you know Me, your pain will be finished.”

The first phrases of that anthem repeated over and over as my body came back to life. I woke up, attached to respirators, and began to weep. At the time, though, my stupefied brain did not process the dream I had. I could only think about my inability to be successful at something so simple as killing myself. How would I ever be successful at anything?

Then came the psych wards. I spent 28 days in one facility in Cincinnati, my time split between confusedly trying to make sense of the Bible, at the insistence of my mother, and trying to hold onto my remaining sanity, surrounded by other mental patients. In that facility, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, in which suicidal ideation runs amuck, along with symptoms from a host of other mental illnesses.

The chaplain at the hospital took a specific interest in me. While there were about 20 patients in my unit, she took at least an hour out of each day to discuss God with me. Over and over, she repeated Isaiah 61 until I could practically recite it. This passage prophetically speaks freedom over captivity. As she repeated the verses, I heard her describe my chains. The depression that had overtaken my spirit for so long, drilling the idea of my worthlessness into every deep recess of my heart, had me bound.

And so hope began to grow.

Little by little, an idea, planted first by my vision of an elephant bringing life to the ground, then watered by that chaplain’s scripture repetition, blossomed. By no means had my bondage come to an end, but for the first time I could remember, there seemed to be a light at the end of a very long tunnel.

It wasn’t until months later that I learned that light’s name was Jesus.

Not truly understanding what came next, I tried faithfully reading scripture [mostly a jumble of complicated words and concepts that didn’t apply to this broken girl] and attending church. The problem with these surface actions was that they weren’t connected to any sort of transformation. And that door to death, the idea of suicide, hadn’t truly died yet. In fact, it was almost as if the door had been torn completely off its hinges and now just stood, wide open, in front of me. Every time my eyes would dart to my left arm, I saw the disgusting scars, reminding me of every failure and missed opportunity.

Drugs did not again enter the picture. My family finally began to shower me with the sort of affirmation I’d desired for years, but it seemed to bounce off the walls I had constructed to keep out any sort of deep connection.

Then came a trip to Nashville that would change me forever.

With my friend, Katie, I attended various church services around the city. I wept through all of them, recognizing my desperate need for some sort of redemption, but still not sure how to find it.

On Valentine’s Day of 2014, Katie and I attended a worship night, “Burn,” and I witnessed a kind of joy that I had never seen in Christians before. My experience with Christianity was generally a lot of people who hated everyone who wasn’t in their ‘club.’ But these people were weeping and laughing with God. At first, I thought it was all a bit loopy. I hung back in the lobby and listened to a conversation, totally blown away by the [strange but oddly wonderful] way the man in front of me talked about Jesus.

Finally, the words escaped from me.

“How are you experiencing joy?”

This man, an anomaly if I have ever seen one, responded to me in a way I never expected. The Bible wasn’t thrown in my face. He didn’t use an argument centered around judgment – in fact, he didn’t use an argument at all. He simply asked if they could pray for me, so that I could find out for myself.

Thomas, along with his wife and two other women at the worship night, prayed for me, and what happened in that time wrecked my heart in a way no human being ever could have done.

They began to reiterate the haunting things that plagued my thoughts. My fears were being spoken aloud by these strangers, and they were asking God to take it all away and give me freedom. One of the girls looked at me intently and asked, “How did you die?” Shocked that she could have known, I held up my damaged arm, and the sight brought her to tears.

I laid on the floor, overcome with emotion, and felt the tendrils of my depression surround me again as these powerful man and women of God prayed for it to leave.

Living with depression is like being stuck in a clear box. No one can hear you, touch you, or love you in the box. Try as I may, the box didn’t move or break, no matter how much I kicked and screamed. Faintly, I heard Thomas’ wife say over and over, “Turn around,” as the other girls were telling me to look Jesus in His eyes.

I couldn’t understand how she knew that I couldn’t open my eyes right then. The box was being faced by a dark, evil force that I knew all too well, and it was something I had no desire to look at in the eye.

Finally, I realized it made sense to turn away from the darkness in front of me to see what I was missing. In my box, I spun 180 degrees and finally opened my [spiritual, inner, metaphysical] eyes.

In front of me stood the most beautiful being that can or will ever exist. To look in the eyes of Jesus… there is no greater honor.

As He lifted a hand and placed it on my box, the box shattered around me. The evil darkness behind me disappeared, and I was no longer trapped. Then, He began to speak.

“No matter how many times you turn your back on Me, I will never turn my back on you. Don’t be ashamed anymore, because I am not ashamed of you.” He held up His wrists and said, “We have the same scars. I’m not ashamed of my scars because I died for you, because I love you so much. I died for everyone, and there is no shame in Me.” And at last, He said to me, “Now arise – arise from your pit.”

I was reminded of the moment in my death dream when that voice told me that my pain would be gone when I knew Him. In that moment, something broke that was bigger than me, bigger than my confused seeking. I stood up a different person, free from the shackles I had known for my whole life. While that was only the beginning of a journey that will last my whole life, it changed me immeasurably.

The very next night, I was given the opportunity to share the story of what had happened to me at another worship service called Awakening. I was amazed at the realization of how God works through His children so beautifully. In front of hundreds of people, words came from my mouth that I had never thought before. Truth reigned over me from that day.

Over the past few months, I have found new, electrifying freedom every time I turn my head. Gone are the days of opening my Bible to read confusing words without meaning. I now revel in the beautiful poetry that speaks directly to my inner being. I have found excitement and happiness in each opportunity I’m given to pray. Layers of hurt, yearning for something better, and self-hatred have been peeled away in a matter of weeks. Every time I have the chance to share my story of deliverance and freedom, whether with a stranger or a friend, I feel a new burst of confidence – not in myself, but in the Savior Who so gently reached down into the depths of my dark reality and gave me new life.

Now, I get to speak to my situation with faith and determine how it will be. When thoughts of self-hate and internal destruction start to surface, I speak God’s truths over me instead! [They’re much more joyful proclamations of love than I could ever have found in myself.] He calls me beautiful. He is totally in love with me! He’s not offended or put off by my scars, my size, my awkwardness, or my past.

One truly enthralling day in my new journey was April 6th. Amid friends running this race with me, the subject of baptism surfaced. I realized, during that conversation, that I was ready to show that outward symbol of my inward transformation. Coming out of the freezing water, I laughed with the others at the sheer impossibility of my life on this day. I arose out of that water as the new woman I have become.

And the doors to suicide are closed. When God finally closed that path as a possibility for me, it was as if He lifted me out of that room and into another building altogether. Now, life is what I love! He promises life and life abundantly, and He is always faithful to those promises.

Some days, I still struggle to remember that I am pure in His eyes. Even now, God is teaching me that my purity was not stolen from me the night two boys let hormones and alcohol get the better of them. With confidence, I can say that I have forgiven them. As difficult as it may have been for me to forgive people who tried to steal my innocence, how much more does that speak about my Father who was willing to forgive me, a person who tried to murder herself? Surely, He loves those two boys as He loves me. Instead of hating them, I choose to pray for them.

I’m just at the start of this journey. God constantly renews my mind, as each day, pain from diagnoses and labels placed upon me since childhood is lifted and replaced with my new identity. Labels don’t define me. Jesus defines me. There will be days of sadness and days of laughter, but most importantly, I won’t ever walk through them alone anymore. The God of the universe loved me too much to let that happen. One thing is certain – that strange, wonderful love radiating from the Jesus I met on Valentine’s Day is something I never want to forget.

042314VanessaCH001WEBPhoto Credit: 535 Photo

This story is written in first person. It is a retelling, written by the author listed. Vanessa has approved this version of the story.

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