I spent most of my childhood feeling totally alone. My Dad —once a proud Marine and the man of the family —was unemployed, after losing two good, stable jobs, and lost in a deep depression. My mom spent all day in bed, addicted to pain medication, and my sister was also spiraling into depression.
In middle school I dealt with loneliness by volunteering at a haunted house, “Field of Screams.” It got me away from everything and, though it might sound strange, scaring customers provided an outlet for me to release my deepening anger and sadness. I loved it, because I did not feel loved—and the only way I knew how to cope with the pain was to release it on someone else. So I scared people every weekend for ten weekends straight. Then came high school. I had no friends. I had no idea who I was—what my identity was. High school is very new for everyone, but I felt even more alone than before.
But on Saturday, June 27, 2009, I began my journey towards discovering a Father and a love that I actually had all along, a relationship that would never leave me lonely.
I still vividly remember that day. At 2:00 in the afternoon, a loud knock on the front door startled me from my nap. When my sister opened the door, I saw EMT medics. They immediately rushed into my parents’ bedroom with an oxygen mask and respirator. My mind raced, and I thought of my mom, and her struggles. But then I learned it was my dad, and my mind rushed to his past thoughts of suicide. My sister ran out to the front yard, where a cop and paramedic were talking with my uncle. I watched my sister collapse into the grass, weeping.
“Joey,” my uncle said, “I’m really sorry, but your dad is dead.”
Those words—your dad is dead—put me in shock. I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I sat on a bench outside, and looked up into the endless sky. I was speechless. Nothing came to my mind. My face was blank. But on the inside, anger and hatred smoldered.
“Why did you take my dad away?” I demanded of God. “If you’re real, then you need to show me, right now. Because I’m fathlerless. I have no love, I don’t have anything.”
What happened next I can only describe this way: a silence came upon me, causing me to be utterly quiet. A wind blew before me, and I felt what I can only describe as the presence of God, and of heaven. I felt as if I was with God in His arms at that very moment.
But it was still hard for me to believe that my dad was gone. As the paramedics put my dad on a stretcher into the ambulance, everyone in my family—uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, my sister, my mother—were all crying. I was not crying. I got up off that bench and asked my uncle how my dad died. He said he took medication before he went to bed, and he accidentally overdosed, taking an extra pill that he shouldn’t have taken. It didn’t make me feel better, but at least I knew that my dad did not commit suicide. My uncle also told me that the night before my dad died, he posted on his Facebook wall, “God is love and love is God.” I drew hope from that.
A year later I met Andrew. Through Andrew’s friendship, I was reminded of God’s love and at age 16, I decided to accept Jesus as my savior. Despite the initial happiness that brought to my life, loneliness still haunted me.
After I graduated from high school, I felt lost. Should I go to college? Or join the military? I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I started to hang out with the wrong people. I regularly watched porn, became sexually active, and smoked weed. I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t care. The lyrics of the heavy metal song “Fatherless” by For Today resonated with me.
“Eight years old is too young to become a man; I left my hope behind me.
I was just another angry kid, growing up without a dad.
So I sold my soul for the highest bid, to get the love I never had.”
And in December of 2012, I endured the second worst experience of my life. My “friends” gave me a bowl to smoke. I didn’t know it, but it was a chemical drug called k2 spice. My body collapsed, and my mind lurched into a panic attack. My face turned extremely white; I was freaking out. I begged and begged my “friends” to take me to the hospital—I was sure that I was dying—but they refused. Instead, they gave me a handful of pills, thinking that it would calm me down. Twenty hours later, I woke up. When I went home the next day, I went to the bathroom and fell to the floor, weeping and feeling deeply ashamed.
My friend and mentor, Andrew, knew how much it hurt me when I smoked that drug, and invited me to his home in Lynchburg, Virginia, as a way of recuperating. The people I thought were my friends turned out not to be my friends. But in Andrew, I found a friend and brother: he loved me enough to challenge me, to stand by me through a very painful time, and most importantly, to remind me that I couldn’t fight the battle against loneliness and anxiety on my own. While in Virginia, I was suffering from panic attacks and during one attack, Andrew laid his hands on me and prayed this Bible verse: “Be still, and know that I am God.” As he prayed, I fell to the ground crying. Something had changed.
Some people reading this may be hurting and alone, feeling depressed and maybe suicidal. Please know that you don’t have to feel that way, or to do those things. Loneliness can be tough, and feeling like no one loves you can open the doors of temptation to seek out love in all the wrong places. But there is hope. I know because when I was fatherless, God became my father.