Matt was just sixteen when the toll of years of domestic violence in his home finally reached a crescendo of pain and confusion. For his entire childhood, Matt witnessed his mother’s violence against his father. He also experienced physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse due to his mother’s undiagnosed mental illness.
The utility drawer in the kitchen was the most feared place in the house. It held a variety of knives and tools that his mother routinely used to threaten Matt’s father, and at times, even Matt and his siblings. On one occasion, Matt’s father came home from work for a dinner break. On the counter sat a two-pound package of frozen hamburger that his mom intended to use for dinner. She had forgotten to remove it from the freezer in time, so dinner wasn’t ready. His father didn’t mind—it was worth anything to keep the peace—but as usual, something angered Matt’s mother, and violence soon followed.
In this case, Matt’s father decided the best option for all involved was for him to simply head back to work. He walked toward the door to make a hasty retreat. As he left, the screen door closed behind him just in time to protect him from the frozen package of hamburger that his wife launched toward his head. The glass on the door was not so lucky. It shattered under the impact.
Sometimes Matt’s mom would pin his father in a corner and begin to scratch his face with her fashionably long fingernails. His dad was not one to fight back—he would never hit a woman. The best he could do was try to restrain her hands until he could find a way to escape without having to physically assault or remove her.
At times, the situation was so dire that Matt’s mother threatened to kill him and his siblings.
The abuse damaged Matt’s psyche, in spite of the positive influence of his grandparents and a close group of supportive friends that Matt depended on over the years. Matt grew up in the church and had a profound sense at some level that there was a God, somewhere, who cared about him. The problem was, this God had subjected him—or so he thought—to a horrific existence that had resulted in chronic anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other unwanted constant emotional and spiritual companions.
It was a hot summer night when the pressures of Matt’s hopeless life climaxed. His precious grandmother, who was his emotional support base, had recently passed away from heart disease. Within weeks of that loss, a girl Matt was convinced he would marry one day moved with her family back to Texas. At the same time, the abuse and violence in his home continued, with no apparent resolution in sight.
Shortly after sunset, Matt climbed up on the hood of his old Jeep Wagoneer, determined that this was the end. As Matt sat on the hood of the Jeep, parked on the curb of a busy street, he decided that at the right time, in the dark of the night, he would roll off the hood and in front of the next oncoming car.
For some reason, the traffic that night was unusually slow, giving Matt time to consider his plan. During this silent time of reflection, Matt stared at the stars and began to wonder about the reality of God. He was suddenly at a crossroads of eternal proportion. God, either You’re real and You are Who You say You are, Matt thought, or You’re a fraud, and I need to end this insanity.
The teenager began to hope that no cars would drive by until he had a chance to think through the implications of the decision before him. Finally, he brought his dilemma to God. God, if You’re real, I’ll trust that You can get me through this, but I need You to speak to me. Slowly, peace began to fill Matt’s heart. Because he had climbed onto the Jeep thinking death was his most appealing option, he credits the peace he felt to an outside source. “God gave me just enough grace in that moment to stay put on the car,” Matt says as he looks back on that day. “The God I believed in intellectually became real to me that night in a spiritual sense. The abuse didn’t stop. And the baggage it left scars me to this day. But I know that when a person reaches the end, they can find God there, if they really look.”
If the harsh realities of a fallen world can plant thoughts of despair, hopelessness, and self-harm even in the hearts and minds of children raised in healthy surroundings, what’s the outlook for a child whose entire view of life has been shaped in the crucible of domestic violence? As this story shows, there’s a very real link between domestic violence and suicide. Multiple studies indicate that domestic violence survivors experience suicidal thoughts at a dramatically higher rate than the rest of us.
To complicate matters, kids and teens who find the courage to come forward with information about the abuse and violence they’ve witnessed or experienced at home may not feel comfortable disclosing their deepest feelings. Those who do admit to having suicidal thoughts don’t always connect them with their upbringing.