Born in Halifax and given up by his birth mother for adoption at a young age, Ernest bounced from one foster home to another, enduring humiliation and abuse.
He turned to drugs and self-mutilation to deal with the mental anguish. Sexual abuse and victimization were daily horrors. Complicating matters were mental-health issues that were never properly addressed or treated by social-welfare authorities.
Eventually, a caring pastor and his family in Thunder Bay, Ont., took Ernest under their wing, and opened his eyes to a world of love and faith.
But with a stubborn willfulness, he resorted to cutting and drugs, afraid of being betrayed yet again by someone he trusted. Arrested, hospitalized and released time and time again, Ernest's life was spiralling out of control.
“At this crucial point in my life,” Ernest writes in his memoir, Upon Reflection, “my actions and anger had exhausted my church family, but they persistently stood by me.
“I knew that if I continued down this path, one of two things would eventually occur: I would be permanently housed in a psychiatric institution or I would wind up dead.
“Something had to be done, and it needed to happen soon.” In this excerpt from Upon Reflection, Ernest recounts his turning point.
I had been due to meet Pastor Roy Kemp that afternoon to discuss my situation, but instead of taking me out for a coffee as we had planned, he suggested we spend some time at my apartment as he wanted to go over something very important with me.
“Ernest, I need to talk to you about your ongoing depression and anger,” he began without preamble.
On the Threshold
I knew what Pastor Kemp was getting at. Constant telephone calls from concerned friends, as well as my own inappropriate actions, had brought Pastor Kemp to the point of giving me an ultimatum.
“My family and I care about you very much,” he continued, “and the entire congregation is committed to helping you. You don't have to face your problems alone. Many people are trying to help you but every time, you push back.”
“I know, Pastor,” I replied. “My anger gets the better of me most of the time. I know how much you care, but something tells me it won't last. I keep my distance so that I won't get hurt again.”
“That's what I'm getting at, Ernest,” Pastor Kemp said. “See? You've opened up and shared your feelings. Now answer me this: Have we hurt you in any way so far?”
“No,” I admitted. “In fact, everyone is unwilling to give up on me even when I have treated you all so unfairly. I'm hurting the very people who are reaching out to help.”
Pulling a blank sheet of paper from his daily planner, Pastor Kemp looked me gravely in the eyes.
“I want you to make a list on one side of the paper of all that you stand to lose if you continue on in this manner. On the opposite side, list all that you stand to gain should you be willing to really accept help. I hope this will give you a clear picture of what your life is and will become depending on the decision you make today.”
I thought long and hard about my present predicament, realizing I stood at the threshold of change.
Changing a Life
After several minutes of writing, I passed the sheet over to the pastor.
“OK,” he said, “let's see what you wrote.
“ 'This apartment will no longer be mine,' ” he read. “ 'My course of theological studies could cease. And my friends will begin to distance themselves from me. I could also lose my freedom by being locked up indefinitely.' And sadly, Ernest, you might very well lose your life.”
The pastor allowed me to briefly digest these points, but not long enough to get depressed.
“Now,” he said, “look at all you stand to gain. I and all your friends will be so happy when you get your life on track. Plus, imagine how many people you can help by your recovery.
“You have so much potential,” he continued. “Look at how you have kept up your studies even while going back and forth to the hospital. In church, you have shown tremendous charity to the street people looking for assistance. And let's not forget about how you have gone to The Salvation Army hostel to help out with Christmas dinner.
“Ernest, there is so much waiting for you: freedom from your past so you can live a better tomorrow. And a better tomorrow can turn into another, and another, and so on.”
We talked for a while longer and then Pastor Kemp gave me a warm hug and said, “I'll call you tomorrow.”
That evening, I went for a long walk, pondering the pastor's words.
My current existence had indeed been built upon destructive actions. The themes of abandonment, revenge and being unloved could not be equally weighed against the unconditional love my friends so selflessly lavished upon me.
I fully opened my heart to my friends who had invested so much of themselves into my recovery, and I was determined that from now on, I would be honest with them when depression surfaced, and that I would accept their support.
It was at that point that I decided to change my life.
While there were a few stumbles yet for Ernest to endure, his faith and the support of his friends helped him leave the past behind without regret or recrimination. “I allowed my church friends to help me and only then did I get my life on track.”
Ernest went on to complete a diploma in theological studies and is employed at a Salvation Army thrift store in Thunder Bay, Ont. Ernest frequently addresses audiences on mental-health issues and was presented an award by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“No matter how trying or how difficult the circumstances, there is always hope if you make the decision to reach out and ask for help,” Ernest declares.
© Upon Reflection. Thunder Bay, Ont.: Thunder Bay BookBindery Inc., 2012.