Spirituality is key to recovery

October 31, 2012
Story by Master Sgt. Serbennia Davis
3rd Medical Deployment Support Command
FORT GILLEM, Ga. - “I live to save lives,” said Sgt. Maj. E. Joseph Sanders, 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) MDSC.
The citizen-soldier recalled a time when he felt that his life was not worthy of living.
Sgt. Maj. E. Joseph Sanders believes that spirituality is a key element to recovery. Laughter and physical resilience is also very important. "People who I thought that I would be helping are the very people that showed up and said that they needed me," he recalled. (Photo by Master Sgt. Serbennia Davis)​
“I now call it my year from hell,” he explained. “I was serving as the 1st Sgt. and had recently experienced several deaths in my family. I was going through a divorce and custody battle for my children. With stress added on from my civilian job, I had a mild stroke and was depressed because my disability had been denied. The Army also wanted me to take a non-medical discharge,” he shared.
During the time of his dilemma, a mental health professional in his Reserve unit recognized the warning signs of depression in the young 1st Sgt. Sanders.
“Had it not been for Col. Emil Risby, I wouldn’t be here today, he saved my life,” Sanders thoughtfully revealed.
Coping skills for dealing with his life’s issues were not yet fully developed. The mental and physical exhaustion led Sanders into a troublesome state of mind. He had considered suicide as his only way out.
In detail Sanders explained, “I had an out of body experience when I decided to play Russian roulette with my life. Thank God that the revolver ended up on an empty chamber. I had to find a reason to live for someone other than myself.”
Crisis intervention and first aid for mental health helped him to realize that suicide is considered a selfish act and he had not grasped the fact that, “So many people depended on me. I thought that I would be doing them a favor by not being here anymore for them to worry about,” he declared.
His family and friends proved him wrong during both of his attempts to commit suicide. Sanders prematurely withdrew from his counseling sessions and unfortunately reverted to more life stressors that escorted him back down that same dark road. It led him to a second suicide attempt. He survived through help from his friends.
He returned to his therapy and never looked back.
His lifelong goal today is to live as an inspiration to others. Serving as a peer counselor and recovery facilitator, he can appreciate the pain and mental health issues that others may encounter.
“It takes the strength of a warrior to seek help,” he commented.
Sanders current civilian job requires him to help prevent suicide in others, and to change and save their lives. He is on call for duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The prerequisite for this position is to have been a former suicidal victim.
“I understand how a person feels because I’ve been there too but, I got out of it! I will jump down into the hole with them and show them the way out to recovery,” said Sanders.
With more than eight years of crisis intervention experience, he has helped to saved hundreds of lives. This includes one of his family members, cousin Cary Patrick. Sanders have been a role model to Cary who also suffered some life challenges. The two men seemed more like brothers since Sanders stepped in to help him better manage his life.
"Spirituality, said Sanders, is a key element to recovery. Laughter and physical resilience is also very important."
Sanders decision to live his life for the sake of saving the lives of others has given hope to many. “There really is hope and people do actually care about one another,” he concluded.
To get further assistance to the road of recovery, contact Sanders at 678-590-8151 or send an email to ernest.joseph.sanders@us.army.mil. He is always ready, willing and able to help out fellow soldiers.
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