Dave Pittman: As I grew in my faith and my understanding and knowledge of God, the Lord, and Scripture, I began to understand and realize that we may not understand what God is . . . what His plan is for our life, but we can trust, you know, that He is in control and that we’re not. And I think, for me, it was realizing that my identity is not in Tourette Syndrome or ADD or OCD, but it’s in Jesus Christ alone.
When When Your Eyes Are Blurred with Tears, God Will Help You See: Dave Pittman & Briana Domenica – Episode #267
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Our guests this week have each experienced burdens in their lives that caused them to question their worth and their very existence: musician Dave Pittman and musician Briana Domenica.
Dave Pittman, a budding Christian musician, and an American Idol finalist was only nine years old when he was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, a condition that can cause uncontrollable tics and vocal sounds. Before his diagnosis, Dave’s classmates didn’t understand what made Dave different and several responded by making fun of him or bullying him. Amid his dread of facing another school year feeling different and alone, Dave shares about the moment that he was more afraid of living than he was of dying, and what ultimately led him to embrace his condition.
Dave Pittman: My name’s Dave Pittman, and I’m a singer and a recording artist here in Nashville. I have a ministry where I travel around and go into churches and different organizations and schools to share my story of how I overcome obstacles with Tourette’s and OCD and ADD.
Struggling with Being “Different”
I grew up in a small town called Gassville, Arkansas. And I grew up in a church where my dad was a music pastor, and my mom helped lead the band and whatnot. I grew up in a family of five, I have two other siblings. And yeah, I just grew up singing in the church.
I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when I was nine years old. [My family] had started noticing some different tics and twitches when I was seven, but I was actually diagnosed with Tourette’s when I was nine years old, in the fourth grade.
I had a lot of, Why me? questions, like, God, why would you allow me to have this? Why did you allow me? Why is it me? I didn’t understand in my nine-year-old brain how I was supposed to handle this and live with it.
It was extremely difficult for me to go through. It made me a target of bullying from my peers at school and affected me in such a negative way that coming out of the fourth-grade year into the summer—there were about two weeks left of summer left—we’re sitting down at the breakfast table, my mom and dad, my two other siblings, and my mom asked the question to all of us as kids, “Are you guys ready to go back to school?” And she says she remembers the terror that came over my face, and I remember it as well, just thinking about there was no way I could go back and face another year of that. And again, you know, I was more afraid of living through that again than I was of dying. And at that moment, destroyed, I became suicidal.
“I was more afraid of living through that again than I was of dying.” – Dave Pittman, on being bullied as a child with Tourette Syndrome
Later that afternoon, my mom and dad left the house to run an errand, and I went back to my bedroom and got a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote down, “Mom and Dad, I love you. I’m gonna miss you.” And I had drawn, a frown face with tears rolling down it. And then I went into my mom and dad’s room and shut and locked the door. My other siblings were in a different part of the house. I put the note face up, and I got my father’s gun, and was literally about two seconds away from pulling the trigger [when] I heard the front door of our home open up, and a Mom and Dad come home. It was a little bit earlier than I expected. They proceeded down the hallway and knocked on the door. In the meantime, I’m scurrying around to get all of the things back together. I turn the note face down. Finally, I let them in, and they proceeded to ask me, “Dave, what were you doing in here with the door locked?” And, you know, I was silent.
My mom sees the piece of paper on the floor, in the middle of the floor, and she turns it over. And to her horror, she sees what’s written on the other side, and she just loses it. At that point, I lost it as well, because all those feelings from the year before just kind of came up and out, you know, things that I wasn’t open [about]. We all had a moment there, in the middle of their bedroom floor. We just cried and prayed together.
I received some counseling, and my mom and dad decided to pull me out of public school going into the fifth grade to homeschool me for that fifth-grade year. And I remember during that year, my mom—both my parents—just drilled into my head and my heart the importance of accepting yourself for who you are, and not just who you are, but who you are in Christ, your identity, who you’ve become in your walk with Christ. And she used the example of Paul and the thorn in his flesh in the Bible. When Paul asked God to remove it three times, God’s answer to him every time was, “My grace is sufficient enough for you. My power is made known through your weakness.” And for whatever reason, that stuck with me.
”My mom—both my parents—just drilled into my head and my heart the importance of accepting yourself for who you are, and not just who you are, but who you are in Christ, your identity, who you’ve become in your walk with Christ.” – Dave Pittman
Finding a New Identity in Music
For me, music—for whatever reason, I noticed that when I was singing, the tics and Tourette’s would not be present. For me, it was kind of a safe haven, a comfort, just to able to sing and have it not affect me. Since I love to do it anyways—I love to sing and use my talents that way—it just made it all the better when I would sing, and I wouldn’t suffer for that two and a half minute song.
I was part of the school band, you know, through junior high and high school, and [I did] choir as well. They wanted me to sing, and I sang “The Way You Look Tonight.” Other than a few talent shows here and there that I did, it was my first thing outside of the church that I did. And people really responded to that, and it was great. I was like, Man, I really want to try and do this when I get out of school. I didn’t know how I’d do that at all, but I was like, I’ve gotta try and pursue music.
So I graduated high school and didn’t have plans to go to college, because I just didn’t see schools in the future for me. So I moved two and a half hours away from my hometown, and I was working three jobs trying to make ends meet. Things weren’t happening.
Long story short, I got an opportunity to receive a full-tuition scholarship to go sing in college, to sing a male trio in college. And I was a part of that group for four years and graduated in 2004 with a religion degree.
But finishing that school in 2008, I wanted to pursue music as my career. I just didn’t know, again, how I would do that. I moved back home temporarily, back in Arkansas from Virginia to pursue that. Branson, Missouri, was about an hour and a half north of where I grew up in Arkansas, and so I auditioned for a few shows there in Branson. Some of them seemed promising, but just really never panned out.
Around that time, my dad asked me, “Have you thought about trying out for American Idol?” And I said, “Well, sure.” You know, I loved watching the show throughout the seasons and throughout the years, but he brought that up to me. Why not? I wasn’t married at the time, so I was like, “Let’s go do this.”
I drove by myself, for seven and a half hours, down to Dallas, Texas slept in line there to audition. It was a crazy, crazy audition process. You know, I went over three months, the audition process once. I went down, my very first time was in June, and then I went the next [time] and got through that round. And then the next round was in July. Then in August, I found out I was going to Hollywood at that point.
There were 180 of us that went to Hollywood, and I made it to the top seventy and was cut group round. But it was an amazing experience. I mean, to be on a show of that caliber, it was just very humbling. So many people that I auditioned with were as good or better than I was. And so it was really just God’s favor for me to be able to be a part of a show like that. So I was very, very grateful.
While I was on the show, Neil Patrick Harris was one of the guest judges during the road audition for that year. He made a comment to me, he said he thought I was, “crazy brave for getting in front of thirty to forty million people with Tourettes.” And so after the show, in 2010, I decided to further my career and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I sat down with Steven Dow and wrote a song called, “Crazy Brave,” which was the title track to my album Crazy Brave. And we toured that for about three and a half years, and it was amazing the opportunities that God opened up for me at that point.
Helping Others with Your Story
I was doing a lot of dates in schools. A lot of schools across the country asked me to come in and share my story of how I’d overcome obstacles.
I remember a particular junior high student—a boy who came up to me after I had shared my story in a school. And he said, “You know, two days before you came, I, too, was gonna take my own life. And my girlfriend encouraged me to not do that, but just to hold on a little longer.” And then I’d come to share my story, and he said, “Dave, I completely get it. Now, I understand why,”
This particular boy had been in trouble with the law, he was junior-high age, and he had behavioral issues that he had struggled with. And it turns out that he was diagnosed with dyslexia, and he was living in fear for what people might think of him like I was. So his go-to was to put others down and act out to make himself feel better.
This particular junior high boy was, in this case, the bully, but his circumstance was dyslexia. He didn’t know how to deal with it and had the best way he knew how was to pick on other people. And he said after I came and shared my story, “I totally get why I was doing what I was doing.” He said, “I’m going to be more upfront with it now. And you know, you completely changed the way I viewed it. You’ve ultimately helped save my life, because I didn’t know how—I didn’t want to live anymore because of it.”
I can’t count on both hands how many people, students like him, were suicidal. But because I came, it changed their outlook.
“It’s Still Okay to Ask Why”
After three and a half years, we were working fourteen, eighteen-hour days—I was exhausted, and just kind of burned out, so I decided to take a long break. I think my last concert was in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2013. And I got off the road, and I just took a long break and God began to work on my heart.
I got into God’s Word like I never had before. I just started reading and getting to know God even more. I’d heard about Jesus Calling for a long time. I’d seen everybody’s library or bookshelf filled with a Jesus Calling somewhere in, like, every home that I’ve been in. I’ve read a few devotionals from there. I do. I do love the devotional and what Jesus Calling is doing.
Sometime during that break, I got married to my beautiful wife, Chelsea. And after we were married, we started talking about album number two. And I started to do a Christian album at that time. And it was my last album, Different Kind of Love.
After getting married and having that break, God just began to break my heart for the church, and I just wanted to encourage the body of Christ, and those who didn’t know Him, with what God had done in and through my life, and that this was of Him and not of me. And so that’s ultimately what made the decision to transition over to CCM and do a faith-based album. And plus, I had tons of fans asking me when I was going to do a Christian album, you know? So I did it. It was about a three and a half, four year period that it took to complete the album.
I think it’s okay to ask why, even now, because Job did. We look at Job in the Bible, he asked God, “Why? Why is this happening to me?” And as long as we come to a point of faith and trust at the end of it [and say], “Yeah, God, we don’t understand what’s going on, why you’re allowing me to walk through this,” whatever that is. But we can trust that He has a plan. It’s Romans 8:28, “God works all things together for our good, for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.” That is one of my life verses, that and Proverbs 3:5–6, “Trust the Lord with all your heart, not on your own understanding, but in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He’ll direct your paths.” And James 1:2—those are my verses, my favorite verses.
“I think it’s okay to ask why, even now, because Job did. We look at Job in the Bible, he asked God, ‘Why? Why is this happening to me?’” – Dave Pittman
I think it’s okay to ask why. You know, I don’t ask why much anymore, but it’s because I’ve come to accept it and embrace it. Anyone can accept something they have to do, but when you can embrace something that you get to do, it’s different. It changes things. For me, it changed. I get to do this now, but because God’s gonna get the glory for it. He gets more glory out of me having it than He does if I didn’t. So that’s okay with me.
“Anyone can accept something they have to do, but when you can embrace something that you get to do, it’s different. It changes things.” – Dave Pittman
Narrator: You can learn more about Dave’s music by visiting his website, DavePittmanLive.com. You can also see Dave as part of our new YouTube series called “What’s Good?” on the Jesus Calling You Tube Channel at YouTube.com/JesusCallingBook.
Stay tuned to Briana Domenica’s story after a brief message.
Coming soon: Jesus Listens, the New Prayer Devotional from Sarah Young!
Many of us want to develop a deeper prayer life. In this new 365-day prayer devotional, Jesus Listens, Sarah Young offers daily prayers based on Scripture that will help you experience how intentional prayer can connect you to God and change your heart. Learn more about Jesus Listens and download a free sample at jesuscalling.com/jesuslistens.
Narrator: Our next guest is Christian singer Briana Domenica, a suicide prevention activist who has suffered through the losses of three family members to suicide. Briana is vulnerable about her past struggles with suicidal tendencies and how she started to turn her pain into purpose by pouring her heart and soul into music—hoping she can uplift others and encourage an environment of positivity and love.
Briana Domenica: I am Briana Dominica, a contemporary Christian singer, songwriter, speaker, and suicide prevention activist who is trying to use the gifts God has given me to turn a painful past into purpose and use it for His good.
Losing three family members to suicide has definitely taken a toll on both my mental health and my faith. For several years, I was just so broken and angry and lost and filled with this unimaginable grief and pain that I had no clue how to control or manage.
Honestly, when I was in the middle of it, I didn’t know how I was going to get through. But I took it one day at a time because I knew the alternative of self-harming and possibly even taking my own life was not an option. My parents had already lost one child, and I was not going to be the reason they lost another. So the resources that were most helpful for me were actually counseling, music, and rediscovering my faith and seeking that one on one personal relationship with God.
Finding God’s Love within the Darkness
Losing my sweet brother David to the choice of suicide was an absolute nightmare. I couldn’t wake up from it, and I never would.
I remember the moment we got the call and I could hear my mother’s screams from the kitchen. She told me that David had taken his own life, and at that moment my heart broke into a million pieces, my whole world just was crumbling and there was nothing I could do to control it. David wasn’t just my brother, but he was my best friend and my hero, and my protector. And I was never going to see, hug, or hear his voice ever again.
And not only was I going through this unimaginable grief at such a young age—I was only sixteen at the time—but I was also being bullied in middle and high school and having people tell me that I wasn’t good enough. Eventually, you begin to believe those negative comments, and most of my days ended in tears. I truly believed I was worthless, that I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t talented, I wasn’t smart, I wasn’t cool. No matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I fit in. But my parents were going through so much already, having lost a son and going through their own grief journeys, that I suffered silently but not painlessly. The pain had to go somewhere and it did.
If you look closely, you can still see the scars on my wrist. In the quiet of my bedroom or bathroom, I would use toenail clippers, scissors, basically anything sharp I could find to cut and carve my skin, just desperate to control that pain and heartache I was feeling. And I dealt with this hopelessness for four years until my aunt Linda noticed the cuts on my wrist. She kissed them and she told me I was worthy, loved, and a child of God. That conversation not only saved my life, but it encouraged me to get the help that I so desperately needed.
“I dealt with this hopelessness for four years until my aunt Linda noticed the cuts on my wrist. She kissed them and she told me I was worthy, loved, and a child of God. That conversation not only saved my life, but it encouraged me to get the help that I so desperately needed.” – Briana Domenica
When We Raise Our Voices, Others Find Hope
Suicide is a permanent fix for a temporary problem and is 100-percent preventable. However, there is such a stigma around suicide and people contemplating suicide that they are weak, flawed, or selfish, but that just isn’t the case. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, husbands, wives, friends, loved ones who are in desperate need of help. A lot of times they don’t want to die, they just want their pain to stop.
So I think simply starting a dialogue can combat that stigma because unless we start a dialogue, we will never see change. And I want people to know that they are not alone. There is help, but most importantly, there is hope. And I love this acronym for hope: hold on, pain ends.
“I think simply starting a dialogue can combat that stigma because unless we start a dialogue, we will never see change. And I want people to know that they are not alone. There is help, but most importantly, there is hope. And I love this acronym for hope: hold on, pain ends.” – Briana Domenica
It also says in Psalms 23, “Even though I walk through the valley…” Through is such an important word that I’ve learned over the years because it doesn’t say we’re going to stay in the valley. But we’re going to walk through it.
God Can Move Us From Darkness to Light
I’m trying to use these family tragedies and my own personal struggle to turn this pain into something positive. And I took the first step in doing that in May of 2016 when I started my 501(c)(3) nonprofit Angel in the Sky, whose focus is suicide prevention and awareness through education, music, and sharing my own personal experience. It’s like it says in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” And after a lot of darkness and grief, I truly felt God calling at my heart to use this and share my story and turn it into something positive and shine a light on suicide awareness, but also use it as a springboard not only for my own hope and healing but for the hope and healing of others.
Everyone’s journeys are different, but moving from a place of darkness to light is possible. All you need is a little faith, even if it’s the size of a mustard seed. Take it one day at a time, speak up, and reach out, because help and hope are available.
“Everyone’s journeys are different, but moving from a place of darkness to light is possible. All you need is a little faith, even if it’s the size of a mustard seed. Take it one day at a time, speak up, and reach out, because help and hope are available.” – Briana Domenica
We Are Called to Support One Another
I am so excited to share with you a little bit about my Warrior In Me outreach program. It focuses on educating people on preventative measures, risk factors, warning signs, healthy coping mechanisms, and available resources, because whether you are suffering from mental illness, addiction, anxiety, depression, whatever it is, suicide is not an option or a way out. One of my favorite quotes is, “Suicide doesn’t end the chance of life getting worse. It eliminates the possibility of it ever getting any better.”
I will never forget the first time that I saw my work directly impact someone’s life. A friend of mine reached out saying he was in a dark place, and I took the necessary steps to get him immediate help. And I’m happy to report that he sent me a note a while back thanking me for saving his life. Being able to serve God and bless others in the process is such a beautiful thing and I’m so honored to have the opportunity to do that.
I became familiar with Jesus Calling actually through my nana and my mom. They would read the Jesus Calling devotionals every morning during their prayer and meditation time. And it really personally, for me, helped me in my journey of rediscovering my faith and developing that one on one personal relationship with God that I was talking about earlier. And it was one of the first, if not the first devotional I ever read. So it always has a special place in my heart.
I’m going to share a passage with you from the September 4th day, and I hope it encourages you as it has encouraged me.
IN CLOSENESS TO ME, you are safe. In the intimacy of My Presence, you are energized. No matter where you are in the world, you know you belong when you sense My nearness. Ever since the Fall, man has experienced a gaping emptiness that only My Presence can fill. I designed you for close communication with your Creator. How I enjoyed walking in the garden with Adam and Eve before the evil once deceived them! When you commune with Me in the garden of your heart, both you and I are blessed. This is My way of living in the world—through you! Together we will push back the darkness, for I am the Light of the world.
Narrator: To learn more about Briana and her music, please visit brianadomenica.com. If you or someone you love is struggling, help is available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you’d like to hear more stories about facing dark thoughts and finding healing in God, check out our interview with Chad Robichaux.
Larry Fleet: I can tell you right now where I do most of my praying and talking to God. That’s in a deer stand or a hayfield or on a boat, you know, like whenever I’m outside. I do a lot of driving from Chattanooga to Nashville, a lot. And that’s kind of where I talk to God.