When you find yourself in the darkness - with just the thoughts your mind invents, is it scarier to have them at all - or that they start to make sense? - Erin Hanson
Story by anonymous.
I’m back here again, in that dark place. I find myself here so rapidly, without warning. As you know I’ve had a pretty horrific week. I don’t know what - if anything - triggered it, but it was bad, even by my standards. While I was in and out of consciousness and lucidity, my broken brain took me back into the past. My mind forced me to relive some of the things I’ve desperately tried to block out, but failed miserably to do so. I was also forced to face up to events I haven’t given any thought to for months - years even - but they still seem to hurt just as much as if they happened yesterday.
They say that we’re the master of our own destinies. That all of our thoughts and actions work together to manifest a particular outcome - one that we unconsciously desire. I don’t know how much I believe this to be true, but the concept is very soothing. The fact that the energy we use up thinking and acting will somehow come back to us in the future. I envy those with a rigid faith in God. Allah. Buddha. I envy those who so easily hand themselves over to some unknown greater good. To ask no questions, only accept what is and let it guide them. How peaceful that must be. To truly believe that this is all part of a grand plan. It must be so much easier to lie in the darkest hours each night and sleep. To close your eyes knowing that as long as you do what you’re supposed to - as long as you follow the rules - someone will watch over and protect you. Well, before I decided that the only person capable of protecting myself was in fact myself, I followed that rule. But nobody cared.
They also say that ignorance is bliss. That when you aren’t consciously aware of something, you can’t be troubled by it. For me, it wasn't ignorance that was bliss. I was nosy and I knew it all. It was detachment. This was where I found my bliss. When I was ‘detached’ I could be in any situation and around any type of person and remain completely in control of the way I felt. In other words, I didn’t feel anything at all. I was emotionally numb. I had detachment mastered by the time I was 10. And my god, did it come in handy. Detachment was my saviour. It became my religion.
The world can be one terrifying place, a large and overwhelming playground. But it's one that you have to push on through and play on. You must climb the monkey bars, fly on the swing, close your eyes and go down the slide. You collect so many cuts and bruises along the way, as children do, but cuts and bruises heal. One day I was playing on the playground - I was seven, almost eight. And I took a really bad fall. One that left a permanent scar right through center of my soul. I was shell shocked. And my world was never the same again. And now when I look at myself - years later - I notice that my body doesn't even feel like my own anymore. Everything changed that day. My innocence was stolen. I was a child. A childhood that should have been carefree and serene, was instead spent deciphering different ways of coping and clinging onto indifference. Writing this now, 22 years later, it’s still just as painful and traumatic, and it probably always will be. I wish it didn't hold this power over me but it does, because I have allowed it to.
It has always been imperative that my exterior remain the perfectly manicured mask that I created to exist in the world. This mask took on many forms, different shapes, told different stories. But all the versions of I created of myself had one key trait in common: they were in control. This made me a very lonely and isolated child, in many ways. I was harbouring a darkness, something even a fully adjusted adult would struggle to cope with. But I seemed so normal from the outside looking in - I had many friends, I was chatty, extroverted, precocious, outgoing. I did well at school, sport, art, everything that I tried. On the outside I was a normal, happy and healthy child. But no one looked at me for long enough to see the terror deeply etched in my face. Nobody locked their eyes with mine intently enough to see the overwhelming confusion and sadness. No one thought my tears were real. No one suspected that I was hurting that badly, because why would I be in pain? Everything was seemingly perfect. I couldn't find the words. I didn’t even know the words. Or I thought the words had already been silently spoken. So I decided then and there to stop crying. The tears stopped and I turned my terror and confusion into developing coping and defence mechanisms that enabled me to get me through the long and arduous days, and even longer nights. It didn't always work - some days I felt too much, other days nothing at all. I couldn't work out which was worse. But I began to silently fear everyone and everything and trust no one. My talents in manipulation, detachment and total disengagement had reached masterful levels by the time I was ten.
This worked, as I mentioned, for seven years or so. But then the hormones came for me. The estrogen flooded me and overwhelmed me, wreaking havoc on my nervous system and mental state. I was going through a fundamental shift in my personality, completely losing who I was at my core and becoming so detached that I was finding it hard to keep my guard up. I stopped sleeping. Weeks would pass when I wouldn't’ sleep or eat at all. I would have massive surges of energy, running in the middle of the night, furiously writing, sitting up in the dark all alone and talking to all the voices I began to hear. Making friends with some, becoming terrified of others. Learning to cope and function while hiding all of this was hard work. I knew how crucial it was to keep up appearances. If my Mother taught me anything, it was the importance of keeping up appearances. I became exhausted, weak and careless. I slipped up. One night I gave in to one of the more aggressive voices and found myself slashing my wrists. When I came to and realised what I had done, I was deeply ashamed. I felt weak. I felt disturbed. But I just wanted to make pain, I wanted to feel something real. I wanted to make sure that I was alive and that I really did have blood in my veins. I wanted to stop feeling dead. Half alive.
I desperately wanted everyone to see my pain, but I also put everything I had into hiding it. We are all so complex as humans, and people don’t know why we act the way we do. I was a ‘naughty’ child and constantly told I was attention seeking, dramatic, spoilt. And when those words were thrown at me I learnt that not only was I truly was broken, I should be further punished. It shut me down completely until I was struggling to function. I could not love, or be loved. And I learnt to hide my pain in many self destructive ways. Anything to feel real. Anything to make sure I was alive or to confirm that I was not in fact dead. I would cry over nothing at all (why did no one see my tears) or never. The tears just got stuck. The emotions were either too much or too little. I just existed in between the two extremes. And so death became tempting, too tempting. What if we feel something more, something else in the afterlife? The next phase? And so I began obsessing about wanting to die, so my pain was no longer torturing my every waking moment. My obsession with death was taking over. Maybe in death I would be safe.
When I was lying in the hospital last week, after yet another overdose and in between massive seizures, my mind long gone, I had no choice but to surrender to my subconscious. Lucid thoughts were becoming less and less frequent, and as always, my mind took me right back there. To the place I never want to be but can’t seem to escape. The hallucinations were brutal. I was there again, with him….I still remember that day, black Wednesday. I remember it like it’s still only fucking Thursday. I remember the light and the dark, the flashes, the screams. And I remember myself. Fading to black….
I must get off this train. I start to panic. I don’t know where to go or what to do. I don’t know where I am.
And then, suddenly, it erupts over me. I remember. I left him. I left him there.
I left him and I ran.
Get on the train. Close your eyes. Forget. In that order.
As these memories come crashing back into my head space, I relive it all again. How can this possibly be happening? He can’t really be gone. How can he be gone? Memories of dancing softly, feeling his breath on the back of my neck, tearing at the fraying edges of my heart. Never again will I see his smile curl upwards, as if him and I are the only ones who hold the answers to the secrets of the world. Never again will I see him roll over to block the sunlight out that creeps in every morning to remind us that there is a world outside, a living world. And that maybe we need to go and join it sometime. Never again will I hear the way his breathing would soften just after his hit, releasing his demons to the high. Never again will I see his eyes well with tears when he would dare to speak about his future, and again when he spoke of his past. Never again will he hold me and slowly melt into me, as if we were candle wax recreating the outlines to ourselves.
Will I ever get used to this silence? The dream of being in control? The greatest place I’ve ever been was with him. Him and our highs. This is one of the great ironies of using drugs. You use them to block and to erase. To go numb. But when the high runs out, the feelings that are left behind, the taste left in your mouth, well these things are simply unimaginable. And worse? You never learn. You repeat this mistake over and over. Until your days are consumed by blocking out all of the things you don’t want to remember, only to remember to forget them again.
My vision is returning. I’m regaining focus. But I know what I can see is not actually in front of me. My mind plays these tricks on me, but never before this cruel. I see him. I’m lying beside him. He’s gone already. I am still in blissful oblivion. I start to stir, to wake from my opiate-induced stupor. Then come the screams. The desperate screams. Begging. Pleading. Shaking. Crying. Then silence. Cold, hard silence. An endless moment - empty and full. I am reliving it. I am reliving this nightmare in the middle of a packed emergency room. But then I’m back on the train. Going nowhere. I must find out where we’re going. Does it even matter? Does anything matter now? I must get off now. Why won’t the train stop? I can feel it rising. Oh god, I can’t stop it. Here it comes. I lurch upwards from my seat, but I know it’s too late. I’m stumbling - my legs won't work properly. Everything freezes. I throw up. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. And then the ground rises up to meet me, swirling and colourful. The roof caves in on me and I’m buried.
Finally, I’m aware of the doors opening and hands touching me, carrying me, guiding me off the train. By no short means of a miracle, I’m on the platform, only vaguely vertical leaning heavily on the strangers holding me up. I can hear their voices, one seems to be taking charge. The sun is beating down on the back of my bent head. It’s so bright that I can’t open my eyes. I hear questions but no answers. I use every ounce of energy I have in my weak little body to not throw up again. It seems to work. Except, then it all goes black once more.
If I were to meet my 7 year old self today, what would I tell her? what would I say? Would I warn her of the future, of the shellshock around the corner, and of all the things yet to come? Or would I leave her alone, blissful in her naive ignorance? Because my 7 year old self believed the world to be a perfect place. Would she even recognize herself if she looked deep into this face? Even though I have learnt so much, I would give up everything I have, to see through her eyes again.
More hallucinations. Vivid flashbacks. Now I’m back in rehab. It’s my fourth day after being admitted.
Jacqueline. That was her name. Her story came next.
And nothing could have prepared you for what Jackie had to say.
Jackie sat in front of us. Morbidly obese. Covered in psoriasis. Bloated. Swollen. But totally unapologetic for her somewhat disturbing appearance. For herself and for her being.
She was a beast. But oh, she was such a beauty.
She went on to tell us about herself in such vivid detail it was impossible not to get swept away in the sheer tragic magic of it all. We all sat there, enthralled. We threw our own lives away, and for the next hour - we were Jackie. We were there with her. We became her. She used to be a model. For massive global fashion icons such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. She was one of those people. A cocaine loving, yacht partying, head turning beauty - cemented well above the rest of us in her glamour and grandeur. She was one of those that stood out from the rest. But as she told her tale, looks of disbelief fell upon the faces in the room. On she went. Without a single waver in her voice. On she went. She met a wealthy man on her international travels. She fell in love. They married. She was still on her feet, despite her cocaine blood. And she was prepared to bleed for him. Over and over again she drank him in. This superficial and controlling brute. She let him torture her. She had his child. She descended into chaos. She let him destroy her. An accomplished pianist, who spoke 5 languages and had a degree in philosophy and international politics. He bullied her. He beat her. He blamed her. And then he took her child. She fell, and she couldn't get back up. Rehab. Once, twice, a third time. This was her fourth visit.
She passed around photos from her modelling days, when she was in the prime of her youth.
The shock settled upon the room and its inhabitants like heavy bricks.
Every person, sat in such utter disbelief.
How could this beauty have become such a beast?
She was astonishing. Breathtaking. How could this be possible?
Twenty years on - she was hard to look at.
The drugs and alcohol she has abused - these roads she had walked for so long.
She looked ten thousand years old.
The scars on her, so visible.
On she went.
Telling us how it was. How it ended. How is should have been.
Her perfect life, forever soiled with blood stains that no bleach would remove.
Her son, now 11 years old.
No longer with her. But always hers.
She started to speak to us in German.
She started to lose herself.
She went back there. To that place no one should ever return to.
She took us with her.
We went, willingly.
She had us sitting in the palm of her hand.
Every single one if us, devouring her words.
Her loss. Her hope. Her pride. Her redemption.
Her public and painful fall from grace.
She was each and every one of us.
This was what is was all about.
Finding comfort in another's story. Another's sorrow. She looked to us - to the room.
What was she searching for?
Whatever she needed - I wanted to give it to her.
Tell us what you need from us - we will give it to you.
Her tears came. Thick and fast.
She was apologizing - to us - to her son - to the life she should have had.
And then it was over. She left. Exhausted. Drained. Nothing left in her.
And we sat in silence, until one of the therapists stood before us and asked us to stand.
We said the serenity prayer - for Jackie. For ourselves. For everyone in pain and for everyone suffering.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
We sat for a minute, and then we slowly began to leave the room. This room with its walls covered in clichés, in platitudes that fell on deaf ears, but with were fuelled with such good intention. These extreme words, carefully chosen to counteract the darkness of our lonely little lives. This room, where such despair made its way to the surface. Where we all sat and marinated in the sins of those before us, until we also could not breathe.
I left the room.
I went to my oak tree.
I sat underneath its natural and colossal beauty.
I clung to its allure, trying to breathe away the darkness that sat deep in my soul.
Jackie, Oh Jackie.
Are we all lost forever to our demons? Will we all end up a beast, broken and alone?
Our beauty lost forever to the villains that have chosen to take up residence inside of us?
I felt that all too familiar feeling creeping in.
Oh, that sweet sweet desire to chase nothingness.
For this was too much. This was too real.
And reality and I, well we didn’t get along.
I needed it - I needed something. I needed nothing.
I was defeated by someone else's’ pain, someone else's torment.
How completely faint-hearted of me. What an inadequate and flimsy human being I was.
God, what was I doing here? I can’t do this. What was I thinking?
I can’t let them see who I am - they can’t see me. They can’t know me. And then finally, sleep took over me. Took me far away.
I’m so tired. So tired of going round and round and getting nowhere. I know I’ll pull myself out of this, but right now I just want to give in to the exhaustion. I have no idea why Jackie came back to me, and what it means. I don’t know why I went back to that place decades ago when I learnt how to cut myself off from the world, or when I learnt how to make myself feel alive. I don’t know when I’lll stop reliving that awful Wednesday afternoon in Melbourne, when I’ll be able to talk about it without feeling like I want to throw up. Or that day I hurt myself on the playground and never recovered. There are so many things I don’t know, I don’t understand. I’m tired of hiding and tired of acting as though I have something to hide. When I look back over my shoulder, I feel the presence of an intense young girl and then a volatile and disturbed young woman. Both with high dreams and restless feet. But I know it’s time. It’s time to fix myself.
Some kind of nights leaves marks.
They leave marks on your clothes.
They leaves scars on your skin.
They leave wounds on your heart.
They leave tears in your soul.
And then these its these imprints, tattooed into the deepest essence of you as a person, that the rest of your growth is based around. It’s like a tumor. You are no longer in control of how your limbs and organs react and thrive around this tumor - this haunting growth. This dark tumour that will sit inside of you, until that day you decide to die. There will be memories, there will be photos, there will be cups of tea and talks of past times. Because this is how we grow old, these will all just be places where we’ve been, that we’ve seen. We walk onto the stage, read from the script and float into the next set of circumstances. But never, ever will this growth shrink. This is what mental illness is like. It never goes away, it’s an invisible tumour that resides deep inside, always threatening to take you to war with yourself.
I don’t deserve your love and constant understanding, but I will greedily devour it. Your bravery and fearlessness inspires me.
I adore you.