The Ghost of Past haunts me at night. As I drift off to sleep, I slip into the gentle dreams of an innocent child. Then; charging in with a roar, the Ghost of Past invades my tender fantasies.
He brutally drags me from my warm covers. I scream and fight him, to no avail. He pulls my unwilling frame down dark, twisting corridors; through tormented memories that yet burn, flames blister my skin. A bottomless pit of pain awaits me at the end of the obscure hallway and Past dumps me there on my butt. Sweating from the heat and crying with fear, I fight the numbness that weighs my body down. Cruel paralysis traps me here, in this tortured hallway created by Nightmare.
But wait! What evil ghost is this? Ghost of Shoulda. “Oh Angel,” he moans, “you shoulda done better, if only you had, why didn’t you?” “I did my best!” I scream in his ugly face. “But you still failed!” he says with delight. His hideous voice cuts through my anger and goes straight to my grief.
“You belong to me now and your dreamscapes are mine to wander. My power grows,” he gloats. “Remember that day when I sauntered into your thoughts when you were wide awake?”
“I popped into your head as you showered, and memories rose unbidden. I brought you to your knees and you fell and sobbed as the water went down the drain. Dirty, filthy water swirled around your body and washed the smile from your face.”
I rage at him insanely until I begin to retch. He smiles.
His accomplice, the Ghost of Regret, walks up to us. He approaches slowly because he has all the time in the world at his command. They both roar with laughter as Regret chokes me.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
Keeping his hands around my neck, he sits on my chest. Regret is so heavy.
Blackness surrounds me, tragedies from my past flash across my mind, flash cards from Regret’s Hall of Pain.
Weeping, I am in no shape to fight the Spirit of Guilt, as he steps out from behind the Ghost of Regret, shoving Regret off my chest.
My hero, Guilt does not laugh in my face; he simply sits there with me while I cry. He offers to hold me. I know if I let Guilt put his comforting arms around me, accept his deceitful promise that he can console me, I will be lost. Still, Guilt’s arms entice me. The image of Guilt, holding me close, is seductive. It would be so easy to give up and I could blame Guilt.
Guilt is no stranger to me. He and I have fought to near death (mine of course) and although I can send him away, I cannot annihilate him.
His companion, the Black Cloud of Despair (as always) is right behind him. As I glance over Guilt’s bony shoulder, I see that Despair is getting ready to settle in for the duration. He shakes out his moldy tent and drives the stakes into my heart.
“Hey,” I scream at him, “get the hell out of here! I haven’t given up yet!” Ignoring me, he just continues to settle in, taking the tools of his trade from his abysmal, black bag.
I have never won this battle with Past and Despair is so sure that there will be a place for him in my heart, he just ignores my curses.
Sighing, he declares, “I don’t know why I even bother to pack up and move out, Angel. I know that you never last long without us.” He moans softly and settles down all around me, like a blanket of heavy, gray fog.
I look down at my trembling hand and I see a key. The very key that unlocked the door that Past rushed through. “Damn it!” I shout. “I let them in again; it was me who gave them access to my soul.”
In the distance I see a glowing inferno.
Dragging my ghosts, I struggle, crawling towards the flame. The warmth beckons me, draws me closer. If only I can reach the fire, I will throw myself and these unholy demons into the flames!
I haven’t much strength left, but with a last, gut wrenching expenditure, I reach the funeral pyre. Leaning towards its center, I let the orange and blue flames lick at my hands, blistering my fingers.
At first, the pain feels good and it soothes me with its fiery warmth. I close my eyes, at peace, ready for the final sleep. The last nightmare.
Then a fiercer pain invades my lethal lethargy and terror fills my soul. Here we are again, at the edge of distinction. They have led me to this fiery pit and instead of breaking free, I have, once more, allowed them to motivate my unrelenting descent.
The Wisp of Future taps me on the shoulder. “Excuse me for interrupting your pity party, but I have something you need to see before you end it all.”
I see the Spirit of Hope standing there beside him. Our eyes meet but then Shame slaps my face and I can’t meet Hope’s eyes. Hope stays silent.
Future flashes my children’s faces across my mind. They are standing around my grave, and their faces reflect deep anger. They are crying.
If I give up, my suicide will be their legacy.
It won’t matter to them how long or how hard I have fought this bitter war. All they will see is my defeat and my surrender.
Pulling back from the roaring inferno, I struggle to free myself from my ghoulish companions.
One by one, my demons take their hands off me and my strength returns. They know that for tonight, it’s over. They have lost control.
I wake up shivering and shaking, afraid of tomorrow. My familiar bedroom now surrounds me like grey prison walls. There is no comfort here.
How many nights must I fight this battle, over and over? Why do I fight?
I fight to save my children and my family the torturous pain of my suicide. I fight for the chance to hold my precious grandchildren once more in my arms. To see their smiles, to feel their hugs. To feel the warmth of their untainted love flowing into my cold and weary soul.
I live for the nights when I am not haunted. I live because the Spirit of Hope and I used to walk hand in hand; inseparable; until I let Grief and Guilt tear me away from him. I live because I can see Hope and although he now walks just beyond my reach, he is beckoning to me, pleading with me to believe, to remember, to follow.
I live because I know that if I keep fighting my ghosts, I can catch up to Hope and once more we will laugh and play, dancing together beneath the summer rains.
Until then, I will continue to fight.
I wrote this 17 years ago and reading it with today’s eyes, showed me how far I’ve come, by the grace of God.
Recently, my nephew lost his battle with the family illness, alcoholism.
He was the oldest grandchild in our family and the very first baby I fell in love with, a passion that has stayed with me ever since. My three siblings and I have never lost a child, so this is a first for us and we are struggling to accept that he is really gone.
Although I was only 12 when he was born, my sister asked me to be his godmother. He was a gorgeous baby and by the time he was a year old, he had long blonde curls all over his head. I loved those curls. When he got his first haircut, I was devastated. I begged his mom not to cut his curls, but his dad thought he looked girly and he insisted on the haircut. I remember being so mad at both of them and I remember crying for days over the loss of his baby curls.
My sister lived at home when he was born, so he and I spent many nights snuggling and playing. I remember his colic and I remember all the nights I held him close to my body so my warmth could relax his hard little tummy, always walking him because he would cry as soon as I sat down.
He knew he had a problem with alcohol and he fought this disease with all his might, with every ounce of strength he had and he never gave up the struggle, fighting his demons until the last day.
My sister, his mom, used to dream that I was lost and that I was being dragged under in a swamp filled with snakes and monsters. After I became sober at age 23, she never had that dream again. I always say that she and her church friends prayed me sober against my will but the truth is that God does have a plan for each of us and He alone knows the reasons. We were not able to pray my nephew sober.
Yet, our human nature wants answers. God must get so sick of people at the Pearly Gates asking, “WHY?”
I want to ask, “Why me and not him? Why me and not my daughter?”
I prayed my heart out for my nephew, talked to him for several hours about how sobriety was possible for anyone, if it was possible for me. It just wasn’t in the Plan for him.
God doesn’t give us everything we ask for and He did give us Free Will. He also says no and maybe. My nephew was a no, my daughter is a maybe.
Right after Robbie’s death, my sister said that if his death saved one person, it would be a comfort to her. That happened so quickly that my head is still spinning. Another nephew was at home, sick, while his mom was at my sister’s house.
He is a recovering drug addict but lately he has been drinking, a lot. Beer with shots of vodka, the same poison that killed his cousin. He got nervous after he found out about his cousin because his eyes were turning yellow and his urine was dark brown. He went to the emergency room the next morning and he is now in intensive care. His spleen is swollen and his liver is inflamed. His cousin’s example made him go to the hospital and hopefully, with God’s grace, he made it there in time. (He is home and doing much better now.)
Life. It is what it is and it’s not always a picnic in the sunshine.
But if we could only remember that we make our own sandwiches and that we choose the drinks that we pour down our throats, that we pick the poisons that we put into our bodies, if we could remember that God can only work with what we give him, that He won’t force Himself on us, if we could remember that we are given choices, maybe there would be more addicts receiving a yes and less addicts destroying themselves and hurting everyone that loves them.
My sobriety is the greatest gift God ever gave me and I don’t know why me and not my nephew, why me and not my daughter.
During the coming days, as I try to comfort his mother, my sister, and as I mourn the loss of this man that I have loved since his birth 48 years ago, I will pray for courage, I will pray for strength and I will continue to pray for my Maybe Girl.
You are welcome to join me.
I look down at her limp body.
She is face down on the large bed, alone. Her fine, blonde hair is like a halo around her head as she lies so still on the brown, patchwork quilt.
As I watch her, I am sobbing. I don’t understand my gut wrenching tears. Why am I crying tears of desperation and tears of terror? I don’t know why I am hysterical and then, with a sudden sense of horror, I realize that it is my body on the quilt and I am not breathing. My body is cold. I am dead.
“Oh my God,” I think. “She finally did it, she really did it this time and there’s no rescue, there’s no turning back.”
“Why did she give up?”
“I don’t want to be dead!”
At this point, I no longer feel connected to the woman on the bed. I think of the body as her and I am me.
I have no memory of her final act, but I am filled with shame and loathing at what she has done. I’d always thought that death would release me from her unending pain; now, seeing what really happens, I am horrified.
All that I can feel is her hurt and my disgust.
“Why did she give up?” I moan. “How could she do this terrible thing without my permission?”
I sob even harder because now I understand that death doesn’t release me from her despair. No, on the contrary, I’d carried her burdens with me to this nether world. All I’d lost was her body and her ability to change her life. If only she had known.
Now, I could spend eternity roaming this sphere, trapped with the emotions I’d carried from her physical realm of reality, caught at that moment in time when she’d given in to hopelessness, surrendered to depression.
I feel enormous regret. I want to be alive! I want to go back and keep on trying.
I didn’t give up. She did!
I have no memory of my physical death. Where was my vote in such an important decision? I, her very soul, I have been forced from her body without my permission.
It doesn’t seem fair and I am so angry. This is a horrendous experience. I hate it! Floating above her dead physical form, I want to shake her, scream at her, but what good would it do?
How could she have done this irreversible deed? I, the very essence of her existence, I did not have a choice, no voice in the matter of her physical demise.
Now there truly is no hope and no escape from the emotional blows she’d been dealt. She was free but I, her inner being–I am condemned to carry her pain through this new plane of reality.
I feel doom such as she could’ve never imagined. No person still in possession of their body could begin to conceive the shock I feel, awakening on the other side with all of her pain still weighing down my soul; amplified by the powerlessness of being separated from the body that had housed my substance for almost forty-two years.
She had given up and her pain was my prison! Death isn’t a release!
“Oh God,” I cry, “if only she had known that, but now it’s too late.”
I wonder how her family and her friends are taking it.
At once, before the thought is even finished, I feel my spirit surrounded by them.
I am crushed. I taste their anger, their pain, their guilt and their shock at her selfish act. Their unbearable fury and their horrible sadness are added to the emotional load I already own.
Unseen, I cower beside them, burdened more than ever, dirty and ashamed.
Why hadn’t she realized that suicide was not her answer? What would it have taken to show her this celestial space, this spiritual prison? Didn’t a glimpse of this possible netherworld ever enter her thoughts; didn’t it ever trickle into her conscious mind?
I can’t describe the distress I feel, the grief that showers over me as I watch the chaos created by her self-inflicted slaughter.
I want to live! I want to live!
Sobs wrack my ghostly form as fruitless tears exhaust my ethereal energy. I begin to float and I lose touch with my being. I am losing all conscious thought.
My eyes open. I am crying, disoriented and lying face down on my familiar, brown patchwork comforter. Could it be?
I reach for my face with my hands.
My fingers touch my warm, living flesh.
I am alive! It was only a nightmare. Thank God!
But wait, was it just a nightmare? Perhaps I’d left my body and traveled to the other side. Perhaps I’d been given a horrifying warning. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had traveled a far distance, that for a time I had left the material world behind. Tears rolled down my hot cheeks, tears of gratitude. I still had a chance and I still had a choice.
However, now I know. I don’t have forever to catch my star, to work through my conflict.
I get up from the bed, shaking with relief. I am alive! Another chance to heal, to forgive myself and to fulfill my destiny, another chance is mine.
I understand, perhaps for the first time, that the emotional baggage I choose to carry on my back, the pain that I’ve refused to let go of–it could all travel with me into the hereafter.
In fact, my baggage would weigh more than ever because the anger and the grief that my suicide would cause my family and friends, that weight would also be laid upon my spirit.
I am alive! I don’t want to waste this chance to heal my broken heart and somehow; I know, nightmare or spirit travel, this was a final warning from my Creator.
Post note: This was an extremely real experience. Jeanne Marie, 1995
She changed after he died and God knows, she was strange enough before his death, but then he died and she melted into nothing, shuffling down the hallways clothed in someone else’s skin and we all realized that we were losing her and there was nothing to be done because we could see that her soul had fled with him into the death tunnel, even as her lungs continued to breathe and her blood continued to pump, even as she slept, as she walked, as she drew breath; yes, this woman in our mother’s body was now a stranger and even though we had all suspected that she still loved him as much as she hated him, we really didn’t know and we couldn’t have imagined the depth or the width of her self-imposed restraint and we never saw the chains that she had wrapped around her feelings, no, not until we saw how the grief broke her, watched the sorrow loosen her clenched pain, saw the anguish strip away her self-control, screaming silently as her imprisoned mind flung itself free, breaking like a child as she mourned his passing, regretting what could have, should have and never would be because now, all hope was annihilated as they lowered his body into the ground and we cried for him not knowing we should also be crying for her because he was dead and she was alive and he was gone so it was over, nothing could ever be fixed, repaired, restored or renewed and death, his death, the death of her first love, our father’s death, had written the final chapter of their insane love story, a fatal romance that had self-imploded thirty-five years ago, but did not die until the day he passed, dead and done and so this, his death, this was the tragic end of a waltz that should have been sat out because the band had played the wrong song, composing a doomed allegiance from the very first chord and we should have known, but how could we have known that his death would drain the spirit from her, crush her so totally and now, now we have to decide…shock treatment or lobotomy?
Christmas is hurtling toward me again. My fifty-third Christmas season. The emotional burden of Christmas Past swoops down from the twinkling lighted trees and brightly lit homes that surround me. The blue and red flashing bulbs wring me out until I resemble a soiled, sour dish rag. I resist the waves of regret and remorse, work and work on my computer until my shoulders are on fire, EBay until my arms are no longer able to function. Work around the house until I can’t trust my twisted, deceitful hands (hands which used to be so petite, so pretty) to hold a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm coffee without letting it fall to the floor.
I’m tired. It’s time to lie down and accept my lashes. Lashes of regret for all the loved ones whom I’ve hurt, for all the loved ones who have slashed me with the tree switch of dysfunction, my remorse that has no cure, my rage that burns inward, my self-destructive urges to destroy the vessel that encloses my anguish. My sobs break free, my muscles clench, my flesh trembles from the anguish of forcing the traumatic memories back down; but still I see the cherished faces of nanas, grandfathers, mothers, daughters, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, fathers, sons, lovers and friends.
My ties bind me to people whom I’ve lost to foolish games; codependent lies, contaminated love, mine and theirs.
Each time I close my eyes, Past flashes me like a crazy pervert naked beneath his raincoat. Therein lies Justice because there is no place to hide from myself and myself is where Past lives.
I try my meditation. Relax my entire body starting with the top of my head, working down to my toes. Picture a warm pot of honey and Pooh Bear with a fluffy, yellow dipping wand. He encloses me in a cocoon of warm honey, swirling his sweet warm around me, gently starting at my head. Pooh doesn’t make it past my shoulders before I shove him aside.
I want to slice the pain away, run to the bathroom, and take a razor to my wrists until I have slashed through the skin that protects my veins. I want to cut and slice until the unbidden, unwanted memories Past forces on me leave me alone, my brain waves registering a zero.
But I can’t. After numerous botched suicide attempts, I’ve decided that life is an obstacle course with Heaven as my reward and I’ll pass God’s test if I don’t kill myself or any one else. Therefore, I am trapped, imprisoned in Earth’s orbit, each moment reminiscent of a corny Star Trek film where Captain Jim can’t break free from the aliens. I am captured by that damn, “Thou shall not kill-anyone!” clause.
So; instead, I cry raggedly into my poodle’s soft pillow which he left behind when he followed his daddy to bed. I wrap my little girl Barbie blanket over my arthritic swollen joints and I weep.
I remember the carefree crazy days when I carried two razors at all times, one in my left shoe and one tucked into my size 36 AAA bra so I’d always be prepared to self-destruct at a moment’s notice. (I broke that habit when I sliced open my pregnancy induced 38 C breast by roughly pulling off my bra before I removed the blade.)
That night, I put down the bottle too, cause hell, I was high enough on impending motherhood and each time I drank, I wanted to kill me or the baby’s daddy, maybe both.
I wasn’t able to put down the Southern Comfort the next time around, and although the scar on my mature breast has faded, my second baby still bears the thumb print of my addiction on her forehead.
Past is a stubborn, relentless enemy. He sucks, he tears and he drains, he holds me prisoner under the soft lie of a safe Barbie blanket. I wet her smiling pink face with my faucet of tears.
I get up to get a tissue though, because not even Past can force me to wipe my snotty nose on Barbie’s Sweet-n-Low smile. She’s the dream, the hope and the promise. She’s the little girl still hiding inside my haggard, worn body. I drag my butt to the bathroom for the Angel Soft tissues.
Sleep would be a blessing because I’ve learned to stop my dreams by staying awake until I’m exhausted, but Awake won’t let me close my eyes.
By the way, I just had to stop writing to go back and edit all the sentences where I had slipped into second tense in this ménage a tale of woe, because that is how I distance myself from myself, a survival trick that I learned long ago to attain comfort in chaos.
I’ve surrounded myself with pink and yellow, but the blue remains. A three foot Barbie is decorating my pink Fiber Optic Christmas tree from the Dollar General, pink dolls drip from the branches, a pink and cream handmade afghan drapes over my night gown covered knees, sunflowers burst from sky blue and sunshine yellow vases. The window behind me is open and the sharp winter’s breeze cleanses my Marlboro filled lungs and airs out my smoky living room.
Still, inside I am black. My dark, tortured soul beckons to me and my gut begs me to give in to the insanity. “Just let go,” they whisper.
Psychiatrists say that the truly insane don’t even know it, so maybe I’m simply deranged, damaged goods, but either way, I keep a viselike grip on my minute drip of reason because I’m not going down that black hole alone again. Not even I am that brave.
I decide to stay sober for just one more day. I decide to stay alive for just one more day. After all, I’ve put together over thirty years of sobriety by promising myself, for just one more day. The dream. The hope. The promise. My Barbie blanket and me.