In adulthood I repeatedly dreamt I was in public without underpants on. In childhood I was required to spread my legs widely every night, and then they were held down while my mother performed long sessions of oral sex on me. I was not allowed to move or to speak. But she spoke throughout those sessions, warning me not to fight, or to move. As I felt my body responding to the stimulation, I was profoundly ashamed, and I would close my eyes and turn my head away, rejecting the whole thing even as I had orgasms. What I actually thought was that my mother was eating me alive. I thought I was being consumed, that I was actually disappearing as she feasted on me. I thought that eventually she would eat my whole body and I would die. Being eaten alive was abjectly terrifying.
As an adult, whenever I perceive any amount of spiritual darkness, someone lying, bad international news, a corporation doing the wrong thing – my Pavlovian response is utter terror. I react to relatively minor situations as if they were catastrophic. I also panic daily when the sun starts to set. Most of all I fear bed. I rarely sleep, and I wake up 10 or more times every night. When I do sleep, I always do so with my arms crossed around my chest, and then, on top of this, I sleep face down with a pillow on top of my head.
Fear is legitimate when you are helpless. I am not helpless. No one can hold me down or force me to do anything anymore. I’ve often said aloud, in situations, and sometimes in my heart, “You’ll have to kill me first.”
Unless I am actually in a situation that is utterly outside of my control, fear is a completely ineffective reply. But what I learnt about ineffective, persistent behaviors, and the seeming compulsion to perpetuate them, is that they are deviously familiar and therefore seem to offer comfort. The moment I was sent away from my mother, and the night rapes ended, at the age of thirteen, I began to consume massive quantities of caffeine. Given my exquisite sensitivity, my body replied with a hair trigger to that drug. Ultimately, before I stopped, I was drinking 24 cans of Diet Coke a day in an effort to reproduce the terror I understood.
Nothing ends until I decide it will. Terror was my mommy. I needed my mommy as a child so I thought if I could induce terror she would come back to me. None of this is logical. But before any behavior can be changed, it has to be thoroughly understood. Nothing anyone does is done without a very good reason, from causing chaos to fighting to eating to spending to gambling – you name it. There is always an excellent reason why someone is doing something. (A big moment for me was when I realized that the reason I don’t sleep is because I’m not trying to sleep. I’m trying not to sleep! Of course I’m very, very good at not sleeping.)
Terror is one of my many compulsions. Now when I feel it licking around the edges of my heart I stop and stay very still and ask God to hold me, I ask God to make sure I do not leave God. I say, out loud, “Don’t let me leave you. Don’t let me leave you.” No logic or self-control will talk me down. In those moments, and they happen multiple times every day, I am depending entirely on the prayers I’ve prayed that morning, including the simple prayer, “deliver me from evil” and the prayer I’m praying right then. I do not believe in any form of redemption that requires heroic acts of will. I’ve got incredible self discipline, it’s one of my greatest strengths, and never once have I been able to willfully overcome my compulsions. But, in moments when you are helpless, you can ask your Maker, the Lover of your Soul, to comfort you, to give you mercy, to hold you. God will, instantly. The moment that holiness covers you, you are unreachable to evil.
Become intimate with the things you do that hurt you and make no sense. They do make sense. Figure out what you are doing for yourself. Then, don’t try to stop. Don’t plan to control yourself. Instead, ask God to keep you with God, to hang onto to you, and then let God gather you in. Evil cannot, literally, breach God’s presence. It’s a categorical absolute. Evil cannot penetrate good. Don’t try to be strong. Don’t try. To access this kind of shield you must become increasingly intimate with the reason you do the things you do. Be unashamed of why. Be fearless about ferreting out your very good reasons for the crazy crap you do. Then you’ll start to see it coming. At that point you can use God to castrate evil. You will leave those moments feeling intensely beloved.