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. I would close my eyes and move my head to the side to try to pretend not to be there. But my mother spoke incessantly throughout those sessions, warning me not to fight, or to move, which unfortunately made it hard to avoid some awareness that I was being raped. As I felt my body responding to the oral sex stimulation, I was profoundly ashamed, and I would close my eyes tighter and shake my head rejecting the whole thing even as I had orgasms at the age of 3.
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. When I witnessed an animal being eaten alive on safari in Africa I collapsed into frantic hysterics.
As an adult, whenever I perceive any amount of spiritual darkness nearby, 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. Hotel rooms are really scary, because they are unknown beds. I rarely sleep, and I wake up 10 or more times every night and trudge to the toilet even though I never actually need to go. 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. If you try to sleep like I sleep you’ll wonder how in the world I ever sleep at all.
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’d 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 my mother sent me away, 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. At night when I am most afraid, 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 from my fear. In terror moments, and they happen multiple times every day for me, 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. In the beginning, when I was still in college, I disassociated when the terror came, which made me even more disoriented that I already am. Eventually I just learnt to live with the racing heartbeat and the jumping nerves.
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. It’s just very hard to pray when bad stuff is happening because it’s familiar and therefore comforting.
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. You can still do the things you do, but do them without shame, do them consciously. Evil cannot, literally, breach God’s presence. So if you can find a way to have God with you when you are being compulsive, you will experience that pain differently. It’s a categorical absolute that evil cannot penetrate good. Don’t try to be strong. Don’t try. To access this kind of healing 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. Don’t correct self hurtful behavior, you can’t. But you can expose it to God and let love kill that pain in its own fashion.