Your pain…is the experience of not receiving what you most need. It is a place of emptiness where you feel sharply the absence of the love you most desire. To go back to that place is hard, because you are confronted there with your wounds as well as with your powerlessness to heal yourself. You are so afraid of that place that you think of it as a place of death….You have to begin to trust that your experience of emptiness is not the final experience, that beyond it is a place where you are being held in love. — Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love (p 26)
Because of what had unfolded at church, as well as in other areas of my life, I found myself in a space of loss, confusion, and loneliness during the summer and fall.
In that space — the space of learning I’d been deceived by someone I cared deeply about; of losing my church, a community I thought I could rely on, a community with whom I had exchanged mutual commitments that I had done my best to honor; of feeling constantly terrified in my own home; of being perpetually off balance because I no longer knew whether I could trust my read of people — I encountered God.
It did not begin that way.
Six weeks before Raffi died, at the start of my summer vacation, I was told something related to this man that caused me to run full-tilt into very old, very deep trauma that I knew existed but wanted never to confront. In the deepest, darkest, most cobwebby corner of my cellar was a trapdoor fastened in place with rusty chains, and beneath that trapdoor lurked a monster worse than anything I’d conjured up when I wrote horror. Once in awhile he’d try to break out. I’d hear the chains rattle and his screams echo through the rooms of my life, but I’d crank death metal or Aggrotech and hold a dance party, or I’d write about fictional monsters, and sometimes people would triumph over them but sometimes the monsters would win. Either way I told myself I was in control.
When I was given this information, though, that illusion was shattered. I realized I needed to unlock the chains and open the trapdoor and name the monster who lived there. Because everything else in my life came to a screeching halt. I could not physically chew or swallow food at first, and eating remained difficult for months. I made it through my workouts literally clinging to the machines to stay on my feet. As I wrote about these things on my patio one night, I realized I had wet myself.
What I did not do was cut.
Because I finally knew where those urges came from. I finally understood why I hated myself so deeply that the only way to excise that hatred was to carve it into my skin. I finally recognized that the old sins I was punishing myself for, over and over, were not my old sins.
This is not to say I didn’t want to cut. Sometimes the urges were so powerful I literally screamed. Night after night, in every kind of weather, I loaded my dog into the car and drove to a park near my house. We’d sit for three or four hours at a stretch. I would cry and rage and challenge God. On clear nights I would sometimes open the sunroof and watch meteors fall or the moon rise. Other nights, fog would settle into the hollows and seep between trees. I breathed in sunsets that were maroon and pink, plum and navy. Egrets and herons, ducks and geese, turtles, the occasional fox and snake: all provided quiet companionship on those evenings and nights as I sobbed, shrieked, questioned, despaired.
All those hours at the park were hours I did not spend with Raffi. When he died, I wondered if he gave up because he thought I didn’t need him anymore. And then I wanted to cut because I thought I deserved to be punished. I thought that the worst things people had ever told me about myself, implicitly as well as explicitly, were true: I’m selfish, I’m thoughtless, I asked for it, I’m unworthy of love, I’m a black hole swallowing everything that’s good or generous or kind in the people and animals around me.
I got through without cutting, though. My counselor helped, and my friends helped, and understanding why I wanted to cut helped, too.
This fall I have spent many nights in that park, sitting with the questions. Why did I think a long-held dream was about to come to fruition, only to have my hopes crushed? Why did I find church again, only to lose it? Why did this one person have to hit all my triggers? Why did I have to go through this alone, without an intimate partner? But if I had an intimate partner, likely none of it would have happened, and it needed to happen so I could heal.