Sometimes two things happen almost simultaneously and where they would have brought sweetness and peace on their own, together they are force that break down the walls of the prison you’d built around yourself.
Yesterday, someone I was close to in high school, someone I’ve stayed in touch with through the years but am not particularly close to now, wrote to me to discuss a shared effort to get masks to more people during this pandemic. He ended his message with:
BTW, to me, you will always be Lisa, the girl I loved in high school.
I was touched to know that he loved me then and does so still. Also confused about my feelings to the response because I had never told him that I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and that Lisa was/is one of my alters. She was in control a lot during the time that I knew him and was wild and fun but also someone who left destruction in our wake. How could he have loved Lisa? I have done a lot of work to integrate her into my family of alters and she has not appeared at the front of consciousness for at least 20 years. I responded to his message with appreciation but also surprise. His response:
There was (and still is) a light in you that’s warm and inspiring.
I cried when I read it. A cry of relief and vulnerability. My therapist is relentless in pointing out that I have friends who’ve known me most of my life, through the good and crazy bad; friends who loved me then and love me now. She asks over and over again why I think that is. My response has been confusion. I can’t imagine how they could have stuck by me when I was out of control and hurting many of the people closest to me. I can surmise that they must have seen something special in me but the knowing of that just wouldn’t sink in past the protection I’ve put up around my heart.
I woke this morning with a tender heart, still very much touched by yesterday’s exchange with my friend. I checked my phone and saw a text from my best friend telling me that she’d gone out to check the cows this morning and one of them had given birth to a precious new calf. I started sobbing at the sweetness of the occasion and at the hope it brought to my heart.
Suddenly my mind and heart were online at the same time and were spinning with the processing of it all. Here’s this new, innocent creature, birthed in the midst of our human pandemic. Hope. And the answer to my question about why friends have loved me through all these long years. I may have been wild as a young woman, destructive even, but it was never from a place of malice. I started out as sweet and innocent as my friend’s new calf. But the things I suffered at my father’s hands, and later at the hands of other men, introduced a darkness into my uncomprehending being. I can’t fully understand how my mind turned it inwards, but the wave of feelings I experienced this morning told the story of a child who was faced with a radically unfair choice:
Find the strength to live seeing the immense darkness that dwelt in the world she was born into. A darkness that towered over her tiny frame; one she could not protect herself or her sister from.
Or, take that darkness into herself; believe that the unspeakable evil visited on her was deserved.
I see now that I chose the latter, because what else could I do? I could not make sense of a world in which evil lurked around every corner and could not be reigned in by anyone, no matter how powerful they were. I created a space within myself where that blackness could live so that I could walk through the world with some measure of hope, and with the sense that the darkness was a force contained in me, not one that ran rampant through a world of innocents. Over the years, and through abuses by multiple other men, my dark nature became confirmed again and again. I think that until very recently I continued to believe that I harbored an evil within me that I had to keep contained.
And then came the simple words of a friend:
There was (and still is) a light within you that is warm and inspiring.
A light. In me. One that is warm and inspiring. How could that be if there is an evil in me?
It’s not just Lisa who I believed carried this darkness. When I was living with my abuser, Paul, I came to believe (truly and with all my heart, and he reinforced the belief) that a dark and evil man lived inside of me. A vampire of a man. At the time, I even told my mother of this man; told her I had to capture him, drive a stake through his heart and cut off his head.
And yet, even then, when I watched the movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and I heard Van Helsing say to Mina:
There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.
I cried because the words slipped past all the prison guards around the truths I had created and pierced my heart with a knowing that I, too, was a light in the darkness. And now my friend’s words echo this truth.
It’s a shame, though a product of the times, that in his book, Bram Stoker had two men kill Dracula. As much as I appreciate the book, I find Dracula’s death in the movie so much more powerful. In the end, it is Mina who takes his life, not as an act of vengeance, but one of love and compassion. She understands why he turned away from God and made a monster of himself, and she understands that the monster must not be allowed to continue spreading darkness. She has also felt that same darkness growing in her own blood and she knows the power of it. When she drives the stake into his heart, it is with love and with the support of those who love her and believe in her light.
If I am indeed a warm and inspiring light then I must apply myself to cutting out the darkness I took on as my own, because it does not now, nor did it ever, belong to me. I was violated, my innocence torn away from me, by those with darkness in their hearts, and they were content to let me believe that I drew darkness to me. To pry loose my belief that I am a source of darkness will be an act of compassion for myself then and now. I do not believe it will be a simple task but I see now that I have already begun this work, thanks in large part to the words of a friend and the birth of a new calf.