My Life in the Shadowlands – and the Emptiness That Could Never Be Filled
If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.
I remember when I was 13 years old and standing before my mother in the living room of the house I lived with her and my stepfather. I was in such a severe state of desperation and my mind was aching arthritically as it was riding the piercing screams that pulsed from it and caused a throbbing in my head. My body was tense and constricted and my bones felt brittle and on the edge of breaking at any moment. My voice was trembling from the lump in my throat and also from all the effort it was taking me to hold back the tears already welled up in my eyes. The vacancy that shone from hers was the devastating revelation that occurred to me then as I realized just how unaffected she was at the sight of me as I was suffering. I may as well hurt myself in front of her, I thought. She would have said that same thing to me as she always had.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be alright.”
I’m 35 years older now and trying to put an end to the same vicious cycle I’ve been living with since I was 13 — an unending and desperate search for something I had always believed was lost somewhere during the transition that is my life. But truthfully, it had never been there at all. There’s a primal need that had taken the shape of a gaping hole inside of me. I’d always filled it in longing moments of desperation with bitter and fruitless things. My remedies became the countless addictions that made me writhe in fevered needle chill reactions and had brought me to the edge of death. Three times I had narrowly escaped it from the residue it inflicted into me after having bled it through my pores. I can still smell it sometimes.
I was 36 years old when I was given a diagnosis. All the years previous to then I just came to the conclusion that there was a screw loose in my head. And then it just happened to be that on a Tuesday afternoon I was told by a medical expert this thing inside of me actually had a name. He did everything except to assure me that he could fix it with pills but wrote me out a prescription anyway. I was more than a little perplexed and bewildered and told him that I was sure it would take more than just pills to make this malignant part of me go away. Then he made it worse by telling me something I was absolutely certain I’d heard before. And the familiar sense of déjà vu along with the fear of impending doom settled like an oversized cloak around me.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be alright.”
When I was 46, I met the woman I thought was the love of my life. She had captured me when I was in the eye of a storm and wandered around in that place sometimes when she knew I wasn’t looking. Her cobalt blue eyes were the most beautiful I’d ever seen and she made a point of keeping me in their sway. I didn’t see the expression of death warmed over that became her face when she removed the masks she wore. Her tender words and affections became the leash she kept me on and she only allowed me to come in closer when her own life was crashing all around her. And yet I believed with an exhausting devoutness that she could fill that gaping hole inside of me.
She became the most powerful and monstrous addiction I’d ever had. Those things I longed for to fill in that gaping hole she only gave me in regurgitated pieces. It wasn’t long before she went ahead and cut the leash. By this time she had come to own me and had taken full possession of my will. Her gift of manipulation kept me constantly confused and this was the way she so masterfully kept me off balance. She told me she loved me with all of her heart and that she would love me forever. And she would stroke my mangled and fragile heartstrings at those most tender places that she most definitely knew were inside of me. These were only momentary glimpses in time but she knew how severely they burned me. And I kept walking back to her after I had already fallen on my knees and pathetically begged her for something that she never had. I did this in spite of her no longer caring about the masks and revealing her scarred and naked face that had become like death warmed over to me.
When I was 14, I had my first mental breakdown. I absolutely knew there was a demon inside of me that made me bad and I knew that my God had denounced me. I no longer had control of my actions or my will and this demon made me believe I had murdered my mother. Even though she was still walking and breathing I knew I did it because as hard as I tried I couldn’t stop seeing her blood on my hands.
It happened in the early evening on a Wednesday as I was walking through the dining room to my bedroom in the house I lived with her and my stepfather. From a blind-spotted corner of my eye I saw the knife I was grasping in my right hand thrusting forward and into my mother’s flesh. I felt it as it penetrated and saw her bleed. And the weight of the guilt that consumed me was so overpowering that it crushed my insides into shattered glass and made them bleed. I was on my knees and gasping for breath in the middle of the dining room and then everything turned white. I had just disappeared. When I awakened in my bedroom on the bed, I didn’t know how I had gotten there. And when I turned to my mother with tears in my eyes and pleaded for her to please just tell me what was wrong with me, she had that all too familiar blank expression on her face when she spoke.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be alright.”
From the beginning of the relationship I had with the woman I thought was the love of my life, there was someone very close to me who also knew her and she made it clear to me she didn’t like her.
“I’m worried about you,” she had told me. “There’s just something not right about her and I can see it in her eyes.”
I was both startled and a little angry at what she said.
“I don’t know. There’s something missing. And they look like they’re porcelain.”
That made me laugh.
“Porcelain,” I said. “Like a doll’s eyes. Would you believe her eyes are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen?”
It turned out that this woman who was very close to me was absolutely right about her. There was definitely something missing in this woman that had lured me in and kept reassuring me she was the love of my life. And it was exactly this thing that was missing in her that I had so desperately needed to fill in the gaping hole inside of me. When I spoke to her about it she told me that I worried too much and that I was seeing things that weren’t there. She convinced me I was weak and insecure and that this was the reason for all of my problems. It only came down to me, she said. She had loved me from the beginning and would love me forever and I was the one who was unable to deal with this. She concluded that she would always be there and continue to feel the way she did and if our relationship ever ended it would only be because of me.
The vast majority of my life had been spent in the shadows cast from the dark clouds that lingered above and kept me constantly in the eye of a storm. I sensed a beastly presence that was sleeping like a hibernated bear and I knew it was hiding somewhere close and would awaken when the time was right. And when this happened it would be everything that was the impending-doom. It would be the storm that would finally erupt and ravage my entire world before it would devour me whole and then murder me.
From my early adolescent years and well into adulthood I struggled with this curse that had been inflicted upon me. And I was trapped in the shadowlands that had imposed themselves into my world and kept me in this eye of a storm. There were disturbances that regularly happened and sometimes they shook it so violently they would jar the sleeping beast there. I was incapable of imagining the turmoil that would happen if this beast had ever been awakened. I couldn’t focus my line of vision at that time on anything worse than the things in my life that had already happened. But the dark clouds still lingered and cast their brooding shadows over every inch of my existence as I remained in the wandering eye of the storm.
In the early autumn of my life this woman had imposed herself there and made me believe she was the love of my life. And the whole of her was purely bad and devoid of conscience and her only purpose was to awaken the beast. Not even the raging fires in me could melt the solid black ice that protected her heart and soul. She had an emptiness there that could never be filled and it was as unaffected by fire and passion as the blank expression on my mother’s face before she had spoken those words to me that were a revelation of her inability to see.
As I lay dying and begged for them to quench my thirst, each of them had handed me a chalice that was filled with desert sand.
It has been over a year as I’m writing this since the woman who became my heartbeat had fractured my soul and ravaged my world for the last time. There were numerous break ups and reconciliations between us, but she went for the jugular that final time. I had so narrowly survived the impending doom after the beast had been deliberately awakened by her more than just once. And it was by a very slender thread that I did. She had possession of my will because she knew I was still recovering from the pervasive damage she’d previously inflicted upon all that I was and also my entire world.
She stood in the hallway and behind the door to my apartment after I had answered it to her fevered and desperate pounding just after five o’clock on a Friday morning. I was startled at the sight of her and there was a surge of adrenaline that caused me to take a step backwards. I started to close the door on her because this had been my initial reaction. She abruptly stepped forward and positioned her whole body to stop me with every ounce of strength she had inside her. Then she was crying hysterically.
“Please,” she screamed at me. “I just need to talk to you.”
I couldn’t shut her out and leave her there in that condition and she had known this all along. To see her crying and in such pitiable need and so naked revealing her aching scars to me the way she did was too much for me the same as it had always been. And she knew it still.
She spoke to me about a terminal affliction and told me she had just learned that her days were numbered. I saw her in such a severe state of agitation and she was grasping her head tightly with her hands from the stabbing pain that came from within. Her body was tense and constricted and I worried that her bones had gone brittle and would break at any moment. I didn’t realize just then that she had already cut herself and was deliberately holding them right in front of me as the blood mixed with tears poured from her eyes. She knew I would lay down my own life to save hers and she had known it all along. And that’s exactly what I did when I had fallen to my knees and embraced her. I held her and promised her that I would never let her go. All that mattered was how I felt for her at that moment and everything else was gone. It was a new beginning and this time I wouldn’t mess it up. She needed me and I told her I’d do anything. And then I said I’d even die for her and this was what she had expected from me and exactly what she needed to hear. She knew she could make me say it. She had known it all along.
And then I was crying and she kissed me softly on the cheek. And her voice was just above a whisper in my ear.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” she said. “Everything will be alright.”
Getty image via AnkiHoglund