A number of years ago, after the Scary Binge (see previous post), after I thought that maybe, possibly, IT JUST MIGHT BE that it was time to get some help, I found a fabulous therapist. She didn’t specialize in eating disorders, but she specialized in something called Voice Dialogue technique, which is basically giving each separate voice in your head its own time and space to say what it thinks.
Some of those voices, given free rein, were horrifying. Even though I thought I knew them, even though I lived with them 24/7, I’d never really allowed myself to hear the full breadth and scope of what they were saying. To open my mouth and allow those voices to spill out, unfettered, was more than shocking. I HAD NO IDEA. I had no idea they hated me, wanted me dead, thought I was worse than worthless, not worth the price of the bullet to kill me. I thought I knew, but I had no idea.
After I went through that session, as I sat there and cried, and asked, terrified, “Who IS that?” my therapist said, “I don’t know. But now we can find out.”
There were more sessions with that voice, hearing it, arguing with it, fighting back and sometimes giving in. Lots of tears, lots of anger. One day my therapist asked if I drew at all. I answered that I sometimes did; I’d taken art classes here and there, and had a bit of a knack for it. She suggested art therapy, and we embarked on that.
We drew various things, and had various conversations. I never forgot how angry that voice was or how the drawing sometimes really helped.
Years later, I was reading an essay about the power of names. In some religions, people even choose their own names at a certain point in their lives. I was fascinated by the concept of that power, whether chosen by an individual, or given to that individual by other people.
During that same time, the Crazies had gotten loose in my brain again. I kept feeling like there was a piano wire strung between my shoulder blades, and it kept turning tighter and tighter. I swore I could hear the Crazies laughing when it was quiet around me. Some part of me knew better than to mention that to people; I knew how insane it sounded, but I SWORE they were there; like an animal, perched on that piano wire, with its head just behind my right ear, laughing softly.
One night, after too many drinks and too much television and not enough mental space, I dug around in my closet and found my drawing pad. I retrieved my charcoal pencils from where they sat in a box in the back of a drawer and sat down on the couch and started to draw. I drew and I drew; I tore pages off in a frenzy when the image wasn’t right. I could hear that laugh behind me, and I knew what I was trying for, even though I couldn’t put it to paper. The laughing continued, and under the laugh I could almost hear the Crazies whispering that they would never show themselves, that I would never catch enough of them to be rid of them. I drew and changed pages, drew and changed pages, remembering old lessons on perspective, angles, light and shadow.
Some hours later, covered in charcoal dust, pages of violently drawn blackness before me, I was left with a drawing of a black creature, perched on my back. It had a mouth full of sharp teeth, green reptile-eyes and long nails on its hands and feet, which it dug into my back and shoulders in order to gain purchase. In every picture I drew, it smiled maliciously out at me. That smile was the common element in every picture, from the first tentative versions all the way through to the most terrifyingly accurate renditions.
(In retrospect, it looked like a shiny, black, slightly reptilian version of Gollum, but with pointy ears and a tail for balance. I’ve often wondered what the artistic inspiration was for the animated rendition of Gollum, because I drew my goblin long before the “Lord of the Rings” movie came out. I can’t help but wonder if I’d seen the same piece of art the animators used later as Gollum, and if it somehow stuck in my brain.)
I sat there for a long time, looking at that picture of the Crazy, the Demon, the Goblin. The voices, the laughter that swirled in my brain quieted to whispers. I grabbed the charcoal and in hard dark capital-letter strokes, I wrote, “I KNOW YOUR NAME.” And for the first time, the voices were quiet. The thing on my back was quiet.
I repeated the drawing, repeated the writing, almost in a frenzy.
Did it again. That third time, as I finished writing, it felt as though something physically LIFTED off my back. I didn’t hear anything. I wasn’t anxious. I was just tired.
I collected all my drawings, threw them in the outside trash can and then went to bed and slept soundly.
Sometimes, when things are really bad, I find myself drawing that picture. When I seem to hear malicious laughter in the back of my head, when the Crazies are swirling so think I can’t see my way through, when the piano wire tightens across my shoulders, I find myself on the couch, drawing that picture countless times on whatever paper is handy. I’ve drawn it purposely on notebooks and drawing pads, and absent-mindedly on post-it notes and magazine margins. But the drawing is never complete without the writing. It’s the writing that labels it, that calls out that part of my psyche, that declares, “I will not let you live in the shadows of my brain.” It is the writing that forces that thing into the light, where it can be seen for what it is, its power stripped, where I can fight it on MY terms. And every time, I can feel that same physical sensation: the piano wire loosens, the weight of the ineffable lifts off my back, my lungs open up and I can breathe.
In many ways, writing the posts like the last one is the same thing. Things fester in the dark, but lose their power in the light. Any child who has feared monsters under the bed knows the power of the night-light. Bringing the things I am most afraid of, most affected by, out into the light of day, into the (relative) public sphere, into my conscious mind, strips them of their power. To give something a name is (as TA said in the last set of comments) to OWN it. So I’m really grateful that these self-indulgent posts are . . . well, “indulged.” 😉 They truly are a form of purging, and often it helps tremendously just to put them on “paper.”
The irony is that I never named the demon. It was, and is, enough to see it, give it form, capture its image on paper, recognize it as something Other that has no place in my soul or my mind. Then again, maybe Demon is enough. Terror, rage, despair. If that’s not a demon, I don’t know what is.
I know your name.