The Terror Maker
April 9, 2016 was my 20 year AA birthday. That means I haven't had a drink or a drug in 20 years. It's been a kind of adventure. Not the kind of adventure involving mountain climbing and REI outfits or the kind of adventure involving Somali pirates or Peruvian shamans or limo rides in Manhattan. It's been the kind of adventure that involves a lot of crying hard, writing the scariest, saddest journal entries, confessing my secrets, being honest when it's scary, going to a lot of therapy, doing many, many emotionally exhausting things. But there's also been some gorgeous stuff. There has to be or no one would ever get sober, no one would ever go through the early days of it, detox, anger, boredom, cravings, grief. There are lots of incredible "Aha" moments, noticings, feelings of deep gratitude, peace, and joy over nothing big--a flower, a good cup of coffee, a sweet voicemail from my sister. Being sober for me means having a nice life-- a loving community, my creativity intact, an apartment with food, central air conditioning, and a clean cat box.
The miraculous thing is that at a certain point in my recovery, I knew drugs and alcohol were totally off the table. I wasn't afraid to be around people drinking, I knew I could go anywhere and do anything and not ever have to get high or drunk. I simply did not want it. However, I have never stopped being a drug addict and an alcoholic. What that means in my life today is that I have accepted that a part of me wants me dead. It wants everything ruined. It wants to burn down my apartment building and shoot me in the face. It wants to wear my clothes and hurt everyone I love. Really. I could go on but Johnny Cash does a better job of explaining it:
On the AA chips you get each year of sobriety, there is the Shakespeare quote, "To thine own self be true." I love it. That's one of the big things in recovery, to get to know who the fuck you are and figure out how to live authentically, which means to feel like you're the right you most of the time and you only lie when you have to, like when you talk to your mother-in-law or try to return a towel at Target that you've had for more than thirty days.
Getting to know more about myself this year so far has been tiring and intense. For months, I had been feeling confused, utterly depressed, and unable to trust myself, my take on things. I didn't want to drink or use but I felt hopeless and exhausted. I was talking to a friend, Billy Fatzinger, one day at Epoch Coffee on North Loop. I was telling him that I was dead inside and no longer had any enthusiasm for making work, telling stories, etc. I really felt that way, like there would never be another thing that was interesting to me. Somehow our conversation turned to the archetypal energies that live in my mind, The Inner Child, The Critic, The Addict, etc.
I told Billy F. about all the great things The Critic liked to tell me such as, "You should just die, you stupid fucking idiot!" and "You're a total piece of shit, why do you even try?" and "You're disgusting, you fat ugly pig!" Billy F. asked me if I knew what The Critic looked like. All of a sudden, in that moment at the cafe, I looked at Billy F. and said, "Oh My God! I have a reason to live! I have something I'm interested in! Thank you!" I don't know why she was the one thing that sounded interesting to me after all those months of blank restlessness. I just remember that I couldn't wait to get home and draw HER.
I knew what she sounded like, but I had no idea what she looked like. I'd never seen her, she was this voice in my head that sounded like the one true truth-speaker authority of the universe. I was dying to see her for myself, I knew it was important to draw her. Of course, I didn't do it right away. I had to get some new meds, get a new therapist, get some relief from the chemistry, the physicality of my depression, before I could do any fucking drawing. It took a little while.
I finally drew HER one night several weeks later. I was starting to get some relief from depression, not consistent, but a night or two here and there when I felt okay. That night, I had some energy. It was probably 3am when I started. I used charcoal on a big piece of paper. While I was drawing HER, Tina (my cat) was running around and around the apartment making growly noises. There was a feral psychic feeling in the apartment. Once I was finished with the drawing--it didn't take long--I sat and looked at it, more than that, I encountered it. She was there on that paper. I felt like a great hunter. I caught that bitch and all she could do was reveal herself to me, tell me her real name, give me her power. It was awesome. I realized that she's very comical, ridiculous. I found her pathetic, funny, spooky, and deadly. Here she is:
I could see parts of my dad in her. Some of the way the lines curved in different places reminded me of people I know. The best thing about making that drawing was that her power over me diminished, a lot. I remember talking to Billy Cotter about HER once. I said, "She's so powerful. I believe the horrible things she tells me. It feels like she's telling me the truth." Billy C. said, "She's powerful because she's convincing, not because she's right." Once I saw her in my drawing, she collapsed in front of me. I knew Billy C. was right, she was just a really good liar. After doing that drawing, I felt like I got her power for myself. I'm bigger than she is now.
It's been pretty nice having a much smaller critic (and some time not being depressed). I'm becoming good at hunting down neurotic complexes. A few days ago, I became terrified, absolutely obsessed with the thought that my sister was going to die. I knew it was bullshit, I knew "someone" was lying to me but I didn't know who it was. I sat down to meditate. I do it most days (I shoot for every day but sometimes I nap instead or just forget to do it, but not often.) I sit quietly for 15 minutes. It's one of the 12 steps of AA, to meditate daily, "to improve our conscious contact" with our higher power or true self or whatever you want to call it.
I sat down, set my phone timer for 15 minutes, and did my thing--focus on my breath, let my thoughts do whatever they have to do without getting caught up in them, slip into that lovely refrigerator hum of the quiet mind, if I'm lucky. I can't remember if it was during the meditation or right after, but I saw HER. A different HER! It was like I caught her in the act, a very gross act, by the way--she was pulling scary pictures out of her vagina. Srsly.
Her name is The Terror Maker. When I saw her in my mind's eye, she cackled. She looooooves fucking with me, scaring the shit out of me with my worst fears of loss and death. She is gleeful, delighted to be so awful and so strong.
I want the Terror Maker's wild, unapologetic power for myself. I wonder how I will feel, what I'll do when it's mine. I also want relief from her scary images of losing people I love. I'm not sure how it will happen. It might already be happening, I don't know. I will keep you posted as more is revealed. If I get her down on paper, I will put her up here.