I went crazy once. Actually, more than once. I tripped and fell so far into the darkness, I cracked its foundation. In reality, the crack was already there, hidden in plain sight, but from where I stood on my perfect pedestal, I could have sworn I was crack-free. At that point in my life, 18 years old and upsettingly precocious, I was so far from broken, I was silk. Save for the blinding alcohol dependency, cocaine addiction, near-starving physique, unchecked promiscuity, and nightly screaming matches with my mother. But at that point in my life, 18 years old and never-been-touched by my real self, none of those cracks were mine. I was 18 and wild. I was 18 and righteously angry. I was 18 and recklessness was sexy. I was 18 and nobody in the world had ever known how to take care of me. At that point in my life, the more perfect I made you believe I was, the harder I cracked, but back then, no one—especially not me—was aware that that’s how it worked. All those cracks, those atrocities I ritually inflicted on myself, they all belonged to somebody else—I just held onto ‘em because they looked cool. And boy could I rock a casual drug addiction. I was the literal definition of a hot mess (although mess is too soft a word for what I was, if I’m honest).
Until one night, I took a nasty fall. Not your Alice in Wonderland follow the white rabbit and end up floating down a dark tunnel fall, but a careening rocket ship to freak-out-ville. Long story short, cops found me running barefoot through the Upper West Side with snot, tears, and sweat making the dirt on my face seem like some demonic fractal dance. I was raving, or else frozen and watchful, my demeanor reflecting my schizophrenic inner: pure, unadulterated chaos or stoney dissociation, but never anything in between. Never anything human. And because I loved it enough to deem it clothing, I was draped in a deliciously fuzzy red blanket that, incidentally, I refused to surrender for the rest of my shortened semester (I had to drop out due to crippling psychosis—go figure). I became known—more in my paranoid delusions than in actual reality—as the crazy girl with the red blanket in freshman housing.
Or maybe it was that the darkness rushed up to me that night with such ferocity that it felt like I was falling. I don’t know. But I’ve spent the last twelve years trying to figure it out, a search which has turned me into a psychologist in the process. It’s also caused me to encounter the same psychosis a handful of times more. As I said, I’ve gone crazy more than once. Truth be told, once mad, always mad: it’s only a flip of a light switch that turns it from stark-raving to devilishly insightful. “The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight” it is said (Joseph Campbell).
Current working theory: around the age when I was supposed to be sprouting, my tender little roots shooting down into the soil of Being, drawing up sustenance into my fledgling autonomy—so, early childhood—I was actually being ritually abused. Not consciously, per se, because my caregivers weren’t sadists, however the inordinate volume of narcissism, violence, and sexual deviance between the two of them could inspire at least a semester’s worth of psychology lectures.
I was born the daughter of a rageful, manipulative, aggressive mother and a cowardly, compulsive, pedophilia-predilected father. But, as these things often go, the two of them were also loving, devoted parents. I had a trampoline and a walkman. My dad taught me how to ride a bicycle and he carried me to bed when I’d fall asleep in the car. When I nearly died from croup at age four, my mom was so terrified by the prospect of losing me, I feared she might be at a higher risk of losing her life than I was.
Current working theory: from dichotomy grows dichotomy.
Healthy human development starts from a place of wholeness. The child, desired and cherished from before conception, comes into being in a state of blissful unity with her caregivers, the uroboric undifferentiated soup of mother’s womb intoxicatingly pure. As a small infant, the unity bubble remains intact, for the most part, only shattered by the child’s own assertion when she learns she can desire things outside the confines of the will of her godly mother. This—that first assertion of will—is the birthplace of a conscious self. But when the reach of the child is met with the wrath of the mother, that self never quite lands. Instead of learning the beauty of her own autonomous desire, the infant splits herself off from her genuine impulse and allows the mother’s to reign.
Over time and after what appear to her to be repeated attempts at her life each time she makes a bid of assertion on her own behalf, the possibility of selfhood fades into the background, eventually falling so far into the unconscious it might as well be a nonentity. If she’s lucky enough to re-discover that possibility later in life, tucked away in the recesses of her psyche, it will first appear threatening and painfully foreign, like some tree-killing virus stowed away in the bowels of a ship bound for new land, destined to level forests. And if she’s really lucky, she’ll be able to withstand the hostile takeover of what she previously referred to as native flora, even though it means that everything she’s ever identified with must die. And if she’s really, really lucky, she’ll be able to witness the transformation of her inner ecosystem into its rightful vegetative fullness. She’ll realize that everything growing there before were imposters. She’ll feel inordinately at home and run through with divinity. But that’s a very improbable amount of luck.
As an aside, can I just say, how the hell did I get so fortunate?
While it’s safe to say that most of me has been floating someplace in my pre-birth consciousness for my entire life, never having felt safe enough to truly incarnate, it’s also perfectly true that I’m seriously happy about the cards I got dealt. I get to be one of the lucky ones, one of the ones who uses the radioactive sludge her parents’ car crashed into as a child to like… make art ‘n heal people ‘n shit.
Current working theory: I simply never had a chance of latching onto wholeness because my home was an actual fault line. You were either loved or hated, cared for or raged at; either shown affection or initiated with perversion. There was never anything alive between the extremes of polarity. For my tiny, barely there consciousness, the disunity was catastrophic. I split in two as easily as light becomes a particle or a wave. In my house, I was both cherished and abhorred, praised and ignored, admired and forgotten; the trouble was, when I was one, we all seemed to forget the existence of the other. If mom was violently angry at me earlier, she sure didn’t seem to be now. That’s weird… I could have sworn she was screaming at me just a few minutes ago? Why is she hugging me now? Oh well. Guess I’ll just keep being a non-thing.
And because I didn’t come from wholeness, my pursuit of it as an adult has been… well, disturbing. It’s like trying to use keys to open a locked door, but the door is a window, and your keys are a hammer. And even if you manage to break the window, you still need to get the door unlocked. But where are those damn keys? And why is there all this glass everywhere?
In hindsight, having a mother who was only either all angry or all loving, a father who was only either all prevented or all present, would have been phenomenally easier than the either/or they served me. Either/or split me in two. Either/or had me living on two sides of a fault line—never in between, nuzzled up with both/and, because in between either and or was was a chasm. That chasm is where the relatable human shit was meant to be. The either/or meant I needed to be perfect to survive—anything else would mean a sudden drop to the very bottom of that chasm—and in order to be perfect, I had to keep myself perfectly hidden. No authentic desire, true word, or grounded assertion would escape my lips, no sir! I would rather fake my existence for the rest of my natural life then fall down that crack, thankyouverymuch.
Perfection is an amazing defense against brokenness, in case you’re in need of one. It keeps you exceedingly occupied.
And now, after twelve years of legal adulthood (but I’ve been 35 since I was 7), twelve years wherein I was vital, dangerous, passionate, forlorn, addicted, ecstatic, loved, rejected, inspired, lost, lying, suicidal, seductive, hateful, wild, manipulative, perverse, precocious, passive, driven, successful, I am beginning to understand the nature of that split. I’m beginning to understand that that madness I tripped into, that psychotic break that exposed my severely severed head for the first time, was actually the realest thing I’d ever encountered. Because it was the first time I saw a glimmer of who I really am, the first time I learned—a lesson which would take me the next twelve years to become fully conscious of—that I was not a flawless, passive porcelain doll, nor was I the rebellious, angsty fire-starter she moonlighted as so that no one would know the depth of her self-denial. That fateful moment was the first time I learned that I was actually a human being buried by the burden of her undiscovered desire. Of course, at that point, it was only a glimmer of a whisper of a possibility that wafted on the periphery of my awareness. It would be ten years at least before the glimmer even caught my eye enough to slow me down. I’d have to do a lot more drugs, tussle with a lot more crazy, dance a lot more wildly, fuck a lot more softly, buy into the lie that just because I was rebellious and opinionated I I knew who I was a thousand more times over, and break on much, much deeper levels before I’d be able to realize the truth of what I saw in myself that night.
When the foundation is cracked, you have to tear the house down. There’s no other way to fix it.
I tore the house down. Said fuck the locked door and the broken window, and fuck the fault line. Fuck the roof that leaked and the facade that I wasn’t actually super responsible for in the first place. Fuck all those floors that groaned for no reason and fuck the bed frame that gave away all my secrets. Doing this has caused me to stumbled into those old psychotic stomping grounds a few times, and I’ve surprised myself while there with how fiercely I clung to my brokenness. Truth be told, I still feel pretty attached to it most of the time. In tearing the house down, I’ve had to contend with crippling passivity, a product of a life lived without any attention paid to my own authentic self-assertion, and the very real desire to die instead of be a real live person with wants and needs and a heart that beats in the world.
But bizarrely, all of it has been good. At least, I think it has. I don’t feel like I’m floating above my life as often anymore, and I don’t lose myself in grandiose fantasies as regularly. I’m not as afraid of my pain, nor am I as afraid of my creative power. I can’t yet say that I like having this thing called “self”—and I sure as shit don’t know what to do with it yet—but I’m hoping that maybe someday I will.
When the foundation is cracked, you have to tear the house down. There’s no other way to fix it. But, the bright side is, once you’ve torn the fucker down and managed to pour some fresh concrete, you’ve got a perfectly adequate foundation on which to start building something new.