Please keep in mind that I am a former evangelical minister who went prodigal for 25 years. This experience happened about two years ago. My world view at the time of this event was agnostic. What does it mean?
There was an episode of the original Twilight Zone series that featured a parasite that crawled into a man's ear and slowly burrowed its way through his brain over several days. The experience was so torturous that he had to be tied to a bed, writhing and contorting until the parasite ravaged its way through his head and out the far ear. Exhausted but relieved that he had survived, the man passed out.
When the man awoke, he immediately noticed that he was still restrained to the bed and that two of his friends hovered worriedly over him. "Why am I still restrained?" he whispered upward. One responded "When the parasite came out of your ear, I squeezed it between by thumb and finger and killed it. I didn't realize that it was pregnant and dozens of babies sprayed into your ear." The camera focuses on the man's crazied eyes as he realizes his fate will now be many times worse than the agony he had just survived.
Betrayal is like this. It eats through your brain, destroying whatever it passes enroute to an illusory exit that once embraced, multiplies and opens new and even more destructive paths through your psyche, blindsiding your exhausted optimism that all is well. The minor losses of this horror show are love and trust; depleted, you pray only for a return to sanity and freedom from its restraints, accepting that your new life will include neither.
I awoke early one morning with the parasite again pillaging my brain as it did on a schedule no more or less reliable than stormy weather. I had accepted that I had exactly the same amount of control over it as I did the clouds. I tried to quickly think of something more positive, relegating the ravenous memory to the back porch of my soul. I pictured my childhood home and the converted back porch that was my bedroom so that I could push it into the cold, airy space, but it did not relent.
I could not have known, but something entirely different was in store. It was to human learning what a sonic boom is to sound -- loud, surely, but not primarily. The blast of a sonic boom is more about the compression of sound into a smaller footprint of time and so was this a compression of self awareness into a small footprint. I've had epiphanies and this was not that. It transcended that experience, like seeing yourself from the outside with new knowledge and a new perspective in high definition. Others describe a similar transcendent experience at times of grave emotional trauma such as the death of a parent or child. This experience was like they describe but with a blast of information added.
I was betrayed by those closest to me, repeatedly, slowly and over a period of time. Once discovered, I began to reel emotionally, spewing hurt like a geyser at full tilt. Every day I waged a war, often in a losing effort. I didn’t understand my own actions as I tried over and over again through counseling, force of will, reflection and hyena-like outcry. Eventually, I accepted small victories like being sane for a couple of days at a time but they went unnoticed by anyone but me, further restraining me to a bed of insanity where none of the dots connected.
Like the restrained man in the opening story, I would then awaken from my spent slumber to find my situation was much worse than I had imagined and I was already living in a world that made no sense to me, where everything that I grasped for temporary respite was yanked from me by denial after denial. And then I discovered that the betrayal continued through all of this, that everything I believed to be a lie and tried to convince myself was true was indeed a lie and that the betrayal continued for a long period of time while my betrayer watched me writhe in agony, desperate for sanity and hoping for understanding or compassion.
Something very important happened upon the second discovery. I realized that the betrayal was not about me, it was about something else, and I regained my sanity. The fog began to lift and I could catch my breath. It would be years before I knew the real driving force behind it all, before I would get true honesty about what had happened and gain true perspective.
This is what gushed into my head. My father left my mom, myself and my two brothers when I was about four years old, ending a golden age that I remember well. I would find out years later that my mom, shell-shocked from the experience, hated men for awhile and was left with three boys. I lost my dad and, to a lesser extent, my mom, who was emotionally bankrupt, like all of us. This state would persist for a period of time.
My mom then remarried and eventually had a daughter. My stepfather was a louse and emotionally abusive, at times humiliating me in front of my family. This state would last for an extended period of time. During this time I was told that I had an anger problem because I screamed and yelled and threw things at the slightest provocation.
The revelation is this … I continued to live this cycle for more than two decades always with the same three characters. There is always a “golden age” followed by abandonment that leaves in its trail my mom, the one who trusts the wrong people at my expense and is unable to help with the emotional fallout, and while still off balance from this drama, the one I trust brings another I cannot trust into my life for an extended period of time, piling great hurt upon hurt. I am the one who is betrayed, angry and perpetually questioning his guilt in the process (although a relatively minor player), isolated and feeling like I or my environment must be insane. I am the control group.
I attracted these characters into my life in time intervals that very closely matched the time that elapsed between my father leaving and the end of my mom’s second marriage. I lay stunned on my bed that morning when the main character’s fatal flaw was found. I attracted only two of these characters at the end of each cycle; I adopted the role of the missing player in succession representing my father, mother and stepfather in an unending quest to understand and resolve while my life appeared to be happening to me as an outside observer.
My wife woke up beside. I told her that I had figured it out. “What?”, she asked. “Everything.”, I responded. I left the bed and began earnestly scribbling notes in the vain hope of documenting this enlightenment though it was not the stuff of documentation. It was too fast, too compressed and too loud. It hit me for the first time, for I was agnostic, that intelligent design was part of the process. I could not have attracted the right players and directed them in their assigned roles in the right time intervals. I had a peace that I lost at four years old in the knowledge that having this experience meant that all of the things that had happened in my life to that point were woven into a masterful picture by a great puzzle maker. In this certainty I began to feel a warm glow just to the side and top of my stomach that lasted for days. I floated from formerly mundane moment to the next.
I retold the story to my children, then only twelve and fourteen, almost immediately. My son cried as I explained the cycle that involved his mom and my role in the end of our marriage. My daughter exclaimed wide-eyed “This will change the world!”