“I have a rendezvous with Death at some disputed barricade.”
Alan Seeger (American Poet)
I recount the following story with sincere gratitude, for it is surely true that I would not have endured the grave ordeal without the help of a loving God.
There are times in life when some of us, wittingly or unwittingly, make destructive choices, and the resultant paths we travel spring from tethered, damaged tendrils planted deep within our minds. Sometimes those passageways are relentless, and lead one down to the very gates of intense suffering, even to the dark gates of hell on earth (and hopefully, not beyond). CS Lewis said that the door to hell is opened only from the inside, but Jesus spoke to me from the sacred place that is within all of us, if we would but listen.
Those who know what this is ‘hell’ is like can attest to experiencing consequences so traumatic that we might even contemplate suicide as a viable means of escaping. To the readers who do not yet believe in God, I suspect you will not accept a miraculous ‘premise’ and therefore ‘file’ the conclusion. Believe what you will. Sometimes a person experiences a psychosomatic torture and suffering so dark, that one might undergo a complete psychotic break. I now know that in such times, we either have a breakdown or a breakthrough. Whatever the definition of terms, let it suffice to say that I did not submit myself to psychological or pharmacological treatment to relieve me of the abysmal bondage I will describe herein; rather, I reached out through prayer.
As a young person of 14 years, I was already drinking alcoholically, smoking marijuana, and sniffing lighter fluid, underarm aerosols, magic markers, gasoline and more. By the age of 16, I started stealing cars and “Joy Riding”. I was arrested and convicted in juvenile court for UUMV (Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle) and was incarcerated in the Minnesota juvenile correctional facility in Lino Lakes, Minnesota.
While in Lino Lakes, I “attempted” to escape on eleven occasions. I ate, breathed, and slept escape. I acquired the dubious distinction for failed escapes, a record that was unlikely broken. During one escape attempt, I was running breakneck speed for the fence. I heard yelling and cheering, stopped, turned around and saw a bunch of my fellow boys from Lino encouraging my success. It made me mad that they were cheering, because if security personnel had not known I was running for the fence, they certainly knew now. I managed to get over the fence and hid in a field behind a local business. I surrendered when the German Sheppard they were tracking me with approached.
After each attempted escape, I was ‘locked-down’ in solitary confinement, which consisted of an antiseptic white room, wherein a bed was bolted to the floor. The room afforded the convenience of a toilet/sink located within a few feet of the bed. The door to the room was of a thick metal construction that had a narrow, tall Plexiglas window in it. When staff would make security rounds, if you happened to be sitting on the commode, you would have the misfortune to lock eyes with the surprised staff member. It was humiliating.
Because I spent every free moment scheming on and attempting to break out, I spent most of my time, about two years, in “Solitary Confinement.” One night I had a dream that I successfully escaped. Sure enough, on my 12th break for freedom, I did escape. After getting away, I spent the next two weeks getting high and drunk, thus attracting the attention of the authorities. Courtesy of law enforcement officials, I promptly returned to Lino Lakes.
Back in solitary confinement, I spent many a night with my face pressed against the cold tinseled-steel security screen, which protected the double-paned, two-inch thick Plexiglas windows. I would stare for hours, watching vehicle headlights pass by on the distant highway. I knew those cars had human souls in them. I would hold my breath, press my ear against the screen, and strain to hear the faint sound of vehicles driving by. Maybe I was hoping to feel some remote sense of connection to the possibility of a caring, yet apparently unconscious world. Their little headlights served as my only link to humanity. I poignantly felt how much no one knew I was alive. I poignantly felt how much no one knew I was alive. They were like an infectious absence.
Here is where my plight became dreadful. I am not sure if “the dark side” was pummeling my mind, or if I was only encountering a severe psychological problem stemming from a stress-filled existence. What I do know is, when I would close my eyes to rest or sleep, it began with my seeing a baseball moving slowly toward my face. Over time, the ball's speed would accelerate. When flying toward my face, it seemed so real that I would snap my eyes open in utter anxiety. My adrenaline would be pumping, and my heart would be racing. The trembling from fear made my skin feel cold and clammy.
Progressively, I was sleeping less and less well. The battering against my mind and soul was progressive. Over time, the baseballs turned into long, sharp knives, which later became long shards of broken glass, all coming straight toward me, giving me no peace. Before long, I started hearing glass breaking in my mind. I felt desperately insane when I started to feel blood oozing from the glass cutting my brain.
One night when I closed my eyes, I saw a dark vision of Adolph Hitler. In this apparition, his eyes were sinister and foreboding. He was staring at me, beckoning me with his hands to come to him. I snapped my eyes open in terror, grasping my head.
Toward the end of my desperation, I had not slep for several days, and I was in constant torment from the noise of glass breaking in my mind. I had the constant feeling of being wrapped in and surrounded by conscious darkness.
I did not trust staff enough to tell them of my desperation. However, there was a young man, a counseling intern, whom I believed in a little bit. I described to him what was going on with me, and asked him to promise me that he would not tell anyone. He said he would not tell anyone, but he did tell. Later that day, staff questioned me as to my state of my mind; I denied any problem whatsoever. Staff informed me that they were planning to conduct a hearing to determine my state of mind and possible need for psychiatric care. I felt betrayed by the intern for squealing, but I realized he was just following his conscience.
That night, I was finally desperate enough to make the torment end, and I considered ending my life. Although I was an agnostic, as I lay there in bed, I clasped my hands in prayer, and with the gift of desperation, said, “God, if you are real, please help me”! I then heard an audible, gentle voice say three words that I will never forget, “Rest, my child.” I immediately fell into a peaceful sleep.
“Deep beauty breaks itself inside the heart; the world breaks heartshells and afterward, excellent 'strongs' appear as broken beauties, many.” Gibran
The following morning, I awakened with sunlight on my face, feeling refreshed and serene. I remember being astonished that I had slept. Then I listened for those familiar awful sounds. I heard only the faintest little tinkling of glass fading away into the void, and I was finally and entirely free of the torment.
I never again had to bear another blood-curdling noise or see another horrifying image. The malady was utterly gone, and I was immensely grateful. I thanked God and even began reading the Holy Bible.
I told the staff of what I considered a miracle, and they officially responded that I was perhaps suffering from mental instability, except the young male intern, whom I believe was a Christian. He at first looked afraid, but as he looked at me, the expression on his face visibly changed, perhaps because he had eyes to see. His eyes cleared and calmed as the muscles in his face relaxed. He gave me a little smile.
Here I am more than 30 years later, feeling as grateful today as I did the night I heard that gentle voice say "Rest, My Child." My experience says to me that “Yes, there is a God." I believe God can restore minds to their rightful states if we would only humble ourselves and pray for help. Sometimes, we have no healing, because we do not ask for it. God waits at the door with love. If you are suffering, but do not believe in God, what will you do? Will YOU give God a chance?
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (KJV)
© Timothy G Cameron, January 2011