I used to be afraid of the dark.
I’d figured that it was some survival instinct in action, and all I’d have to do was remind myself that the threats to that survival within one’s own home were rare and not, upon investigation, immediate.
That didn’t help one bit. I wasn’t afraid of trespassers or murderers. I was afraid of the dark.
I told myself that it was just like closing my eyes, which I was fine with as long as there was a light on that I couldn’t see with my eyes closed anyway.
That was how unreasonable my fear could be. When I reached my teens, I told myself that I was too old for this fear, but I had not told myself so in a way that “my self” understood or agreed with. That’s preposterous, of course, even talking to myself in the first place.
Sometimes, I would dare myself to stay in the dark, with the fear, just to see what happened next and to prove to myself that I was anticipating something that would never come to pass. The fear and panic would only intensify, coalescing into billows that would seep into every pore and shred my mind into a million wordless screams.
While I lived this experience out, perhaps the most effective explanation for my being afraid of the dark would be to take the dark itself as a metaphor. What a strange turn this metaphor would take, too.
Dark is just an absence of light, and in a way the source of my suffering was an absence: the schism between knowledge (“there is nothing to fear”) and capability (“so stop feeling afraid”), or between meeting everyone else’s needs (or wants, for me to not be a bother) and sustaining healthy personal boundaries (which required my being at least a bit of a bother), or between truth as a discovery and truth as a creation.
Somewhere along the way of this, darkness becomes an active entity.
Notions become billows very naturally, in my experience. The billows becoming figures in vivid imagination, though, that might have taken more mental effort or skill. Or, it could have been inspired, in a dark way. I don’t remember because I hadn’t developed that part of my mind yet, that thinks about the way I’m thinking.
That’s how I wound up with a monster under my bed, another in my closet, and another at the end of the hall. They would only come to life at lights out. Unlike the omnipresent billow, the monsters would have limitations along with their forms.
Word history tangent: the word monster comes from the Latin word monere, which means “to warn”. This comes from the superstition that an encounter or observation of a misshapen animal meant that something awful would happen, not directly caused by the animal, not even about the animal, but in some way we’d be forewarned by the presence of a “monster”.
These monsters were generated by my mind, and I do believe that they (and the billows, and the notions, associated with darkness) were manifestations of daily stress and even daily trauma that I wasn’t processing in a healthy way but only repressing.
I didn’t know that back then, though, so I could only deal with all this darkness in the terms by which they brought themselves into my consciousness.
I was never inspired to create an imaginary friend. It never occurred to me to do so.
Well, maybe I did, one time, sort of…
I was told that existence of particular religious figures were absolute. If so, I thought, I wouldn’t need to imagine them. I could contact them, though prayer, to end this torment.
Unanswered prayers left me awfully disillusioned.
It was in my mind, though, too, that everyone had a divine attendant spirit. One night, I stood atop the flight of stairs in the house I lived in, hesitating to approach the shadowed landing, and my mind showed the monster waiting beyond the darkness…
And my mind ebbed and flowed into a new shape.
A pair of arms encircled my neck, hands clasped at my collar, and the fear and anxiety fell away. These weren’t solid arms, but an outline made of something like afternoon sunshine. I stepped into the darkness, confident that the monster would shrink back as I approached because I was wrapped in this amber light.
I knew it was imaginary, though. Something about this imaginary protector resonated deeply enough that it had at least as much effect on me as the darkness, and the opposite effect which should have been a good thing, but the form and behavior of this protector lacked the autonomy of the monsters and that bothered me.
The clasping of hands might as well have been the clasping of a cloak. With my mind, I could move this model of the divine attendant spirit too easily, too exactly, for this to be real.
Maybe it was my pessimism, but I would imagine the armed-winged cloak of amber light again…and it would be less effective each time. The outlines of amber light would flicker, or fade. The monsters could bear to be much closer. Eventually, it was just the monsters and me again.