As I noted and explained in my original “Fighting the Darkness” post, this whole ordeal has put my faith into a terrible period of testing and doubt.
I had seen so many signs that God wanted me to be friends with Richard, that God had brought us together so Richard could lead me into Orthodoxy and I could help his family.
But as I’ve already noted, I discovered that apparently God had brought me into friendship with a dangerous, violent narcissist and his malignant narcissist/borderline personality disordered wife.
I start thinking, “What if it’s all a lie and all religion is false and everyone who dies goes into nothingness, goes into darkness, vanishes forever?” I don’t want to vanish forever. I want my consciousness to live on.
Atheists don’t seem to realize that their message of “no Hell, no Heaven, this is all we get” is not the message of happiness and freedom they think it is. They don’t seem to understand why more people don’t pound down their door wanting this.
Even John Lennon didn’t get it, writing those lines in “Imagine”–imagine there’s no Heaven above us, no Hell below us–as if it would somehow free the human race from its woes.
On the contrary, such a message brings horror and fear of death to most. We want to leave this place and go to a better one, with no sickness or woe, where justice is meted out for the people who hurt others without regret and without punishment.
Where a poor little child whose last moments were of terror, molestation and murder, finds herself in a land of bliss, warmth, love and comfort.
Where we will once again see the smile of that long-lost mother, son, husband, friend, and not have them lost to us forever.
I want to live; I want to see what happens after I leave this earth. I don’t want to lose myself forever. I don’t want my consciousness to vanish into nothingness. I don’t want to fall asleep and never wake up, in a place where even dreams cease.
I don’t want my dreams and the stories I played out in my childhood, to be lost forever.
This morning I had another dream of death, of terror at the thought of going into darkness forever. I have these now and then. One vivid dream took place at a cemetery during a funeral.
I am comforted by the teaching of classical churches that this is not a sin, that it doesn’t mean I lose my salvation, that it’s not even a sign of weakness.
On the contrary, I was told it’s a sign of a mature faith, as long as you keep in the church, keep doing the things you’re supposed to do.
Mother Theresa went through this for most of her life, as has been documented. Other saints of the church have, as well.
I was even told that many priests have moments of wondering as they go through the service, “Is this all for nothing?” In fact, it has a name: The Long Dark Night of the Soul.
But there are churches which would drive you further into spiritual despair by telling you that you’re gravely sinning by questioning, by doubting. It’s yet another reason to run from those churches and into the arms of Orthodoxy.
I wrote the following way back in 2011 as part of a story of narcissistic abuse. It was on my old HTML website, though I don’t recall if the story was on- or offline at the time. (I kept it hidden from the public for a long time as I worked on it.) After I was put through long-term emotional abuse and mind-twisting by a narcissistic couple, I desperately needed to write it all down while I still remembered it, as a way to vent, make sense of it, and begin to heal.
The following was written a few months after my blog post Fighting the Darkness. It’s a difficult time to revisit, but I have been assured that my blogging about this has value to others. For example, most recently, from the blogger over at Jesus Without Baggage:
Nyssa, your post is heart-wrenching. I am so sorry for the pain you endured, but I know you are somewhat recovered from it. You said: “I was plunged into spiritual darkness and doubt.” I really appreciate that you now do a great service to others in exposing and counseling regarding abuse from the narcissism you encountered….I hope more people check out your blog. —comment here
Comments like this help a lot on days when I wonder if I should just remove it all, if it’s just too embarrassing to admit that I’ve been manipulated by narcissists not just once, but several times in my life. But then I’m reminded that others go through this as well and may need to read what I’ve written.
The following was written during the period of darkness, especially spiritual darkness caused by doubt. Of course, atheists might say that’s just the way to enlightenment. I still don’t know who’s right, since, despite all claims to the contrary, nobody really knows one way or the other. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night frightened that all that awaits me is oblivion.
But the experience that drove me into the darkness of 2011–that has, thank God, passed into the past. It no longer burdens my thoughts, weighing down my heart with rage and grief. I haven’t so much as seen these people on the street in a few years, even though they still live in my town. Well, I see them in my blog stats. I don’t see them at church, even though their church merged with mine, so I figure they must have found somewhere else, or stopped going.
But no, I don’t want to see them now, any more than I did back then.
Anyway, enough of the preamble. Now for the repost:
I have no interest whatsoever in reconciling with Tracy and don’t really care anymore what she thinks of me, because I consider her an abuser and a bully and the most horrid person I’ve ever known, and I believe she’s a false Christian.
As for Richard, this person I had dearly loved like a brother, respected, trusted and looked up to, this person I saw as a man of God, this person whom I saw as my spiritual mentor and guide, this person I supported emotionally through all his troubles while he lived with us, the person I told all my secrets to, has betrayed me and let me be verbally/emotionally torn apart like a wild animal.
Because of his connection to my spiritual journey, it’s been a struggle not to abandon all the things in Orthodoxy (or Christianity) that I associated in any way with Richard.
Because our friendship and his living here had seemed to be a direct and obvious answer to prayer, my faith in God has been damaged so much that I often doubt God even exists.
Because why would God answer my prayer with a curse, with an angel of light that turned out to be the devil? The devil couldn’t have heard my prayer, because it was said to God by my mind, not by my mouth.
Two options rise up, both too frightening and repugnant to accept: that either
I knew the devil would try to get me out of Orthodoxy if I converted, as fellow converts speak of such things online, and he’d already been throwing various things at me, especially during Lenten periods.
But I had no idea he would do something like this that could sear me to my soul with a flaming sword, rip me away from the one whom I honored as the person who led me to the truth, damage me so much.
I had no idea that the person I honored as a man of God, had such crumbling feet of clay, would lead me to the truth and then be the means for shattering my faith.
Rather than resulting in permanent devastation, the dark night is regarded by mystics and others as a blessing in disguise, whereby the individual is stripped (in the dark night of the senses) of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue.
Although the individual may for a time seem to outwardly decline in his or her practices of virtue, in reality he becomes more virtuous, as she is being virtuous less for the spiritual rewards (ecstasies in the cases of the first night) obtained and more out of a true love for God.
It is this purgatory, a purgation of the soul, that brings purity and union with God.
Even the most sophisticated believers sometimes believe that the saints enjoyed a stress-free spiritual life–suffering little personal doubt. For many saints this is accurate:
St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century author of “An Introduction to the Devout Life,” said that he never went more than 15 minutes without being aware of God’s presence. Yet the opposite experience is so common it even has a name.
St. John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, labeled it the “dark night,” the time when a person feels completely abandoned by God, and which can lead even ardent believers to doubt God’s existence.
During her final illness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun who is now widely revered as “The Little Flower,” faced a similar trial, which seemed to center on doubts about whether anything awaited her after death.
“If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into,” she said to the sisters in her convent.
But Mother Teresa’s “dark night” was of a different magnitude, lasting for decades. It is almost unparalleled in the lives of the saints.
I posted this in 2012. Full post here. Some excerpts:
No, there are friendships which are like that and have nothing to do with sex, friendships which, when lost to death or breakup, are at least as soul-searing as any romantic loss. And you have to go through a whole grieving process which could take years, depending on how meaningful it was to you, and how sudden the loss.
My own loss of such a friendship–and discovering that my friend’s character was not at all what I thought it was, that it could all have been an act by a narcissist, or ruined by a successful smear campaign–to be again devastated a year later when I discovered the horrible violence he is capable of–
It made me want to shake my fist at God. It made me doubt God’s very existence. I wanted to scream at God: “I prayed for a friend. And THIS is what you brought me? What are you playing at? Do you even exist?”
I was plunged into spiritual darkness and doubt. Not only did my own religion bring back constant reminders of my pain because the friend’s connection to it permeated every single thing about it from the mysteries to the theology–but my friend was gone.
But now I fear death instead, driving me to start getting all of my experiences, dreams, stories, pictures, all down on paper and shared with the world before that unknown day does finally come. Then I will still “exist” even if the atheists are proved correct.
It can’t all be for nothing! My consciousness–what will happen to “me”? Will I suddenly feel it slip away and then–nothing? Where will “I” go? Just blackness as if I had never been? Who will remember my dreams now?
During the third season of “Being Human”–the UK version, not the copycat American one–the roommates and best friends of Mitchell, the vampire, discover (in Wolf-Shaped Bullet, season 3) that he was the one who murdered a score of people on the subway. This was such a heinous, disturbing crime that when Nina found out the truth (before anyone else), she threw up in horror.
When I saw that scene on August 20, 2011 (in The Longest Day, season 3), I knew how she felt, having found out about the child abuse charges against Richard on 7/1/11.
I identified with her again as she did what she must–gave the police an anonymous tip, which I had had to do to CPS in March 2011. There are times when you just can’t let friendship keep you from doing what is right.
A former Orthodox-convert-blogger, who was quite popular (and controversial) in Net Orthodoxy in his day, then became Catholic, is now becoming Orthodox again–and I discovered he lives near me. And will be coming to my church. 😀
I’ve been checking out what traces are left on the Web of his old blog, to see what the controversy was in the old days. I missed it somehow. Either I encountered his blog many years ago and forgot about it, or he wasn’t mentioned on the Orthodox forum I spent time on, or it was during the time I dropped out from Internet Orthodoxy (after the Richard/Tracy crap soured me on Orthodoxy for a time).
I only found his newly-revived blog recently by accident, through another Orthodox blog’s post which included a link to one of his posts. And discovered he lives very close.
More practically, one hasn’t started becoming truly Orthodox until you’ve had your heart broken by the Church or someone in it, until you’ve found yourself at a a level pervasively well below what you strived for, and then you’ve stayed put for a few years.
That’s not something converts are prepared for, they aren’t prepared for the real heartbreak of conversion, of failure in the spiritual life (in oneself and others), they aren’t prepared for that ‘abandonment’ on the other side of the awe one experiences the first few years of Orthodoxy.
Yes, Orthodoxy is Pascha, joy, joy; but it’s also the Cross, it’s also pain, suffering, and all those things in the hymns and the lives of the saints we assume are far off, past, poetic hyperbole, or metaphorical.
No, Orthodoxy really the dumps, too. And then there’s also Pascha once a year. All that talk of struggle, the fact that clergy and monks are shown truly falling to their deaths from the top of the Divine Ladder, that’s really what the spiritual life is about.
It’s when you experience and know that that the converts starts shutting up, it’s then that people start assuming you’re foreign and were raised Orthodox (they assume you have an accent because you never speak, and you start looking world-weary like an Eastern European, or like someone going through the motions because it’s all you can muster, and you can’t stop doing even that because it’s simply what you are, even when you’re bad at it.)
And this gave me pause, because that’s where I’ve been for the past 4 and a half years. Staying put in Orthodoxy even after discovering that my spiritual mentor and idol (Richard) had feet of clay, that he was an abusive narcissist and enabler of abuse.
He’s the one who broke my heart, and he (at least in name) was Orthodox.
And here I am, often going through the motions, wondering how much of it is true, yet still here. Too stubborn to leave, even though it is common for converts to do so. According to 123, that makes me “truly Orthodox.”
And I get to see someone who also has had my doubts and frustrations, leave and then return.