This tale is not for those with even a modicum of happiness, joy or love on Christmas Day. This tale is for those who experience Christmas Day as a cardboard box, as a mockery of their selves. This tale is for those who know that there is no hope, no joy, no love; only emptiness, despair and dread. Oh, and by the way, this tale is not a tale – it actually happened.
In 1975 I took a one way trip to Hell. This account is told from the inside. There are many ways to analyze what happened to me. Over the years have worked through them all. It could have been a psychosis. It could have been an illusion. It could have just been the LSD…and, many more – it certainly was a transition, an abrupt transition, from childhood to adulthood.
I started smoking weed in sixth grade. I started doing LSD early after. My brothers were in Vietnam and the 60s had swayed me towards peace, love and war protest. I had numerous joyous, amazing, wonder filled trips on LSD. I was even able to guide others from potential death trips to bliss while tripping. However, as it happened one night, in 1975 at the age of 19 years old, I had been out partying with my friend David in Baton Rouge. We found some guys that told us they had some blue acid. I think it was actually STP but, in any case, it went down the hatch. My friend was driving the two guys and myself around LSU. We pulled into a wooded area to smoke some dope. I was tripping really well. We were sitting in the car passing a reefer around, laughing, enjoying when, all the sudden everything crashed like the universe was made of glass and crumbled. Time was no more…
I found myself in a rusted, rotten, very old car. The two guys in the back of the car had demon faces. They smiled and laughed and said, “What’s wrong? This is what you wanted isn’t it? Party forever, right? It suddenly occurred to me that no, this is not what I wanted, especially forever. I got out of the junk pile of a car. I was in an ancient swamp. All around me were small miry, mossy, stick huts. The huts were soul abodes of the damned. I walked aimlessly around the bog and knew there would never be a way out. I was here for eternity. The weight of timelessness pulled me into an absolutely empty oblivion which could nevertheless, never end. Endings only occur in time not eternity. I was filled with a vacuous and intense thirst – an ultimate, painful thirst nothing could ever quench. All hope was gone but not forgotten. Instead, hope turned into a mockery of demonic proportions. No soul in that place could think of hope as anything other than an absolute mockery, a salt into the gaping wounds of eternal damnation. I fell prostrate to the ground, face down, and three words came out of my mouth: “God forgive me”. In a very quiet but subtle way I heard a faint battle of some type starting. However, nothing was any different. Then, my friend David found me on the ground. He stood over me and said, “I know what you are feeling. You are feeling eternal hopelessness.”
The place I was in had no sympathy, no love, no hope – all that was only mockeries of my eternal dilemma…and yet, David’s words were impossible in that universe, that Hell. I felt a nudge of acknowledgment in myself. Then, David said, “Can you get up?” With the eternal weight of damnation on me there was absolutely no hope. And yet, “in hope against all hope”, I got up. David said, “Can you walk?” Again, with monumental effort I took a step. From eternity, endless hopelessness, I took another step. We walked back to the old junk pile of a car. I got in. The two demons were still there. David pulled out of the swamp and when we got to the road, the demons got out of the car.
I cannot begin to tell anyone how much effort it took to slowly and eternally make my way back to anything humans would ever recognize as ‘reality’. There was no instant happiness. There was no instant joy, no God of love riding in with a parade of angels; only me and hopeless, timeless despair and anxiety. Yet, step after step, I was driven with an unrelenting effort to leave Hell, to make my way back to the land of the living. It was ten years of horror and anxiety. At first, I could not even put thoughts or words together in head – I only had a drive to move forward or get back somewhere that inside I knew could not exist, it could not be. In eternity, there is no hope, especially in death. Death offered nothing to me, no way out. Hell does not cease in death. In Hell, death is not an escape. I knew this in my very bones. In all those 10 years and, my entire life, I could never and have never seen suicide as a way out – only a way further into Hell. Slowly, in hope against all hope, step by insignificant step, over the coarse of ten years I made my way back to the land of the living.
Later in the journey back, I made myself think and reflect on the experience. I found others that would listen and even those that had similar experiences. I analyzed, read and continued to make myself move, slowly take external steps to ‘fake it until I made it’ so to speak. I eventually went to college and got a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. Since then, I have been extremely lucky and extremely hurt. In my early thirties, I actually and surprisingly found that I could start to feel love again. This was crazy and unbelievable. I thought I would never again have that feeling. Somehow, it slipped back into my life and since then increased more and more. I also found, over time, that with love can come intense pain. However, the pain one gets from real love is a ‘full’ pain. It is radically different from the hollowing out pain of Hell.
In Hell, there is no love. There is pain but empty pain. The pain hollows out. It destroys anything anyone ever believed or thought as hopeful or positive. In 2017, my 20 year old son committed suicide
(His Eulogy). No words will ever express or contain the love and the super special relationship I had with Chris for 20 years. I know it was special for him too. It was a love that only a father and a son can be fortunate enough to know. Chris had so much going for him. He was called ‘the lover’ in elementary school by his teachers. He was tall and very good looking but he was always for the downtrodden kids. He made friends with the kids that other kids would not talk to and would make fun of for various reasons. He protected them and made them feel fully accepted. Most of the time Chris seemed happy and like a typical kid. For most of his life, he shied away from drugs and alcohol. I had told him my experiences with drugs when he was old enough and admonished him not to do drugs or alcohol to excess. I told him it was a waste of time. However, Chris was born with anxiety.
From birth it was evident that anxiety would haunt him over the years and it did. In kindergarten he was in therapy. I would join him when the therapist would let me, to do play therapy with him. I have a very detailed report from that therapist which identifies him as having generalized anxiety disorder. Over the next 20 years his mom and I did everything possible to help him. We had doctors, phycologists, psychiatrists, group therapy and eventually, against my desires, various drug and anti-depressants. The best thing we gave Chris was absolute and unconditional love – the kind of love that leaves one totally vulnerable and open to handing oneself over completely to another human being. I believed in him and told him many times that his anxiety would pass. A word of wisdom to anyone dealing with a loved one like this – you are correct in telling them to do the three things: sleep, exercise and eating right. However, the first thing they need to do is what I did in Hell – put one leg in front of the other. You cannot help anyone that does not want to help themselves – no matter how much you love them – no matter how much you want to help them. If they are intent on doing nothing and giving in to their anxieties, you must know that there is nothing Heaven or Hell or your love can do to change that. You may very well be looking at the dead body of the one you love most in the whole universe one day. I tried to help Chris over and over again – I told him to take a step, get up, move around, even if you do not want to or feel it. He would make half-hearted efforts, mainly to please us I think, but the bottom line is he could not or would not get serious about helping himself. The worst case, tragedy was the result I will take to my grave – hurt beyond belief. But, honestly, I would take that hurt, that ‘full’ hurt over never having had that incredible love for another human being. The hurt you get from Hell is empty and hollows you out like a shell of something that once was human. The hurt you get from real love teaches you and, I think, eventually makes you stronger. But, for me it will always be there. It is the last and parting gift my son gave to me. It will not kill me. It will make me stronger, more compassionate and more convinced that there is a way, no matter what, Hell, death, eternity to always find ones way back to love. I still believe in Chris and, when I take my last breath – the only way I will not find him and be there for him forever is if there is nothing after death. There may well be nothing but my life intention now to love my son unconditionally will not change and will continue as long as there is any such thing as ‘me’.
There are many easy ways to go to Hell and few hard ways to come back. Folks that drift along their entire life, over time, step by step, can become negative. They can think of themselves as victims. They can blame others for their perceived failures and insecurities. They can blame the government. There are a million demons nagging in the background that justifies and rationalizes negativity, dishonesty and hatred. Ultimately, they all bring you to your own personal damned, soul abode. When time finally slips away you are left in eternal Hell. Robin Williams made a notorious, critically declaimed movie called “When Dreams May Come”. If you want to watch a movie that depicts a ‘soul abode’, watch this movie and pay attention to his wife. She ends up there and even though Robin Williams went to Hell to bring her back, he found that no one can leave until and unless they make a move to do so. Even Robin Williams himself could not leave there at least in this life. As Dante also found, there is no escape from Hell except to go through its center. You are the captain of your soul abode and you can steer it into the rocks or set a path towards hope and love. For those who find themselves in Hell, this nightmare of a Christmas mockingly called life, death will not stop your torment. As I told my son, I believe there is no way out – even death – you must deal with it – you must take a step against all hope, against everything that you know is ‘real’ and you must keep taking those steps. No one is going to fix you – only you can fix you and it will take each day, each step, unfaltering resolve to find what you know to be impossible, the abyss you will know for some seemingly infinite lapse of time until one day, as when you were born – you find that somehow, some way a new reality has dawned – one that you could have never imagined in your wildest nightmare – you will find your way back to love – to the silliness of Christmas – to the light. When that day arrives you will know that you can love again, you will be stronger than you ever imagined through life’s storms. Another person will be born that day you will only come to know in the way a baby comes to know life.
Now, I have a daughter that I love as much as I love Chris. She is here and beautiful. She needs a dad and she knows I am her ‘A’, number one source for being there, supporting her and always doing what I think is in her best interest. All you younger folks that think romantic love is the pinnacle of life – if you are lucky you will find that those feelings pale to the love you will have for a child. No songs are written for that unconditional love. Pop culture gives no hint of language to the journey you can have for your child. And now, especially for me, the only music I have for my children is what I make for myself when I play guitar. It is a solitary journey but one that everyone would be extremely fortunate to have, to live, to give of oneself so completely, so vaulted and without a safety net below. At the age of 62, I recently wrote a post (The Wood) which kind of summarizes where I am these days from the depths of Hell to the heights of love and beyond. Professor Cohen, a scholar of Levinas, whom I have written about elsewhere describes Judaism as a religion for adults. I can appreciate now at my age that there is such a thing. You will be so fortunate as to, by hook or by crook, find your way towards an adult religion and philosophies of yonder hills not often tread.