I know it is not silly to say it. I have been told many times by panderers and aspiring influencers that it is not silly to say it. Unwavering, the shame remains, monolithic in my mind, when I say: my life as a young man was fraught with trauma, and it has remained in me for far longer than I have wanted it to.
Of course, growing pains and awkward-to-traumatic childhood experiences are recognized as being nearly universal. Look at the media that reminds us: Big Mouth, the more hard-hitting episodes of Degrassi, and even stand-up comedians openly discussing their children’s blunder years remind us every day that there are children everywhere set on the same track. The deeper the wound, the deeper the search, but if one wants commiseration regarding the more painful chapters of their autobiography, message boards and private groups on social media impress upon members that they are not alone, and never have been. The shame remains. Monolithic in my mind. Far longer than I have wanted it to. Again and again. In good company, and thoroughly marooned. We get it, but we don’t get it. The traumatized are an archipelago, islands declaring themselves to be one entity.
The details are old, but they live in my body. They crawl across the inside of me as triggers set off sense memories: “Let me out!”. The language, the symbols, the contorted air and sorted letters, not enough. I did not know it could be so physical, so tied to the senses. I often feel compelled to walk at length in order to smooth out the sensation, to redistribute the concentrated agony. As I walk, as my sensual ritual is performed step by step, I am reminded that the details don’t matter anymore. The poetic, allegorical, semiotics-obsessed retellings of the details matter even less. It is therapeutic, and yet no proxy for therapy. With that in mind, I wrap my hands around a sharp truth: it is there, being, and if it cannot be expunged, it must be reckoned with. Between the isolationist and the warmonger is the diplomat, and the diplomat is going to tell a cautionary tale.
When I was 10, I went to the library with my family, and I became enamored with a book cover. It was the front of Communion, by Whitley Strieber, a book I was unaware of (this ignorance included the controversy that surrounded and still surrounds it). On the front was the classic face of a “grey”-type alien, with a teardrop face, gravy-boat eyes, and a small, slitted smile. I brought it home and poured over its unbelievable, harrowing, and ostensibly-autobiographical story. Whitley describes being at his country home in upstate New York, seeing a “grey” behind his dresser, and being taken up onto a spacecraft. His description of the taking was jaw-dropping, which can be chalked up to him previously being a fiction writer (an eyebrow raiser for the public). Upon awakening, he was aware of a disturbance during the night, but couldn’t recall anything outside of one detail: an owl outside of his window. After some weeks of acting out and thinking irrationally, he consulted a hypnotherapist named Budd Hopkins. The transcriptions of their interactions introduce not only the story detailed above, but even more details that elevated the terror of the experience.
Besides being impressionable and prone to gullibility, what really won my young mind over to believing Strieber was slightly more nuanced than “believing or not believing his story.” Even at 10, one becomes aware of the way liars blow smoke and bring bluster to the table until you’re exhausted into believing them. Strieber spent about 1/3rd of the book spinning his yarn, and curiously, spent the rest of it speculating on its meaning and musing on the identities of his kidnappers. The viscerality of his abduction became replaced with paragraphs of contemplation, and I was swayed. It seemed Strieber had nothing to prove.
I devoured the book several times, ingested it, retained it, and moved on with my life. My youth, rife with traumas, triumphs, and everything in between, plodded forward. In the middle of being 17, I left home to live with friends. I was unexamined, filled with pain I didn’t know the extent of, and ready to explore literally anything else. I formed a band, and wrote about otherworldly topics (including Strieber’s story) for many to hear. Even when I wrote of my own personal history, it was always juxtaposed to larger, loftier figures and conceits. In interview settings, I even ventured to say that our performances were the closest I came to feeling what Christians call “communion.” While the songs themselves were transmuted in the group setting, the other members had a silent understanding that the ability to change the content of the lyrics was held under lock and key, the key of which was guarded by my sensitivity to criticism. The origins to this sensitivity were then unknown.
I was reaching up, reaching out, flailing desperately. This flailing happened in my personal life as well, leading me to get lost in all kinds of rooms that shut out the people who loved me. I would become agitated if I was dragged out. I moved away from my home city with close friendships intact, but even those friendships were burdened by memories of my instability, and outside of them were many loose ends. It was in my new city that I was forced to stop flailing, stop reaching, and sit still. The imaginary disappeared, the symbolic lost its meaning. The Lacanian Real remained. The void stared back.
It dawned on me that all of my kinetic energy was brought on by my subconscious trying to do me a favor. The more I diverted myself with the otherworldly, the less mind I’d have to look in the mirror and examine the world of my mind and body, as well as its relationship with the terrestrial Earth. These were my real concerns. I had to take inventory, learn, and plan with what I was carrying around. It was the single most valuable time of my life, and while my trauma is not gone and will not leave, the recognition it has gained has made me alter my life drastically. Suddenly my relationships became deeper than ever, and I felt closer to what people casually call “whole,” as if some crucial experience points brought my fractional existence to 100%. I didn’t have to tell anyone; it became obvious, and people vocalized what they noticed. It felt wonderful to use Strieber’s tactic and let my life speak for itself.
A quick series of discoveries pushed me ahead. In the beginning of 2020, I watched a documentary called The Nightmare, featuring interviews and dramatizations of sleep paralysis experiences. It included a man named Forrest Borie, and his stories struck me the most. I became fascinated with him and couldn’t help myself from Googling his name. I found a podcast interview with him conducted by a man named Jasun Horsley on his podcast, The Liminalist. Jasun, unknown to me at the time, had a calm timbre of voice and a monotonous pitch, but lots of questions destined to get rich answers, and they did. I investigated Horsley even further, and bought 2 of his books, one of which led me to believe I was supposed to find this man and his work. It is called Prisoner of Infinity and places a seering focus on Whitley Strieber and his Communion story. At risk of botching the nuances of the larger point, the conclusion he comes to about Strieber is that he has developed, for several reasons, a complex matrix of crucial fictions that allow him to avoid an unfaceable trauma. His arguments had me glued to the page, and his writing voice sounded as tied to truth as my thinking had become.
I was stunned. My childhood hero, sensitively dismantled by a brilliant man playing distant psychoanalytical observer. Again, my world shrank, and I focused on a detail, a sentence: one turns the trauma into God. (I believe Horsley has said on a podcast that the phrase is borrowed from somewhere, but Horsley is my source.)
Who turns the trauma into God? We all do. I certainly had. The connections were being made. What was I doing with all of that old art, all of that focus on extraterrestrial interaction, on religious symbolism and reality, on music being tied to all of that at all? I had to learn once, but now I was learning for everyone I met. What holes are people falling into to avoid not only their own trauma, but also the unspeakable properties of inherited trauma? Trauma of place, like the trauma of being an American? I have no issue with general distractions, I discover new ones every day. But where is the line with alien communion, occult preoccupations, joining fanatic strains of mainstream religions, fringe political agendas, fear-based social movements, etc. etc. etc.? What does one do when someone they love is obviously traveling so far and so fast down treacherous tributaries, and it is clear they’re running from aggressors in their own head?
I think about 2020, the year of this writing, and I think about bifurcation. There is a virus that is terrorizing the human body, and there is a dual virus of exacerbated evasiveness regarding pressing matters of sanity. It is easier to get lost than ever before. People are burning their maps to their own heart before they walk out of their corporeal door, sometimes never to return again.
The diplomat pauses, and speaks again. The boy I was a decade ago was interfered with, ultimately for a good cause. The cautionary tale has been spun, but needs to be reduced. I use the tool I employ best: music. The music reduces the story to verse, which requires some additional connective tissue. Here is the story of that boy being allowed to roam free:
A man is convinced he was abducted by aliens. He believes they’ve given him a screen memory: an owl outside of his window. This “truth,” his truth, is his crutch as he lumbers through life, losing jobs, proving to be emotionally laborious, treating friends as vessels for laments, and refusing to take responsibility for progressing through life. He does not drive, he works entry-level positions, and he believes misery will find those who control him. He realizes he worships his story and holds it sacred, meaning the characters within act as indifferent gods, unwilling subjects of his devotion. He becomes lost in this humiliation, fragmenting his psyche further. The occasional moment of clarity interrupts his stasis; they are fleeting and not remembered.
He becomes a perfect meal for the covetous mouth of the dark sections of the internet, and finds his unstable brain manipulated by all kinds of conspiratorial webweavers: Icke-reading reptilian believers, QAnon’s Storm, Flat Earth, and anything of that ilk. It, like all of his other obsessions, takes him further up and away. When he lands, he lands hard, realizing that he has alienated everyone who matters to him. It is crushing, and it is irrefutably Real.
The story ends with him having stayed up all night, actively attempting to come to terms with his epiphany. The smoke has cleared, and the rubble is assessed when he walks out of his bedroom door, only to shirk at the startling image of himself in the mirror. It is a modern analog to the Lovecraft story “The Outsider” (Lovecraft’s personal biography being a cautionary tale in itself), where a monstrous, deformed man is kept in a forbidden quarter of a castle. He escapes, encountering people eating dinner in the main hall who scream at him. Unaware that he is the source of their caterwauling, he turns around to see what provoked them. He sees himself reflected, learning that he was the disturbance after all.
Both stories end there. The statuses of the protagonists are mysterious, seeing as neither exist, and no sequel is planned for either one.
When I speak bluntly of this walk I have only taken in some nearby universe, I am unsure of its purpose outside of warning others. Will it exorcise the pain I carry that would’ve brought him to life? I can’t know at this point. But if I believe in a collective consciousness like I claim to, then my duty is to warn others of the traps I’ve fallen into. I was wounded; I saw the wound, and while the scar remained, I treated it until it sealed.
The collective consciousness is infected, and everyone is looking everywhere else. In a practical world, enthusiastic towards use and using, my concern appears to be foolish. I will protest. Some rocket to space from Earth and never come down. I have crash-landed, along with others, and now my worries lie both on and off the ground, bolstered by experience. Returning and learning is a recipe for love. Returning, learning, and providing a warning is a recipe for laughs and pity. Preemptively, the laughs have been registered, and the pity has been rejected. The music and its story are here, we have known each other, and I am moving on, having shared just enough.