Today’s post is a little bit different. I’ve written a short story based upon an illustration used by John Bradshaw in his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You.
I’ve lost track of the days that I have been in this prison. It seems strange to think there was a time when I wasn’t imprisoned. Was there? Any memory I have not confined within these walls seems like a blurry dream. I am at the point now where I cannot tell if they are real memories, or if they are just faint dreams of a time that never really existed.
As time passes those memories continue to fade, and the only reality I truly know and understand is my cell. You might think that I must interact with other prisoners, or at a minimum the guards that oversee my imprisonment. But this is not the case.
You might expect that I committed a crime and after standing trial I was committed to life behind bars, but this is not so. No evidence was put forth, and no jury rendered a verdict. I honestly cannot remember if I did commit a crime, but since I am here I think I must have done something. And yet like I’ve said I vaguely remember a time before my prison walls.
It is often easier for me to think that I, in fact, did commit a crime, and I have convinced myself that it must have been atrocious. Why else would I be here if I had not? Regardless, of what I may have done there is at least a sense of justice that comes when a criminal is behind bars. But there is a question that haunts me, and I can only dwell on it in the briefest of moments, but what if I didn’t commit a crime? If I haven’t committed a crime then my imprisonment is a cosmic injustice, and yet there is another reality that is scarier still.
What if I have been imprisoned not for what I have done, but because of who I am? Maybe who I was happened to be such a risk to society that I was relegated to this dungeon as a precaution. If that is the case then I am without hope because an act of violence or any other criminal act might be paid after a number of years, but who I am cannot change. If I am imprisoned based upon who I am then there is no amount of years that might change that fact, and so I will simply remain here for the rest of my days.
Sadly I have been here for so long that this must be the reason why I am here. If not wouldn’t my time be fulfilled, have I not served my time? Or if I haven’t done anything is there no one that will come rescue me? Have I been forgotten by everyone that I may have loved or that may have loved me? Don’t waste your time trying to answer these questions for I have been here for what seems like eternity pondering these things, and so I have surrendered to the fact that I will remain in this prison for the rest of my days.
Escape you say? Why thank you for that revolutionary idea! Do you not think that over the years I have not attempted to escape dozens of times. I do not think you understand the gravity of my situation or the nature of my imprisonment.
There are no doors to my prison. Imagine a rounded cave with a ceiling twenty feet high. Stone walls that sweat moisture, making them slick and damp like the rocks of a riverbed. There are no footholds anywhere and climbing is not an option. My only hope has been that the floor is made out of sand.
Many times I have frantically attempted to build a mountain of sand as high as I can that might reach a hole that is in the ceiling. I’ve thought I’ve been close many times, and yet when I begin to climb up the mountain of sand it cannot bear my weight. It begins to cascade down and the mountain that has taken weeks to make simply washes away like a sand castle being swept away by the tide.
The hole in the ceiling does allow for light to come in, but it is such an unbearable light. I cannot bear to stand in the light because I can see the man I’ve become in my imprisonment. The color has faded from my skin and I am emaciated from years of malnourishment. The light is painful, and so I spend the majority of my time on the fringe of shadows. Although I cannot bear to be in the light, the darkness holds no comfort either.
Darkness is a frightful thing. Who knows what lingers in the dark. It is an unknown place that in all my years I have not dared to venture for I fear if I walk into it the darkness might wash over me and I might cease to exist. So, because the darkness is dreadful and the light is overwhelming I cling to the shadows where neither light nor darkness thrives.
The only other thing in my prison is a mirror, or rather it is more accurate to say that there was a mirror. It’s long since been broken because I could no longer to look at the man that stared back at me. My reflection was a reminder of both of my imprisonment and of everything I am not. If you stare in a mirror long enough you know every imperfection. They glare at you from the glass and taunt you as though they seem to say, “You aren’t good enough.” Again if I was good then I likely wouldn’t be in this prison, so they taunt me.
I attempted to break the mirror, but there are still shards in the corner where the mirror used to be. I cannot escape the shards and so they still cry out from their corner and I feel nothing but shame.
It’s quite a grim and dreadful life that I experience, and yet it is the only thing I have ever known. What happens when the grim and the dreadful become normal? You’d think that after all these years I might hope to end my existence, but for some reason that I cannot explain, I am not entirely without hope.
The main reason that I have any hope is the sound of the rushing water. Although faint if I press close enough to the wall near the darkness I can hear it. It is as close to a joyful sound as I have ever known. As the water rushes it seems to give a sense of life.
If I could just reach the water there might be some hope. I might be able to quench my thirst that has rocked my body for, so long. I’d like to think that it might be most refreshing to stand under a torrent of the water and wash away the grime that clings to my skin. It might be a new beginning, a new life.
However, my fear is that to find my way out and to discover the water I might have to press into the unknown darkness and see what lies beyond it. You see when I told you that my prison was like a rounded cave I wasn’t entirely truthful. The truth is that I have only touched three of the walls of my cell for they are the ones closest to the light. I’ve never dared to enter the back of my cave because it lies in complete and utter darkness.
I cannot even tell you how far back it goes. Once I threw a rock with all my might so that I might hear it hit the wall, but I never heard a sound. Maybe one day I will have the courage to walk into the unknown and see if freedom lies there, but I am not sure if that day is today.
For the first time in forever my hope is renewed. Although the light is quite unbearable the light shifted today like it never has before. The darkness receded just a little bit, and I saw something I’ve never seen before. Footprints. You might think that they are my own, but I can tell you that it is not.
I’ve never shared my cell with anyone else, but it appears that maybe there was someone before me. And since they are no longer here with me I am lead to think that there may be a way out!
Today I dared a step into the darkness and my ears were met with the sound of the rushing water! The sound grew stronger, and so I took another step, and it grew stronger still. Oh how I want to taste that water and let it wash over me. It seems that it might wash away all the years that I have been imprisoned here, but oh how I wish it wasn’t in the darkness that I must tread to get there.
Something shifted today within my soul and I have decided to step into the unknown. I am not sure what awaits me there, and it might end up being my demise. But maybe…just maybe if I continue to press on I might find the water.
Faith. Faith is what I think I found today. Although I cannot see where I am going I believe that there must be another way, and so I am leaving today. I have been enslaved to shame, indignity, and disgrace for far too long. Even if I set out into the darkness and I am met with death it would be a gladder existence than to remain here in my cell.
And so, I have written this for you in case you find yourself in my old cell. I realize that you may spend a long time here, but I hope that the light shifts as it did for me. When it does I hope you have the courage to follow the footprints because I believe if you do so you might find new life in the water.
A smile. A smile has not found its way to my face in an eternity, and yet as I write these last words I am smiling. Freedom and joy are beckoning, and I pray that one day you might join me.