I’m not talking about a house with ghosts that pass through walls, or rattle chains in the basement or the attic. I’m talking about all of those ghosts that live in the shelter of my own mind.
When I was thirty-one years old, single and dating, I always asked one question on a first date; “How did you get along with your father?” I believe that all of us project our father’s or mother’s face onto each man or woman we meet later in life. Sprite, for example, adored her father. That’s a ghost I can happily live with. And yes, when I was young, I thought my mother was a Saint. I still do.
Some of my ghosts are helpful. They inspire me by murmuring words of encouragement. “You can do this.” “Express your love.” “This too will pass.” I will always have a cozy nook in my mind for those phantoms that care about me
But what about the wicked goblins who, all too often, spring from their hiding places deep in my mind to taunt me with memories I’ve long ago transformed into enduring expectations of rejection and failure? Those spooks are nasty to live with and difficult, if not impossible, to evict.
When I was two or three years old, I woke up screaming every night with a recurring nightmare of being chased by “The Big Bad Wolf” who was going to eat me alive. My father always raced into my room to sit on the side of my bed. He patiently suggested that, in my dream, I should stand my ground. He told me that instead of running away, I should turn around, face the Big Bad Wolf, and tell him “I’m not scared of you. Go away Mr. Wolf.”
I tried to follow my dad’s advice, but running away felt safer. But finally, after many months, I did what my dad suggested.
In my dream I stopped running, turned around, and said to the slobbering Wolf, “Mr. Wolf, I’m not afraid of you. Go away.” To my surprise, the Wolf looked startled. Then the Wolf stopped, turned around himself, and slunk away.
“Daddy, daddy, the wolf ran away!” I ran into their bedroom and woke up both of my parents to spread the good news.
That wolf has never returned. Nor has the dream which haunted me after I graduated from college. Maybe you know that one, in which you haven’t attended class, never read the text book, and have to take the final exam in two hours?
Most of the internal ghosts which I struggle with today visit me while I’m entirely awake. They whisper to me, “That person won’t like you.” “You’re too fat.” “Sprite doesn’t want you anymore. She didn’t greet you as ardently today as she did yesterday.”
These whispers are rooted in my past, not my present, and I don’t expect to ever dislodge them all. But I’m making progress. Some of my ghosts, such as “You have to work all the time,” or “Sprite will emotionally abandon you one day,” have begun to pack.
It has taken determination, reassurance from others, and the passage of time for me to reduce the influence of those voices. It also helps when I talk or write about them, exposing my ghosts-in-residence to the light of today.
I’ve always lived in a haunted house. How about you?
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