A Hiker Stands Inside an Ice Cave on Mount Kenyas North Face
A Hiker Stands Inside an Ice Cave
on Mount Kenya's North Face

by Bobby Model

Something Wrong

by Dr. Michael Eigen

A darkened stage, lit only by a bulb
above the figure of a pensive woman,
Grace,
who is seated on a stool.

It's not just that they make you feel wrong, but that you are The Wrong. An avatar of The Wrong. As far back as I remember I was The Wrong. And part of the feeling is the sense that I am Their Wrong. Wrong for them, wrong for everyone. As a little girl, I searched for someone who didn't see me as The Wrong, someone for whom I mattered. I almost found it in teachers, but not quite.

My hospitalizations started in my teens. Maybe in hospitals the good would happen. If it did, it did not get through to me. I was an uncorrectable imprint of The Wrong. And I saw The Wrong in grownups who were trying to help me. I had a sick sense that even helpers made me a special conduit of the wrong they breathed, a taint no one could bear. The Wrong swallowed up the world.

Inquisitors torture you into realizing you are The Wrong, then leave you. They stick The Wrong into you and do not need you until the next surge. The Wrong is like a sex urge in them that builds, climaxes, then leaves for awhile. When it builds, they need me to put it into.

Underneath a face is another face, a knife that lives in blood and pain. A famished knife. Does it take a psychotic to see insides of humans as hungry knives?

I turned to Jesus with total intensity when I was a little girl. Someone who got it — who knew The Wrong, the pain, and triumphed over it. Jesus, a lightning rod for The Wrong of this world.

My mind is a mist. Was Jesus the more of life? Did he triumph over life? A greater life? The fall back to myself was always hard. Back on earth there was just me. Jesus did not clean The Wrong out of me. I was still unclean me. The Wrong is part of my essence, part of the pulse of life.

There are moments of joy in which one transcends The Wrong. The Wrong is eclipsed by joy. One appreciates such moments but The Wrong comes back with a wallop.

I hear the words of the psalm, "I am poor and destitute, my heart has died within me." This feels like something right. It is not that I am dead when I feel these words. No, it's as if The Wrong dies while these words live. As if The Wrong is the cross of this world and there are, for moments, saving words. Soul words that live, a kind of life that cancels The Wrong. While I am alive in these words The Wrong does not win. One is a trauma I will never recover from. The other, a death that passes into life.

Grace rises and begins to slowly crisscross
the area close to her stool.

Was there ever a time before Something Wrong? I don't think so. There was something wrong in the Garden of Eden! A snake telling lies, tempting stories with links to destruction. Our lives are stories, God's stories, I used to think. I still feel God very close to us, closer than ever. Sometimes I am ashamed for not hating God more.

We are the garden, the liars, the story telling snakes. The sea, the air, the animals, the flowers compacted in us. We are destructive creativity. As God is.

Garden of Eden, garden of evil. Some people really lie and pass real lies off as truth. Like making up a God story and saying it really happened when it is really a literary event, a spiritual event. We tell stories about a destructive urge in the garden of life. Are we afraid to say that we like this destructive urge? That this urge is a way into life?

Is this secret? The garden gives birth to destruction, is destructive birthing, nourishes destruction. Inside the nursing infant and caring mother, do I see snakes? When does belief becomes destructive? Is it madness of religions, to imagine destruction-free life as they destroy?

Grace peers out at the audience intently.

We imagine being expelled from the Garden because we need to imagine a place that is destruction free. A place to look back at or forward to. We look away from the fact that destruction was already in the garden, waiting for us as part of us.

The garden tells us it feels good to be alive. Yet, destruction comes. We are appalled at the need to destroy and draw back and double in on ourselves, and try to think beyond destruction, think of ways to outwit destruction. Ways to use destruction to some day return to a destruction-free place, or create one. A place we can only imagine.

And, what is real? Making believe destruction doesn't exist? Pretending to be masters of destruction? Hiding? Doing what we can?

Grace pauses.
An expectant look encompasses her face.
Then she settles back against the stool, half-on, half-off.

The Wrong ... The Wrong in Itself ... a Kantian, Platonic Wrong. Such is my essence, mirrored back to me in the news:

A girl killed by her stepfather. A picture of her, tied in a chair, eating dog food, beaten, starved, thin as a feather. The usual uproar, investigation, jailing. A story falls into the newspaper about her mother in jail, weeping, saying she's a good mother. Each day the paper adds another story, then, it vanishes.

Did the mother and her husband try to kill The Wrong? It is a knot: people try to kill The Wrong, but The Wrong kills people. To say I see myself as that girl would be an injustice to her death. But she is in me. I am a lucky her, alive in this room with you, with your Wrong, our Wrongs together. We are lucky because we leave each other after only minutes together.

Time protects us.

Let us tolerate being Wrong together.

Grace smiles.

Wrong meets Wrong.

We survive this meeting.

In so much real life such a meeting blows up, crashes, even leads to death. Wrong against Wrong, an excuse to kill. War takes over and sweeps people along. What led to this girl's murder, what swept them along? It takes less than forty-five minutes to kill someone, but with her it built up over months.

A story said she was rambunctious: instead of giving in to her stepfather's shaming — like I did to my parents — she got worse, troublesome, obnoxious.

And he killed her.

She died rather than give in. I gave in, and became crazy. And am here with you today.

Devil inflamed devil. A little girl's cheeky energy inflamed tyranny. We are attacked and attack back, whether or not attacks are rightly aimed. The energy of a little girl mutilates a maimed adult. Not exactly a mini-mirror of aggression-to-aggression on the world stage, but not totally removed from it, either. Personalities wronging each other, without resources to meet The Wrong.

Do we really survive each other? I said we do. But I spoke too fast. We survive partly. It's not survival here, but change. Something happens for the worse. If we go far enough into the worse, we change. Wrong never goes away, but something happens when we grip it. I go into your Wrong, you into mine. I find mine through yours, you through mine. To touch the worse. Most people most of the time try to get out of it when the job is to get into it. Freedom is working with The Wrong. I feel free when I don't have to make believe I'm right.

Grace pauses,
clearly to replenish her self.
When she continues, it is with refreshment,
with renewed ability to deliver her wisdom.

My parents made believe they were right, and I made believe with them.

I have a paralyzed brain.

When I was little, I had so many scary dreams — murderers, spiders, witches, devils. One I had over and over: shit everywhere. Everyone was angry and I was ashamed. They wanted things to be clean. I was like the girl the stepfather killed, messing things, spoiling things. Now I see a grown-up world with shit everywhere, wars, deaths, spoiling the world we live in. It's not just me. The feeling it's just you is so deep, but it's us, we're doing it, our shitty selves, our shitty psyches. It's as if my childhood dreams are being dreamt and lived by everyone.

Grace sighs ... ponders ... then brightens.

I went to a lovely restaurant last night! The first course was so good. Then the waitress vanished. The service ended. We waited and waited. I was having a good time so I didn't notice the main dish was taking too long. Should I make a fuss, express a grievance, or wait it out? I didn't want to create a disturbance and spoil a nice evening.

Then I thought, asking what happened to the food wouldn't be creating a disturbance. It's just a question, a reminder. I got more and more annoyed, afraid to ask. I was on the verge of ruining a good evening by not saying anything or saying too much. Couldn't I just say, "How's the food coming?"

Even if I pressed them and said something sarcastic like, "Forget about us?" or "What happened to the food?" or "Something wrong?" it wouldn't be the end of the world.

But inside, I felt it would be — it would be the end of the world. How to preserve the overall good feeling yet express a grievance became a major problem.

Not being able to solve the problem of whether to speak or not or how reminds me of a night I came out of one of my hospitalizations and stood by a street lamp on a corner, suddenly seized by grief over humanity, the whole human race. I was weeping, and people looked fearful and concerned. I must have given off 'stay away' vibes, because no one came close to help me.

I saw Humanity and The Ages pass before my eyes. The grief of humankind from its beginning, all the pain of life, all time condensed in a moment of agony. I cried and cried yet felt very good, deep in contact with myself. I felt in contact with deep truth, deep life.

When it subsided, I realized there was a vast distance between what it feels like inside, and the outside world. A chasm that could grow and grow. I had an inkling that if I went all the way inside I'd be back in the hospital. It hit me that all the contact with your inside world won't necessarily enable you to make contact with the outside world. You could as easily go farther and farther away, with people and things seeming less and less real. I haven't gone that far. I feel life is real even when I feel it is not. I don't think I could reach a point where nothing is real, but you never know.

I need to find a way to keep the inside contact I have, to further it, yet link up with life outside me. It may take my whole life to do it, or do it well, if well is possible.

I got fooled by the feeling of newness. I used to think feeling new meant being new. Now I know the trap of thinking you are a new person. You think you are transformed but that is not you. You think: This is IT.

But it fades, and you are you. You are you with maybe a little more IT.

I cried and cried when I realized I'd have to lose my new beginning. Then I thought, well, you don't exactly lose it. It's that you're not so fooled by it. It can be there, part of the mix, but not a pretend substitute for the whole mix.

Instead you say, "Well, here I am. Here I am." And where does that leave me?

I'm me, looking at you.

Not bad, huh?

With a huge, somewhat smiling yawn, Grace stretches.

Damage triggers attempts at recovery. Brain tissues try to recover after stroke or seizure. Maybe they try to recover after medication. But what if medication never stops? You can't tell the difference between healing and damage.

When I was in the hospital I feared my brain was disintegrating. Was that medication, or disease? Disease, I think. Dread of disintegrating was part of my breakdown. I was disintegrating. Sometimes it concentrated in my head, my brain. It spread all over. It was me myself disintegrating. I told a doctor, "If only you could tell me my brain isn't really disintegrating, I could get through this. "

At one point they tried electric shock and I blacked out. When I came to, I disintegrated. I literally saw the world in pieces, an awkward collage, my I a mosaic of tiles that didn't fit. They stopped after two or three tries. Thank God they recognized it made me worse.

I don't mind going through what I need to go through as long as I know it is me, and not my brain, that is disintegrating. If it is me, I can go on.

I will let you in on something secret: my body is a war zone. Intense combat goes on. Missiles streak across my organs, making my skin break out in rashes. Maggots in my blood wait for a chance to eat through veins. I'm filled with tumors. I've had three face lifts today and already I'm sagging. I'm going to have liposuction. Or is it another kind of suction I want, sucking my psyche and making it better, making it go away.

All is luminous. Light, Light, Light. But it does not make the maggots go away.

Today, I woke determined to go through Everything! Nothing would stop me! The attack came and I dropped into it, whirled. Today is the day I will go all the way. I will not end the agony with no end. This time, I will see what happens. I will go with it forever until something happens. And if nothing happens, I will not stop. I must find out. I must see what It is made of. What I'm made of. This is IT.

No matter how hard I tried, It began to ebb and I rose above It, watching, wondering how this happened. It was familiar, being above. Something I take for granted. I probably don't realize it is happening most of the time. But this time I felt the difference, the contrast, being in It and above It. It's me both ways, double me. Single me as double me, double me in single me. Is that where the idea of Trinity comes from, one as three, three as one? Me being aware of me being aware of me?

I became very tired. You know, I've been tired all my life — psychically anemic. Not enough soul oxygen. Not enough O, or too much O. Asleep with one part of me, and awake with one part of me, active and fatigued at the same time.

You dive in, and there is no end. There is no air. You squint and start to die, and panic. It's like looking into a crystal ball and seeing war. You'd think I'd be happy but I'm humiliated. I mainly feel humiliation. I am not up to being me. I am not up to the job I set for myself, a total birth, a going through, a sticking with. I fall asleep on myself and it's all over. There's no chance of It happening again today. Maybe tomorrow...

A long, deliberate pause.
Grace settles onto the stool.

My meditator says, "Go back to a safe place." But there is no safe place. There was no safe place in my house, no safe place for feeling.

My meditator says, "Find someone to comfort you. " She means a comforting presence within, a residue from childhood. "Picture someone who comforted you. Feel the comfort. "

"Are you kidding?!" I break down in inconsolable fury and grief. Did she say, did I imagine it, "Don't go back to crying. " She did say it.

She was worried. Or disgusted or frustrated, impatient at my being stuck so long. All my life there is this hole in the ice and when I fall in — and I do fall in, often — there is danger of a chill that will never go away. Ice on the outside, chill on the inside. Thermo- what do you call it? Thermo — something bad.

I hate my outside chill, stiff skin, tight face. I don't think many people really like the way I look. I don't think I make many people feel comfortable. I think some appreciate a certain nervous intensity. They sense I'm in contact with something, that I have something to offer, something mad perhaps. Something to offer, a little like a poet might. Some thought or word from somewhere else.

I see people watching me dig into myself, through myself, through the ice, deep under. To say I might drown misses the point. I am drowned. I'm a drowned person. I speak from under the ice, within the thermocline.

Do you know what a thermocline is? That's the word — thermocline. It's a deep chill. A chill that once was feeling. Horror perhaps, sorrow, despair, giving up, never giving up, fighting in the freeze, through the freeze, with the freeze. Is this the angel Jacob wrestled with — or did he have a warm one? My angel is a thermocline. I wrestle with my thermocline.

If I go back, like my meditator urges, it's to shutdown. I tell her there's no place to go back to that's worth going to.

She says, "Then let yourself be comforted as if you had been." She imagines you can imagine comfort even if you've never had it. She takes comfort for granted.

To hell with her. Let her be alarmed, irritated! Niceness is not nice enough. I smell vanity. She is hurt that she can not be a comforting presence for me, that there is someone she can not comfort. Failure of a human or spiritual power she thinks she has, wants to have, she has for many, but not for me. With me she is still a spiritual wannabe. I torture her by being an exception. She can't endure the torture scent that comes from me. The torture that is me may not be something she can know. She may be too well meaning.

I come to the end of her personality and she of mine, and I break down and sob.

It's too much!

Still seated, Grace nervously taps her right foot.

A void is at the core of my personality, perhaps is the core. Under all the activity, the flux, the business — void. I've covered it with hysteria, thinking, doing. I've been fighting it all my life. Void scared me.

Though I'm getting less scared of it. It's a relief to give in to its fascination, its pleasures. I thought giving in meant I would have to accept defeat. To feel it there without thrashing, to accept something would always be missing, that part of me would be missing. I had no idea how tingly being void can be.

It's not just emptiness. It's more like I'm not there. And not being there is a relief, a joy.

Anxiety is another core. There's an alphabet of the soul, a psychic alphabet, a core alphabet. Void is one core, anxiety another. It's not that anxiety fills the void. It can try but doesn't succeed. The void continues beneath it, beyond it. Anxiety is a void of its own, a world of its own, a background nearly always there, ready to overwhelm. The void sometimes swallows it, tries to dampen it, shut it down. There are times when the void and anxiety fight to be #1. They fight for the same space. At the same time, each creates space of its own. They are antagonists, but also go their own ways, not bothering with each other.

I used to attribute each to my parents — their anxiety, their emptiness. Flooding me with anxiety, leaving me empty. I'd fight and give in, lost and angry. Scared of anxiety. I'd fight it off, shut it out, as if it shouldn't be there, like a bug trying to thrash its way out of molasses. To open to anxiety. Is that possible? To open instead of fighting, open as well as fight. It's bigger than parents, more than me. Void and anxiety — a, b, c.

My mind is chilled, frozen. It was easier in school. You read what you had to and found what you needed. My mind got knocked out by my marriage. Sexual madness followed. Relationships broke me as a person. I kept thinking something good was happening and then the freeze came. Something more than rejection or failure. Something broke me apart. The good in the universe became a broken thing and I tried to hold my broken insides together. The world looked like broken insides. Wherever I moved, wherever I looked, I was living in a world of broken insides.

I remember the moment when reading became different. I felt the author's presence, near me, inside me. His insides in my insides. The first time it happened I got scared and put the book down. But I knew something important happened, something healing. It was a great moment when I realized that books were filled with people's insides and that their insides fed mine. A kind of miracle, to need an invisible presence, to want someone who is not there, who may have died long ago, whose words touch me.

There is music in the writing. It's not simply in the words. It comes from what is full in another person. It comes from another's void. When I feel that, my void is at peace.

I'm touching a secret place I'd go to get away from my parents. It was a safe place then, but not always safe. Panic would flood it like a broken dam rushing over an old, dry riverbed. Cores meld. Now this secret place feels like my deepest truth.

There are outer and inner shells. My personality is an outer shell. It hovers with this interest, that hope, no peace in it. Peace is in the void. The void is big true, hysterical me is little true. Oscillating trues give birth to lots of trues.

Grace shifts, crosses one knee then re-crosses with the other.
Her breath quickens,
eyes light.

As if entering a trance,
she rises.

Last night I dreamt of a tiny baby. It is very tiny. I hold it. It is mine. It makes me more secure, related, comfortable, fuller, whole. I think all things are made of chaos and a baby comes of it. Tiny may be all I can handle. But now I do have that — for this dream moment. A moment I didn't have the moment before.

A baby survives the thermocline.

I think I'm saying that a birth is greater than death.

For everything starts off alive. Everything is alive. Womb thoughts. Dream as part of womb activity. Dream wombs.

Dreams are like a respirator in an intensive care ward inside us. They help keep life alive. An umbilicus to the World Soul.

To give birth to a dream! Or is it the other way — dreams give birth to us? Dreams as birthing activity. Is the I something dreaming births?

We dip into dreams to taste our lives raw, a sense that in dreams we are naked, that dreams touch truth about our basic selves.

Dreams keep psychic life alive. Like a baby, they take hits, go under, get damaged. Mutilated dreams, dreams of mutilation — glimpses of our damaged selves. They keep coming, damage and all, deep monsters, moments of grace.

It's raining dreams! And when I look closely, every raindrop is a damaged baby and inside the baby is a damaged dream and inside the dream a damaged baby.

Yet damage doesn't stop us! Dreams are partly crippled bodies that say, "Throw away your crutches and fly!" I'm above the rooftops, high. You can't stop where dreams come from. You can't escape seeing how gnarled you are. You don't outgrow being a damaged baby. You just grow.

And my womb, the limitless ever-forming Void? The Great Void nothing can fill, pregnant emptiness?

Freud speaks of a dream navel with tangled root systems vanishing from view. The great umbilicus. Where does it lead? Unborn places, thoughts and feelings waiting for a chance at living.

Everything one feels changes the void. Everything a baby feels changes the void.

God says: You will give birth in pain. I take it, psychic birth. And joy is painful too? Yes, joy is painful. But joy is joyful.

Yes, joy is joyful.

Michael Eigen, PhD. is the author of fifteen books, including Ecstasy, Rage, Lust, Toxic Nourishment and Feeling Matters, which is due out this fall. He is Editor of The Psychoanalytic Review and practices psychotherapy in New York City. He can be reached at mikeigen@aol.com

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