A story beckoned and my imagination cast me as the main character: Cinderella, Bernadette Soubirous, Sara Crewe, Pipi Longstocking. Sometimes, I was Julie Andre in my version of Daddy Long Legs or Jo Stockton in Funny Face or one of many, many other characters from books or from one of the few films or television programs I was allowed to watch (or watched without permission when the adults failed to guard the living room). My imagination took me away from the girl who was abused and neglected, the girl who had to keep so many secrets, the girl who was not even allowed to reveal that she remembered the before time.
Somehow the fantasies always became wound up with that first rape. At first, the prince rescued me from the molesting step mother, the brutalizing step children. But by the time I became an adult, there was no prince; my fantasies became darker and increasingly abusive. My imagination created scenes that I knew, even as they played themselves out in my mind, I never wanted to live. Anxiety – good or bad – triggered fantasy and fantasy became a prison. It was beyond my control. Somewhat pleasurable, dark horrors arose in my mind: What if I had been sold as a sacrifice? What if I had been sold as a slave? What if I had innocently wandered into a relationship only to find myself trapped, brutalized, and murdered by someone who took pleasure in hurting me because he could?
Intellectually, I knew that I was reliving the horrors I had experienced as a young child. I was trying to rework them, make them, somehow, okay. But I also knew that nothing in my power could ever make them okay. I held the gaping wounds up to God and begged Him to heal me. I ended fantasy after fantasy confused, unable to fathom how the creeping darkness would dissipate. How could I be healed? How could I ever stop fantasizing? How could I be free? Therapy hadn’t helped. I had never trusted my therapists enough to tell them much about my fantasies anyway. And I had assumed that finding my family would cure all my ills. But my family was dead and I couldn’t hope for healing that way.
Finally, I was freed from prison in a totally unexpected way. A friend who knew about my past scandalized me. For a year I suffered from flashbacks and fantasy had no appeal. Wide-eyed joy eventually blossomed: “There must be something innocent in me,” I told God. “Otherwise, I couldn’t have been scandalized.” I find more and more innocence in me. Learning that abuse had caused me to be confused elicited more joy and fantasy still had no appeal. Another round of flashbacks which another friend triggered cauterized my soul – I couldn’t even imagine wanting fantasy.
These days, I experience rare temptation to lose myself in fantasy; life hasn’t become exactly easy. But fantasy still has no appeal. Fantasy limits me to my own imagination. And though I have an immense imagination, it’s not much next to what God does. He brought me along, healed me bit by bit, and, when I was strong enough, reset my default from fantasy, when I’m anxious, to prayer, exercise, chatting with a friend, singing, all sorts of activities that lead me into the light.
Real life continues to be filled with the hard work of living but it’s good work, like the work I’ve been doing to strengthen my knees and correct an imbalance in my leg muscles. Today, for the first time in a long, long time, I climbed and descended several sets of stairs with a minimum of pain. I’ve still got a ways to go but my knees and leg muscles are getting stronger. Living the moments of my life without escaping into a world of my own creation is becoming easier. I still have plenty of dreams but remind myself that with work and help from God, some of those dreams can come true, just as they have in the past. Fantasy is ephemeral. It’s like eating whipped cream all day. It can be pleasant but it’s nothing real, nothing sustaining. I do better with real food.