I leave this soul behind / And I am paralyzed
When the broken fall alive / Let the light take me too
When the waters turn to fire / Heaven, please let me through"
I have had night terrors all my life. I don’t just mean the occasional unpleasant dream, I’m talking about experiences as real, vivid, and painful as ‘real’ life taking place most nights from the time I was a child until the night I sit here typing this while listening to Breaking Benjamin and avoiding going to sleep. The night terrors are resistant to every treatment - I haven’t slept with the light off in years. Five out of seven days a week, I wake up from some horror shivering with cold sweat and hyperventilating.
I am going to briefly describe three dreams and then discuss the greater reality they have spoken to. Please allow me to be vulnerable with you as I lay bare my subconscious reality.
One - I am in a church that is lined with pews. There is a man with a gun. He shoots everyone who speaks or whimpers. Some people try to tell him about Jesus in an effort to save his soul while also hoping that this final act gives them a martyr’s death, insuring their place in heaven. After changing the clip in his pistol, he begins to execute those of us who have remained silent. I know my turn is coming up. Tears stream down my face and I begin to beg Jesus for forgiveness in my mind. I think to myself “Please don’t send me to hell. Please forgive me. I’m sorry for everything I’ve done. I love you, please save me from hell.” I begin to cry aloud as the muzzle makes contact with my head. I offer one final plea and the man pulls the trigger. I wake up terrified and screaming.
Two - I am inside the farm house I grew up in. I have been shot and we are far from help. I know I’m bleeding out and I’m not going to make it. As I lay on the floor helpless, two individuals show up - a deacon and a priest that I know in real life. They are not trying to stop the bleeding, they don’t render any sort of aid. What they do is read from the Bible. They tell me about Jesus as I go in and out of consciousness. They know I am no longer a Christian and they are trying to keep me from hell. All I think is “I’m going to die hearing this nonsense? Can they read me some Carl Sagan or something?” I then quietly bleed to death. I wake up confused and shivering with sweat.
Three - I am on a school field trip with members of my senior class, Our teacher is a famous physicist who I won’t name. I receive news while we are on the school bus that I have a terminal diagnosis and I am going to die. I move to the back seat of the bus and begin to sob aloud. My classmates ignore me and I sit clutching my knees to my chest and trembling. My teacher/real life physicist comes to the back seat and puts his arms around me. He tells me not to be afraid - death is nothing to fear. He then goes on to recite Carl Sagan quotes in a soothing way until I calm down. I wake up gently and without fear.
These three dreams represent what has happened to my psyche as I have deconverted from Christianity. When I was a Christian, I feared death because I feared hell. Hell was an ever-looming threat just waiting for my heart to stop to potentially swallow my consciousness. I asked for forgiveness not because I thought I did something wrong but because I thought God might think I had done something wrong. I would fall asleep begging for mercy. That’s when I had the first dream and many others like it.
When I first left Christianity, it took me a while to break the habit of praying before bed. I slowly lost the fear of hell but I was still afraid of the void. I feared that my consciousness may still exist after death in some sort of purgatory. I realized this seemed unlikely but some apprehension remained. That’s when I had the second dream.
I had the third dream last week. I am finally accepting that death really is nothing to fear - there is no reason to think my consciousness will remain after my brain dies. It is as though science speaks directly to the fear of death and ensures it that there is nothing to worry about.
Death isn’t something to be afraid of. It is something that we ought to be aware of in such a way as to remind us to live each day, each moment, as though it could be our last. Death should motivate us to be kind to one another and take every opportunity we get to enjoy the experience of life.
With love and good faith,