Steve's Story: The Snake Pit
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell, Chapter 4: The Years in Hell
Now, we are skipping over the bizarre things that happened once I met the god of this world (You'll have to get the book to get the whole story). The supernatural being that I encountered through "An Unsolicited Visitation" enventually brought me to ruin during "The Night of Terror." I awakened from the horror of that expierience into the "Snake Pit."
When I awakened in what I came to think of as the “snake pit,” my life was decidedly on “the chain”—busted and locked up, inside and out. From that time to the present, I have very vague memories of what happened during the days that immediately followed my “night of terror” suicide attempt described in the first chapter. Though I barely remember that night, doubtlessly I was rushed to the local hospital, had my stomach pumped and was assessed by the doctors. I seem to recall it being explained to me that, because of my suicide attempt, state law required I be transferred to Cherry Hospital, the regional mental facility in the next town over.
I couldn’t have cared less. Nothing mattered now—nothing except the overwhelming judgment that was fully upon me. The doctors of course didn’t know it, couldn’t know it, but from my demented perspective, I had actually died in what they called my suicide “attempt.” I was in hell—that was a fact, the one great overriding FACT of this continued existence. Yet, I was also convinced that no one in this hell with me would ever believe or acknowledge the reality of what I was experiencing. Were they even alive? I honestly didn’t believe that they were—not here, not with me. I believed that they lived on in some other universe still united to the god who had abandoned me. I could have screamed incessantly and would have, only somehow I also knew that hell would be exquisitely responsive to me, never in a good way. That was part of the torture—you could easily make conditions in hell worse, but you could never make them better.
Coming back to full consciousness in the “snake pit” at Cherry Hospital didn’t help my first impressions of hell one bit. I believe I was in the “pit” a week, maybe two, but it may only have been a few days. It seemed to be a holding tank of sorts, where the powers in charge kept us while they ran their tests, formed their treatment plans and made up their minds where to place us. The pit was crawling with insanity. It saturated the air. It writhed upon every face. It was laced through every garbled conversation with the dozen or so others incarcerated with me. This was the summer of 1972 and “mainstreaming” the mentally ill had not yet been adopted as public policy. Instead, all of us from the criminally insane to the “retarded” (our word at the time), to those wacked-out on drugs like myself were crowded into the locked wards.
In the throes of the drug epidemic and the cultural upheaval brought in by the ‘60s, business was booming at Cherry. Eventually, a new policy would release many to the streets, but for the moment I was shoulder to shoulder with a lot of really eerie people. We were simmering—each one of us—in a witch’s brew of inner torment. We couldn’t help but to bubble over, spilling craziness onto one another, filling the air with the noxious fumes of our incoherent mutterings. We milled about the main room like caged animals. I remember Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale was playing frequently, causing me acute discomfort. The title described how I felt; I also imagine it described how I appeared.
The truth is that I didn’t care how I looked, or sounded. During the only conference at Cherry that I can remember with the psychiatrists, I set all decorum aside and said over and over to them, “I’m doomed. Doomed!” Actually, I wasn’t just saying those words, I was pleading them, trying to “push” their meaning—the reality that gripped me—into the minds of the professionals across the intervening table, just in case there was anything they could do. The effort would prove futile. Indeed, it was evident that they could neither see nor believe in the spiritual reality that had laid me to waste. In my mind these were second-stringers anyway—custodians, not healers. I had been worked over, to no avail, by the real experts at Duke, so I gave up all effort. This was the one and only time that I tried to open up to anyone about the interminable nightmare of the hell I was experiencing. In hell there could be no rescue from hell. From that point on I was back to stonewalling the shrinks and refraining from talking about my inner reality with anyone. What was the point?
There were unrelenting conditions to hell. One, the most terrible of all, was abject hopelessness. In Dante’s Inferno the gates of hell are inscribed, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” That is so true! Where there is life, there is always some hope to cling to, no matter how slender it might be, no matter how fool-ish. Even in my tormented last days, I had the hope that suicide would make things better. Foolish? Yes. Slender? Certainly! But it was hope nevertheless. Now there was absolutely NO hope. No hope that god would return to me and repeal his anger. No hope that the judgment against me could be reversed. No hope that I was anything but already dead and in hell, damned and soulless. No hope that there was any life left in the dying universe that had become my mental tomb.
This did not mean that my experience of my inner life or of outward conditions in hell was unreal to me. No, every waking moment was brutally tormenting. Sleep held dark fantasies that were even worse. By the end of my years in hell it had become my studied plan to work so hard by day that I was too exhausted to dream, then I would drink half a bottle of wine—just to make sure. I fully believed that what I was experiencing was the true hell—the dissolution of a consciousness that had failed to achieve growth into enlightenment and positive trans-formation. The de-formation was now taking place. It could only end with further loss of powers (loss of health and mobility, mental capacity, etc.) and physical death in hell. The thought of physical death in hell terrified me all the days I spent in hell. I knew what was waiting for me in the grave—an unthinkable horror. This was the ultimate torment of hell and there was nothing I could do to avoid it, only avert it temporarily. My number one rule was guarding myself against physical death in hell.
For every single moment of those entire ten years, I believed in the reality of the hell that held me. I believed with the same kind of certainty that Christians believe Jesus is alive: I knew that I had been judged by my god, slain by my god and had awakened, not on planet earth as you know it, but in what was left of my dying consciousness. My conscious connection to genuine life had been severed: Real people, real things, real planets were somewhere else entirely in the universe that is also god. This god, who I still whole-heartedly believed was the true God, had declared my excommunication, “Depart from me forever!”—and then carried out the sentence. I fully believed that I was experiencing the true hell which Christianity, through its mythological images, had been trying to warn us about. Hell was exile from god. It was a collapsing consciousness, entropic self-destruction. I was in it, rather I was it!
Fortunately for me hell was not—as Jean-Paul Sartre imagined in his play No Exit—other people. Many of my fellow inmates at Cherry were indeed scary, but others provided comic relief or at least a welcomed distraction from the primary focus of my fear and loathing—me. I am now able to see this as the true God sending the clowns into the rodeo ring to rescue the hapless cowboy from being trampled to death by the bull that just hurled him to the ground. One side of me was now a raging bull. I would later say that I had enough fear and rage inside of me to power up all the lights in Detroit! This was entirely unlike the person I had once been: the gentle kid who tried to break up fights and never engaged in them; the pacifist who protested the war, but never the troops; the quiet guy who rarely yelled or cursed—and quit golf “cold turkey” once temper got the best of him.
Now, however, self-hatred was a furnace of fury on the inside, always red hot, always hurling curses against me. I could easily have done all manner of violence to myself and fantasized it often. The only thing that stopped me was the stark, raving horror of what awaited me on the other side of physical death in hell, a scene that I had glimpsed during my suicide attempt. Later, I came to realize, much to my surprise, that that most hideous moment was when the devil’s game plan failed. The enemy is a bully who delights in parading his powers and loves to gloat over and terrorize his victims. He and his team couldn’t help but show off the torment to come. I am sure that the only wise God let them go too far, so that in His wisdom an implacable resistance would be anchored in me to the thoughts of suicide and self-violence that continually assailed me in hell. Our merciful Savior used this unholy terror to keep me alive and reasonably healthy, at that, while He put the real rescue together. How I thank Him for that! “Amazing grace… that taught my heart to fear and then my fears relieved.”
Are You Curious for More?
You can read most of the book just by following the arrows, although with this next secton, we will have taken a running leap over all the wild and crazy years in hell to arrive at "The Night of Deliverance." If you want to get a guided tour of the cuckoo's nest or experience insanity from the inside of a demented mind, you will have to buy the book! My purpose in providing these excerpts is to show you the Christian journey which led me out of all the insanity, emotional turmoil and brokenness into a fully restored life.