I read this recently: “It’s hard to let go of the demons inside. They were the only ones holding you when no one else would.” It was a message written across a photo of a skeletonish looking thing holding the face of a man who appeared to be crying. The person who shared the photo added the caption, “True!” to his post.
I know this person’s story and I know the “demons” he keeps at bay. I also know what he means. What is familiar is more comforting than what is unfamiliar. This is true even if the familiar is pain. I’ve been in the place of holding on to the pain to the point of sabotaging anything that would threaten to heal it. I would do this unconsciously, as a survival instinct, because I knew how to navigate the darkness.
When you grow up the way I did, you learn to pack light. Joy, love, and relationships are all too bulky to carry. They slow you down and ultimately put you in danger. It hurts to lose what you care about, so you try to care about very little. When life starts to settle and joy starts to inject hope in the future, that’s when you pull out the demons to protect you. The drinks, the sounds, and the memories all serve to remind you of who you believe you are and keep you from believing that you can be anything more. You say whatever terrible thing you have to say until you can see your pain in the eyes of anyone who falls for you. And a relationship that dysfunctional is all you’re capable of.
Preferring the familiar is part of the human condition. It’s not a special dysfunctional ability reserved for the strong few. It’s why commercials make sticky songs, toxic products spend tons of money making you feel like you know them so that you’ll bring them home, and people stay in the dead waters when they could set off looking for vigorous rivers. People prefer the ruin that they know to the decay that they don’t. They would rather get hit in the same nerve damaged spot over feeling new pain in a new spot. These people are strong. Some of the strongest you’ll ever meet, but their strength is their abuser, their captor, their own demons, and they might even be smart enough to know it.
I’ve walked through that on my own journey, and I’ve found my way out. I can write about this subject because, instead of finding comfort in not trying, I’ve found the life that I’ve always wanted. I don’t get to reclaim or redo a lost childhood, but I get to break the mold that that kind of hurt forges. Life, I’ve discovered, is in the challenge and the anticipation. It’s still heavily weaved in difficulty and disappointment, but not like the emptiness of remaining the hiding child peering at life through the cracks. It’s possible to outgrow the comfort of familiar demons much like the “normal” child outgrows depending upon his parents. You mature. Like an infant redwood in an indoor planter, your potential is grossly underestimated.
We, “children of Cain”, have an opportunity of which the others are not aware. We have the freedom to create whatever we want. We can stamp down new paths because our old ones aren’t lit. We can start new lives and build new structures because our old lives with its old structures are the products of someone else’s poor construction. We can leave it all behind and let God create something brand new within us, around us, and through us. We are not cursed and neither are our children. What happened to us, as children, is not a reflection of who we are. It’s just something that we lived through.
“Afflicted city, storm-battered, unpitied: I’m about to rebuild you with stones of turquoise, lay your foundations with sapphires, construct your towers with rubies, your gates with jewels, and all your walls with precious stones. All your children will have God for their teacher—what a mentor for your children! You’ll be built solid, grounded in righteousness, far from any trouble—nothing to fear! far from terror—it won’t even come close!” – Isaiah 54:11-14 MSG