Cabot O’Callaghan mourns a friend who chose to walk into darkness and calls for us all to shine a little brighter.
No one sees you here
Roots are all covered
There’s such a length to go
And how much can you show?
Day is gone
On a landslide a-reeling
I’ve seen your lamplight burning low
-Beck, Waking Light
My friend, Stacy Campbell, chose death over life on September 16th, 2015.
A bottle of self-medicating wine stands before me as I sit in the darkness on the deck in the backyard. I’m looking at the city lights in the distance, watching them twinkle and crawl up the far hillside as I write. These hot tears running down my face are irrational, I tell myself. You didn’t really know her, I think shamefully. Your grief is unearned.
I didn’t know Stacy but I did know Stacy. I only knew her as a writer in the electronic ether, not as flesh and blood. I found her bleeding words back in 2010 as I was starting my journey as a writer. She wrote about childhood sexual abuse. She wrote about loneliness and difficulties with relationships. She wrote about walking the edge between life and death.
These are things I know too well. We had shared trauma and I felt an immediate bond to her. I saw her darkness, knew the wounds that birthed her demons. Pain is the root of our art. We will beautifully haunting flowers to grow from our wounds, transmuting destruction into creation.
A friendship began. We even worked together briefly, I writing and editing for her online creation Indie Ink.
My grief says as much about my struggles as it does Stacy’s exit.
After I received the news of her death, I frantically dug through our sparse email correspondence, her words now precious beyond value. I found an email I had sent her after reading a particularly bloody blog post of hers. It inspired me to write about my sexual abuse. Here’s how it began:
I read your latest post and I’m stunned once again. It makes me wonder what you don’t write about. If you do hold some things back, I’m afraid to know what they might be. What you do share is violently revealing, emotionally traumatizing truth.
Those of us who wear the deepest scars of trauma are both deeply empathetic and painfully feral. It makes relationships difficult, especially when love is the foundation. We can be accepting to a fault and also emotionally distant. We are compassionate healers and we will bite a feeding hand when our demons are roused.
We feel misunderstood and harshly judged. We feel unworthy. We feel abandoned. We don’t want to be hurt anymore. We’ve endured so much. We struggle.
Our sensitivity is hard to tame so we build lives that pad our hearts. Physical and emotional isolation is safe ground even though it hurts. Intimacy is a terrifyingly vulnerable place for us and loneliness haunts us as a result. We betray ourselves for the sake of comfort. We are prone to self medicating habits and self harm. We are brutally hard on ourselves, the resulting depression a coat we wear in all seasons.
We fight defining ourselves by our weaknesses.
We notice the silent lonely, the unsaid pain painted on a stranger’s face. We are champions of the downtrodden. We often wield vorpal wit. Funny is our balm. We smile easy, our laughs contagious. Compliments fall easily from our lips and we’d rather hug than shake hands. These are acts of rebellion, ways for us to fight the waxing and waning tide inside that pulls at us like an undertow.
Stacy was all these things. She loved the best she could. I wish I’d known her better, that I’d pressed to keep contact when she withdrew. I wish I could have helped her through the dark.
She just wanted to love and be loved. Just like every soul on this planet.
I say these things because for the living that cared for and loved her, now is a time of shock, confusion and pain. How can this happen? Why didn’t we see this coming? Stacy is lost. We let her fall. Guilt presses hard on our hearts. We should have done more, said more, loved more, judged less. We should have had tougher skins when she lashed out or pushed away.
I know, it’s complicated. We all struggle. We all have our dark moments of the soul. For people with deep trauma the chasm yawns wide at times and they can be swallowed unexpectedly. I don’t know if there is anything that can be done to completely ensure that doesn’t happen.
But we can try.
It’s hard. There’s so much to unlearn and rebuild. But we have to or we are doomed as a species.
We swim within a global culture of cyclical trauma and none are exempt from its injurious ways. It feeds upon itself, grows exponentially. Humanity bows in suffering while bearing its weight.
I’m so tired, aren’t you? Let’s dump our cancerous burden for a new story. Please. Stacy deserved better.
We all deserve better.
“Sent via series of pipes and tubes. Your mom’s. Yeah, I said it.” -Stacy Campbell
Photo—Lien C. Lau/Flickr