Digging Deep: Freeing the Ghosts from Our Past

We all have them. For some, they constitute nothing more substantial than the imagined boogie man in the closet, or under the bed. For others, the childhood fears are bigger, more powerful, more damaging, usually involving a situation with our parents, siblings, or peers. The end result is the same: we carry these ghosts, either consciously or somewhere deep beneath the surface, throughout our lives.

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One of my ghosts is pretty easy to pinpoint. Growing up in a family where Mom stayed at home and Dad was an alcoholic, I lived in constant fear that either, a. we would lose our home, or b. Mom would leave—without taking my younger brother or me. She actually threatened that once, a night I will never forget. She did it to make an impression on my father, hoping it would snap him out of his cyclic behavioral illness. She went as far as to pack her suitcase and “call a taxi.”

She would never have left us. I know that now. She had no idea where she would go (she had no job, no savings, no family close by), but that logic failed to prevent sending me, at the age of eight, and my younger brother at six, into a panic. Leave us here alone with Dad? Who hadn’t gotten out of bed in days (literally) and was incoherent most of the time? The very thought was horrifying.

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Not that my father was in any way abusive or dangerous. He was a pathetic drunk, one whose own emotional damage caused him, every few months or years, to take to his bed with a bottle of whatever he’d managed to bring home and hide. He would sleep for days.

Mom didn’t leave that terrifying night, but later an ambulance came to gather my father who had fallen in the hallway atop a gallon of wine he had hidden somewhere. The smell of the wine, the sight of the blood, the sound of my father’s pathetic sobs as they strapped him onto a gurney–they bound his hands–will never, ever leave my memory. They took him to the Middletown Psychiatric Hospital where they kept him until he sobered up. Weeks? Months? At eight, it seemed an eternity. I simply remember my mother being very sad all the time. I remember going to visit him on Sundays, where they let him sit out at the picnic tables under the pine trees. We brought peanuts to feed the squirrels.

Squirrels still make me sad. I’ll never crack a peanut shell without that memory causing a clenching in my chest.

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Was I trying to exorcise this “ghost” when I wrote Spirits of the Heart? I’m certain. I set the book at the same, now defunct psychiatric center in Middletown, N.Y. My hero in the novel is fighting alcoholism. Only in this rendition, I had control over the ending. I could banish the addiction, rekindle the love, and create a happily ever after.

Yep, it’s what I do. It’s what I write about. Resurrecting old ghosts, healing them, and putting them to rest. In fiction, I have the power to do what in real life, I could not.

What old ghosts are haunting your memories? If you could bring them to life once again, and had the power to change history, would it heal you? Would it make your life more complete? Tell me in comments, and I’ll select someone to receive a copy of Spirits of the Heart.

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Claire Gem writes supernatural suspense which is, apparently, based on her own deepest fears. Personal ghosts. We all have them, don’t we?

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