Oops, this is a day late. Wonder why!
I wrote about Halloween on October 2, 2011. It’s a history piece and traces the origins of present-day customs. You can see it at https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/samhainhalloween/
I have never, however, written about what Halloween means to me personally. I think I felt that I had nothing much to add because fear is fear and disgust is disgust and flashbacks are flashbacks and Halloween is awful for pretty much all of us. I still feel there is little I have to add, but I have found that people like to hear others’ experiences. Makes them feel less isolated, I guess.
I just have little snippets of what they did on Halloween; most of my knowledge comes from “feeling” flashbacks and my present-day reaction of “now that makes sense.” Earlier, I just felt embarrassed because all of the other kids seemed to have a good time and therefore there was something really wrong with me, something to hide, something to pretend didn’t exist. I must say I did a pretty good job of keeping it secret; not my fears, but the “it” that caused those fears. And the “it” is still pretty well hidden from me today.
A few years ago I was reading a diary my mother kept when I was about twelve. Apparently I blurted out that I was afraid of the dark and that it started with a Halloween party. My mother took it to mean that it was a child’s party, but I never went to one. The only regular Halloween party I went to took place in the school gym every year and was pretty tame. She wrote, “I didn’t know. All these years, she never told me. What is a mother to do?”
I felt so sad. She really didn’t know. Her amnesia was even more impenetrable than mine.
It is dark every night, not just on October 31. So I shivered with fear every night. I also believed I would forget how to breathe. I remember being smothered and being told I would stop breathing and become a ghost. I don’t know if I was smothered to the point of stopping breathing and needing resuscitation.
I was also told I would forget this happened. I guess I blurred the forgetting and thought I would forget how to breathe all on my own, not with somebody else’s help by putting something over my face.
(This has nothing to do with the cult, or at least my cult. It was war-time during my grade school years. People were very afraid that the Germans would manage to get to the East Coast and would bomb us. We had to tape black window shades to the walls and turn off the lights so that there would be no visual trace of the city. Adults patrolled the street at night with flash cards of their planes and our planes. Even my incompetent mother had this duty! Every time a plane passed overhead I was terrified that we were about to get bombed. To this day I am frightened by low flying planes and unfortunately I live under an airport flight pattern which the planes use when the wind comes from a certain direction.)
The gym had a space where kids bobbed for apples. I refused. Nobody asked why because I had a reputation of being a timid, anxious child. I was afraid somebody would push my head down and I would drown, of course.
Piecing things together, a large part of the Halloween rituals had to do with making kids believe they were going to die or actually bringing them to the point of death. Death and resurrection, near-death and terror.
This occurred toward the end of the ritual; the preceding part had to do with bringing animals close to death and then sacrificing them. It didn’t take much to make us believe we, too, were to be sacrificed.
I have gotten a handle on my flashbacks by now, but I still protect myself from major triggers. I live on the third floor and can make it appear that nobody is home. I just turn off the lights in the rooms facing the street and curl up in bed with junk magazines. That way I don’t have to look at costumes nor do I have to say, “Happy Halloween” over and over. So the actual holiday is okay.
But there is no way I can protect myself from the commercial hype that starts about six weeks before Halloween. The costumes and masks. The pumpkins. The fake spider webs and the skeletons that glow in the dark. And orange and black everywhere I look, day after day. It’s tacky as well as triggering. All I can do is tough it out.
One year I actually found a nice way to celebrate the evening. I was in my pagan phase and I took advantage of the fact that the “veil” between this life and the next was thinner than usual. I wrote the things I wished to say goodbye to on little slips of paper, lit a fire, and burned them. I also prepared a nice dinner for myself and for my dead ancestors and placed their plate on my deck. I told myself that my ancestors had remembered what they had done and were shocked and remorseful. Since they felt that way, I did not have trouble reaching out to them and offering them food this one evening of the year.
In the morning, the food was all gone. I gasped! It couldn’t be true – the ghosts of my ancestors hadn’t really come and enjoyed my offering, licking the plate clean, had they? Then I noticed lots of little raccoon paw prints. How sweet. How clever of them to find it. How normal.