Angels and demons, light and darkness, yin and yang, good and evil—whatever you choose to call it, the state of one’s interior life tends to be dominated by one or the other. In the interests of this blog, I’ll refer to them as the good spirit and the bad spirit, i.e. invisible forces that recognize our deeply held desires and subsequently attempt to influence/predispose us toward particular courses of action.
Through my ED and subsequent recovery process, I have come to identify the good spirit as the inner voice that is quiet, patient, gentle, at times insistent but never forceful or aggressive, and always compassionate and encouraging. The good spirit only seeks to lead one toward a place of greater peace and freedom, not unlike a trusted confidant who celebrates one’s victories in happier times, and during challenging moments gently but persistently nudges one back to a place of greater awareness and reason.
The bad spirit, on the contrary, can be likened to a cruel drill sergeant—brash, authoritative, pushy, inflexible, disparaging, dismissive, and fond of using imperatives such as ‘must/should/have to’ to drive home the message that there can be no other way. Its ultimate aim is to disrupt, cause chaos, confusion, and disquiet, so that as a result one is less able to make a rational decision and more likely to accept ‘quick-fix’ solutions that ultimately do more harm than good.
Being aware of the good and bad spirits’ respective qualities have been extremely helpful in guiding me in making well-discerned decisions. The only problem, however, is that things are rarely this straightforward. And things get particularly tricky when the bad spirit tries to pass off as the good spirit, otherwise known as the ‘false angel of light.’
The false angel of light is exactly that: false. It’s also a great actor, with great versatility and shape-shifting abilities befitting the scenario. Mostly it preys on a person’s overarching desire to do what is ‘right and good,’ and nudges one to act out one’s ‘noble’ and ‘beneficent’ intentions even if what follows is entirely irrational. It starts off gentle and persuasive, “Oh but wouldn’t be so much more loving/kind/[insert synonym] of you to do [X]?” though along the way the unmistakable “you must” tone emerges, along with threats such as “if you don’t do [X], you’ll have failed in being loving/kind/righteous, etc.” And then you understand why you’ve had such a bad gut feeling this whole time—that was hardly the good spirit at work. Time for a U-turn.
Lord knows the many occasions that I’d been fooled by the false angel of light, and unwittingly entered into a ‘dance with the devil.’ Here is my story of one of those times.
It’s an extraordinarily sunny morning but it feels like a thunderstorm in here. The other party is hurling threats and abuses in my face, while I stand rooted to the ground, only thinking about how my Sociology lecturer at University used to go on about virtually everything being a ‘social construction.’ Good people, bad people, aren’t these merely labels society conveniently slaps on groups of individuals in an attempt to make sense of or instil order?
This person in question, whom I’d been hitherto so reluctant to label, is now challenging my belief in giving even the most mean-spirited person I’ve come across the benefit of the doubt. Today, the litany of abuse is accompanied by clarity that had eluded me for the past eight months. Someone who once tried to pass off as a friend—dare I say, even a good one—is speaking in a language reserved for someone who might’ve murdered their family member. What gives? It’s plain that there is nothing I [or anyone in my position] could’ve done to merit such uncivilized behavior. The thing is, this sort of vitriol isn’t new to me.
Time and again, I have witnessed it being directed at someone other than myself and turned the other way, unwilling to acknowledge that is reason enough to withdraw my friendship. But now that it’s come my way, I can no longer resist my long-held desire to recoil from the other party’s odiousness. Until this very moment, I’d been flying under the radar, part-hoping to never bear the brunt of this person’s evil machinations and part-turning a blind eye to it. When anybody else would’ve felt indignance and reserved their sympathies for someone actually deserving of it, the false angel of light assured me that my meekness and unconditional friendship were exactly what the other party needed to be dissuaded from being, well, themselves. That made no sense, of course. You wouldn’t kindly pet a tiger unless you wanted to be mauled.
And mauled, I am. The other party has openly declared war on me, and proceeds to make the rest of my time in this shared space insufferable. As I’m predictably browbeaten into a hasty retreat, I feel strangely numb, even if not altogether surprised. That little inner voice I’d dismissed so often for being cynical and faithless was actually that of common sense. The truth is, I’d seen this day coming, albeit not this exact day, and somewhere deep down my long-neglected ‘voice of reason’ is popping the proverbial champagne to celebrate the fact that ‘at last I see the light.’
That day, I use my lunch break to go for a long walk, and eventually settle down behind a building overlooking the sea. As I gaze at ships and ocean liners, questions swirl in my head. You saw this coming, and yet you entered a suicide mission, why? I know I’m not a stupid person, and yet my actions speak of nothing but sheer idiocy.
The false angel of light’s jig is up. It has now removed its guise and is openly mocking me. See where trying to be good and kind got you? Why even bother next time?, it goes on taunting until I kick at a pile of pebbles to disrupt my thoughts. Burying my face in my hands, I feel rage and despair. Good spirit, where’ve you been?
The good spirit is silent that day, and for many months after the incident, giving me space and distance I need to slowly connect the dots until a clearer picture emerges. How did the false angel of light slip through the back door? I had been guarding my interior life so vigilantly.
Of course I didn’t understand it then, but today it’s plain to see.
At the time, fresh out of ED recovery, and aided by months and months of spiritual direction, I’d come to face and accept the truth of my very own humanity—its fallibility—and was especially empathic to the unique shortcomings of others. I saw myself in almost everyone, and—having unwittingly developed a Messianic complex—was eager to pay it forward. My ‘redemption’ had turned into a mission to free others around me from whatever was causing them to act out in unbecoming ways. But was I truly acting from a place of noble and altruistic intentions?
The troubling fact was, this delusional belief that my ‘gift’ of unconditional friendship was enough to convince someone to stop being a jerk came from a place of hubris.
[to be continued]