|Harrowing of Hell|
Warning: this is a long post. I am breaking it up into sections to make it easier to read. AND to make it easier for me to write. This is my testimony. I call it (to myself ) The Harrowing of Hell because Jesus harrowed the hell that was in my soul. The hell that I had created through my sin and disobedience.
Hell is a place but it is also a state of being, a spiritual state, and this is a state I lived in for over a decade. Closer to 15 years, really.
To put it bluntly, I lived in a state of mortal sin. And living this way had darkened my mind to such a degree that only God could have pulled me out of it. We don't SEE this gradual descent into hell when we lack God's light and grace. It is only in retrospect that it becomes obvious; when grace has lifted up the heart and mind. Then we begin to see it clearly.
Today, looking back, I can see where it all began. I left a door open and satan used that door to begin his siege upon my soul. At the time, I thought it was just a "small thing". I was a teenager and didn't think it was a " big deal".
Boy, was I wrong. Very, very wrong.
I started skipping Mass. As simple as that. First it was occasionally....but within a few years it was every week. I stopped going to Confession too.
Everything spiraled downward from there. I see now why the Catholic Church stresses the importance of going to Mass on Sundays. If only I had payed attention to the "under the pain of mortal sin" part.
Because mortal sin is the most painful thing in the whole world. Trust me on this.
It wounds you in a way that may not be immediately apparent but powerfully impacts every moment of your life afterwards. It's truly a mortal wound to the soul.
I didn't know that then, but I do now.
That first mortal sin led to another and another. An early sign of this is a darkening of the mind, as evil infiltrates the person's thought life to a greater and greater degree. The person stops fighting against the evil and begins agreeing to it to one degree or another. Then they start justifying it.
This is what I found myself doing.
The temptations started off small but grew over time.
Worldliness set in.
Soon I was breaking a couple of the Ten Commandments regularly. This is the way sin works - it has a snowball effect and gathers both speed and size as it rolls down the hill, especially when the person isn't doing anything to actively stop this descent. Oh, I would maybe pray an Our Father or a Hail Mary before going to bed at night but that was the extent of my spiritual life at the time.
When I look back I can see how much the Seven Deadly Sins came into play during this period of my life. They marched in one by one and, unfortunately, I did nothing to stop this takeover.
Then came the nightmares. These started in my early twenties after I started listening to heavy metal music. I had certainly had nightmares in the past ...but nothing like these. These particular nightmares came regularly and were hellish to say the least. In these dreams I would be up to my knees in muck surrounded by reptilian creatures and these creatures emanated pure evil. I would wake up with my heart pounding, unable to go back to sleep.
It occurred to me that the music I was listening to was pretty bad, the names of the bands were a good clue that this might be the case, but I didn't really hold much stock in the idea that music could be spiritually harmful. Besides, I was doing other things at the time that were far worse. I was sinning against purity regularly so being concerned about the music I was listening to seemed too small a thing to worry about.
What a mistake. I knew nothing about guarding the mind and senses and unwittingly opened a door that would be hard to shut. People don't usually connect music with the occult but certain types of music have a similar effect on the soul.
The nightmares got worse. Pretty soon instead of simply being surrounded by demons, they were attacking me. The nightmares and the sense of evil were so great I began having panic attacks during the night.
Would it surprise you if I told you I started praying more around this time?
Didn't think so. Fear driven, but prayer nonetheless. My mom had given me a set of rosary beads that I kept on my bedpost (but rarely used) and I began praying a decade or two of the rosary here and there. I also began saying Hail Mary's whenever I had nightmares and the sense of evil would lift almost immediately.
One night as I was about to doze off a terrible presence filled my room. I could not see it but I knew it was there. I wasn't asleep yet and I could see the clock on my nightstand clearly - it was 2:04. I was lying on my back with my head turned toward the side. This "presence" attacked me and was trying to get into my body. A suffocating feeling along with a feeling of pressure came over me and I felt paralyzed. I have read about and experienced "sleep paralysis" in the past and this was not it. (I have my thoughts about "sleep paralysis" though.) I was not asleep yet. I immediately began yelling (in my head), "Mother Mary, help me!" Within seconds, the evil presence was lifted away from me and was gone. I thanked Mother Mary and heard two words in my head, "St. Michael", so I thanked him too. I didn't know much about St. Michael back then but that was soon to change. Interestingly, I was staying at my parents' house at the time, having recently given up the apartment I shared with one of my good friends, and my mom had a big St. Michael statue which sat on a ledge over the front door.
I was dating Randy at this point and trying to clean up my act a bit (note the words " a bit") as far as sin went. He was too, but neither of us were really going to church though I had sneaked into the back pew a few times and listened to Mass. (Out of fear, once again.)
Randy and I got married a few years after we began dating. But guess what? We were married by a JP.
Randy came from a Pentecostal/Baptist background and I still wasn't attending church much. Deep inside, I didn't really feel married. Makes sense, right? I felt guilty, not married.
Looking back though, I could see that God was beginning to move in my life. I was praying more often and started reading spiritual books, some Catholic, some non-Catholic. Someone had given me a book about angels that I gobbled right up and I started asking my guardian angel for help. St. Michael too. I had a fascination with St. Michael ever since the nightmare I mentioned earlier.
The nightmares had improved for a while but shortly after I married they came back with a vengeance. They were so horrible that I was exhausted during the day and afraid to go to sleep at night. Randy was working in the evenings at the time and I would usually read until he came home. I was going to the library a lot and bringing home big stacks of spiritual books each week - some were good Christian books and some were a bit "off " but it didn't take me too long before I began to discern the difference between the two. One kind made the nightmares worse while the others made me feel peaceful inside.
One night, a few months after we were married, Randy and I went to a nearby club to listen to a friend's band. And that was the night I did something really stupid...
Yeah, that's a link if you want to read about the really stupid, embarrassing (a fitting word, you'll see, what I did fits right smack into the middle of that word after the em) thing I did.
I'll stop here for now. This post is already WAAAAY too long.