My Near Death Experience – November 1982
If ever there were a recipe for a girl headed straight for the fiery furnace, I fit it. You name the sin, I had it in spades. An atheist contemptuous of all things spiritual, I’d just finished college with an award for my senior thesis, which traced the (rightful!) acknowledgement of a morally vacuous universe in Modern English literature. So what if the sight of homeless people on the icy streets of New York City still tore at my heart? Empathy was just a biologically based emotional response. It had no more to do with God than it did with the Jolly Green Giant.
Tonight I was at a Manhattan nightclub dating my ex-secret second boyfriend’s best friend and dancing with that swelled sort of ego that perceives everyone as watching. With every bad song, my date and I would stop to snort some more cocaine. Did I mention that I was a budding alcoholic/drug addict? Besides getting A’s in everything and looking “foxy,” booze and drugs were the only way I knew to quell that constant sense that I wasn’t good enough, that no one liked me – especially not me – because I was such a deeply flawed loser.
So when our coke ran out, I needed more.
We asked around until someone pointed out a scrawny, stooped dealer amid the club’s shadows who sold us a tiny baggie of white powder – good stuff, he told us. But it was not good. In fact, the more we snorted, the worse we came down. My date chucked his straw and sat back, saying I could have it all.
So I did it all – half a gram, I think? – and then shouted in his ear that I was leaving for the bathroom. He nodded.
What neither of us knew was that we’d been sold, not cocaine, but lidocaine. Today, with twenty-some years clean and sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, I have several friends who used to deal drugs. Lidocaine, they tell me, was a relatively cheap topical anesthetic that dealers frequently used in the ‘80s to “cut” cocaine – because its numbing effect fooled customers. Judging from our total lack of high, I’d guess we were sold the anesthetic in pure form. When lidocaine is ingested systemically, according to Wikipedia, “Central nervous system effects include loss of consciousness, respiratory depression, and seizures. Cardiovascular effects include hypotension, bradycardia, arrhythmia, and/or cardiac arrest.”
I developed all of the above.
My blood pressure plummeted. My lungs drew less air with each breath. Neither my brain nor heart could function properly, my pulse slowing to perhaps 20 beats per minute, resulting in a grand mal seizure, cardiac arrest, and death. Yet, incredible as it seems, I had no fear that anything might be wrong.
Why not? Because drugs were my friend; they gave me super-powers. All I had to do was hang on for the ride.
In line for the bathroom, I noticed my peripheral vision had turned dark with tingly orange speckles. Tunnel vision. I was sure this must be some kind of cool cocaine side-effect and couldn’t wait to brag about it. Graffiti messages in the toilet stall looked like gibberish – all of them. Soon my vision had narrowed as if I were looking through twin toilet paper tubes, and even that portal was being overwhelmed by the orange speckles. What if I lost my sight completely? Panic surfaced at last.
Somehow I found my date at the bar and grabbed his arm.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I need air,” I heaved. “There’s no air–”
I tried to inhale deeply, over and over, but there was no oxygen! I couldn’t understand why no one else was gasping for it. I felt angry and frustrated that no one understood – but that I might be dying never crossed my mind.
“Drink some water,” said the bartender.
They put the glass in my hand, and, though I didn’t want it, I took a sip to please them. Then something violently struck the base of my chin like a prizefighter’s upswing. For an instant I thought maybe I’d slipped and hit the bar, but in reality that was the moment I left my body.
Like a character punched in Popeye or fired from a cannon, I shot straight up into the air, up and up into the vivid blue of an open sky. Below me stretched the blue, blue ocean, horizon to horizon. Air – delicious air – flowed over me. The nightclub forgotten, I seemed to lead with my sternum, and as my momentum tapered, I decided to arch back and open my chest to the sky in a backbend that curved over seamlessly into a dive. Now here came the ocean’s surface to meet me! For a fleeting moment, I wondered whether the surface, met from such a distance, would hit like concrete. But no! I pierced the water and shot down into it. It felt cold but lovely, the bubbled surface dappling far overhead. I surfaced. For the first time I saw a beach, and, wanting to be there, arrived.
Absent was the insecure self-consciousness that normally crippled me: I wanted only to see, to experience, to marvel at what I saw. In the distance to my left, I saw a house perched above the beach on a mesa, as though waves had eroded away all else. Arriving there in no time, I saw the house was pale blue, quite weathered, and resting atop a foundation of large boulders and slabs coated with oozy, dark muck like rotten seaweed. With an almost childish sense of can-do, I ignored the yucky stuff and climbed toward the front door. But as I climbed, my already faint sense of body slipped away, so that by the time I arrived at the doorway, I was simply a receiver of vision, a subjective camera moving just an inch or two above the floor.
Crossing the threshold, I realized with wonder that this was indeed the house of my ancestors. All of them had crossed that threshold; all of them had been here. Oh, I loved this place! What an honor to be here! Close as I was to it, I could observe the grain of the wood floor worn to almost a powder by the tread of countless generations of us. Though they were neither visibly present nor communicating at a frequency I could hear, I sensed their collective welcome, their joy at my arrival.
Next I saw the famous picture window, the ocean view all my ancestors loved. But the armchair they normally sat in to enjoy it was gone, and I was so small, floating just above the floor, that for a second, like Alice with the glass table, I despaired of ever seeing it.
That’s when something pulled me. Like a magnet or a vacuum, some attraction swooped me first across the floor, then up over the windowsill, and – whoa! – out into the open air! I was flying! Right over the low sun’s track of dazzle across the ocean’s surface I zoomed, the sensation of air sliding over me more delicious than anything I’d ever known. Such beauty! Such ecstasy! Never, ever did I want this to end, but the sun was growing bigger and bigger because, I realized, I was approaching it. And then – really? Will I? – POOF!
I’d arrived. I was inside the sun, the ultimate brightness, the giver of life.
Light engulfed me, embraced me, not just my surface but permeating all through my being. Imagine the glow of summer sunshine saturating your entire consciousness. It shone as bright as the sun’s core in the noon sky but endlessly in all directions, yet not burning or glaring because I was of it.
And the light was love. Love not abstract, religious, or impersonal, but Louisa-my-most-darling-beautiful-child love. It beamed into me from an unseen Parent cradling me as though I were an infant. If all the love I’ve ever felt in my life to date were a candle, this love was the sun. And I – I who had starved for this feeling all my life, who had searched for it so blindly, pining inside to be loved in exactly this way – was at last complete. I knew a bliss beyond description, an all-encompassing love.
I can’t say how long I passed in this state. Time did not exist, and since there was nothing to want, I can’t say I missed it.
But then something did happen. As if with the flip of a switch, the light cut to utter darkness. At the same instant, I received a decision from the Parent, equally absolute:
You cannot stay. You’re not done yet.
Wrong! I thought. Give me back the light! Man, was I pissed.
I will stay! I’ll never go back! I threw a tantrum – a full-on, infantile tantrum of defiance. I howled with my will: Nooooooo! I would teach the Parent it couldn’t send me back; I would convince it, kick it in the shins til it complied.
All I sensed in return was a purely loving but utterly inflexible ruling: Case closed, sweetheart. In fact, the Parent had already gone – left me. I found myself alone in utter darkness.
I felt only a moment of alarm, even the outer edge of terror. But then I saw them, little chalk-lined stick figures playing and rollicking against the black backdrop, and I realized that the Parent still loved me and had given me this delightful toy – something to amuse me until I could return. Okay, this wasn’t anywhere near as good as the light, I thought, but I could content myself with this little show for a while.
They flipped, they cartwheeled, they swung on a chalk trapeze – cute little things! Little verses, they were calling out now. Silly rhymes and riddles: How does a hippo light a hopscotch? How many fiddles make a flim-flam? A, B, C makes 1, 2, 3-!
How fun! Except that one of their chalk-outlined O-faces moved in closer, while the others carried on behind. His chalk outline filled in like a dinner plate. How many fingers? What is your name?
“What’s your name? How many fingers?”
Oh no! He was seeing me. I remembered now – that crazy, stupid way things used to be!
Dammit – this was the world again! I was back inside the meat puppet – that stupid, heavy flesh-pocket of maneuverable limbs – and I couldn’t get out. But, oh, I didn’t have the patience for this farfetched game! Imagine being ordered to spend the next sixty years enrolled in kindergarten.
“How… many… fingers?”
He was so insistent. Reluctantly I recalled how this world’s rules used to go: he was one of them, and I was a me. What he wanted from me was that deal where you send messages back and forth by grunting out air. I was supposed to shape them with that meatloafy thing parked down, you know, in the garage of my mouth.
“Two,” I gusted.
“What’s your name?”
Fine, I was up for it: “Lou-izz-ah.”
Then the world came back in full, all around me, and I remembered my life. They were a crowd, all those stick figures, gawking at me. Where was I? Lying on a floor. Someone must have thrown a bucket of water over me, because I was soaked and had a puddle beneath me.
I’d had a grand mal seizure ending in cardiac arrest. I’d flat-lined for three minutes looking “grey and nothing like you,” according to my date, while the bartender went on tirelessly administering CPR. Minute after minute – nothing. And then, despite a bloodstream still laden with enough lidocaine to kill a person, my heart had kicked in at its normal pulse and, with my pores streaming the puddle of sweat I now lay in (not water), I’d begun to breathe on my own.
My date helped me to my feet. Why was everybody staring?
Accompanied by many people, we went up the stairs and outside to wait on the street. My date was a middle school math teacher already on probation. I was afraid of hospitals and did not want my parents to know I did drugs. So, once I’d been told we were waiting for an ambulance and as soon as it dawned on me that this ambulance must be for me (I was in an innocent, 5-year-old state of mind), I begged my date please not to make me go to the hospital! Instead we ran for one of the taxis lined up outside the club and, despite yells and thumps on the trunk, made our getaway, back to my apartment.
(I never thanked the bartender who saved my life, though today, I’d give anything for a chance to do so.)
Aftereffects – How God Broke my Die-Hard Atheism
At the time of my Near Death Experience, I was an atheist. I’m not talking about a “Hmm… I seriously doubt there’s a God” kind of atheism. Mine was more “Take your cliché God delusion and shove it, you crutch-seeking, conformist idiot!”
Yeah, I was that kind of atheist.
So immediately following my NDE, I arrived at quite the existential crossroads. My choices were as follows:
- Toss out everything thought I knew about the purely mechanical nature of the universe to acknowledge that my spirit had indeed crossed over.
- Decide cocaine is maybe a hallucinogen that, in the crisis of hypoxia, causes the brain to compress into a twinkling what might have seemed like a lengthy, vivid experience.
I remember deliberately choosing 2, because 1 would have required that I recast my entire life.
Why wasn’t my 2 choice good enough for god? I don’t know. My plan was to continue drinking alcoholically and knowing best about everything. Not god’s plan for me, apparently! For some reason, god wanted me to know that the spiritual realm was REAL.
Mind you, I was stubborn. I needed indisputable proof that there was something more. So… god sent me proof – and I rejected it. God sent more proof, and I shut it away in a far cupboard of my mind – still atheist. It took nine incidents, or “Weird Things” as I called them to myself, in which the paranormal world of spiritual energies impinged on my mechnical reality before I finally broke that “Atheist” shingle above my mind’s door and replaced it with “God’s Child.” After fourteen Weird Things, I finally took myself to my first IANDS meeting.
To describe all my Weird Things in depth would require a book. My addiction memoir interweaves these accounts with my alcoholic story, but I will write a second, soon, on these experiences alone. Below is a brief recap.
- Gloucester Ghost. Five years after my NDE,
I was taking an early morning walk along the ocean amid a terrible rainstorm when I saw a grizzled older man emerge from among the dunes, walking and staring straight toward the waves. From afar I admired his vintage rain gear – old-school yellow Macintosh complete with hat – and decided to compliment him when our paths intersected. Yet he would not move his anxious eyes from the grey clouds where the horizon should be, not even when we got close enough for me to see the broken capillaries in his skin. “How’s it going?” I asked – but he completely ignored me as I passed. Incensed at this rudeness, I looked back. He’d vanished.
Mine were the only tracks on that beach.
- My Nephew’s Death. Eleven years after my NDE, I heard my sister-in-law was pregnant and knew the baby would die. I knew my brother’s grief would engulf his entire life. The closer her due date, the more intensely I struggled with whether or not to say anything, but I had no sense of how the baby would die. When my brother called me with the news, he said the baby’s umbilicus had been fanned out over the amniotic sack, so when his water broke, he inevitably bled to death. I felt overwhelming guilt for being as amazed as I was saddened.
- Last Time I can Help You. In 1995, after driving home bombed out of my mind on twisting back roads, I’d just got out of the car and was congratulating myself on my excellent drunk driving skills when a bolt of knowing shot out of the starry night sky, through my bones, and into the earth. It said three things: This is the last time I can help you; you DO know right from wrong; you can do a lot better. Shocked as I was, I could not stop drinking.
- Look! I did get sober about a month after that Weird Thing, but drinking still called to me. During my preparations to attend a “vodka slamming party” but just not drink (having ‘fired’ the AA sponsor who warned me not to go), my dog ran out in the country road and was killed by a dirt truck. As I watched her blood trickle across the asphalt, something super-zoomed my vision on its progress and said, Look! Packed in that command was certainty that my blood would be next if I didn’t turn away from the entire nonsense world of coolness and drinking now. I did just that. I’ve not had a drink in 22 years.
- Magic Grecian Layover & Assorted Miracles. I went to great lengths to obtain the phone number of a Luxembourg friend I’d estranged with my drinking to tell her I’d be only 1,000 miles away from her when I visited Greece. By “coincidence,” she was to be laid over four hours in the Athens airport precisely when my plane arrived there, so we got to have lunch together while I made amends. A series of “coincidences” kept me sober as I approached 100 days, traveling alone. For instance, I was feeling lonely and close to ordering a drink on the island of Paros when something urged me to strike up a conversation with a neighboring table, only to find myself befriending one of the island’s seven solid AA members – a gay guy with 11 years sober who took me under his wing.
- Tell Her About the Light. My sister had been given two weeks to live when I was spending a night in her hospital room. I sensed Light – the same kind that had immersed me on the other side – pooling above her body and was told, She’s afraid! Tell her about the light! After a few hours of refusing, I finally got up and whispered to my unconscious sister about the warmth and love awaiting her. Twenty minutes later, she hemorrhaged. My ensuing panic was erased when I sensed her hovering in the room above us, saying, “I’m okay! I’m wonderful!” She filled me with a memory of the light that was sheer joy and asked me to carry a message to her child of two, which I did.
- Don’t Go. I got off the Seattle freeway at Mercer at about 11:00 p.m.. The traffic light turned green. Something in the car said, Don’t go! Since the rearview showed no one behind me, I just sat there at the green light. Seconds passed. “How long don’t go?!” I was asking when a car bombed down the street in front of me, right where I’d have been, at about 100mph. Sirens soon struck up.
- Don’t Change Lanes. Similar to the incident above except that I had no rear-defogger during an intense nighttime downpour on the West Seattle Bridge and wanted to change lanes blindly. Don’t! came the voice. “I’ll miss my exit!” I was protesting when a Metro bus roared past me going much too fast, its rear sign lit up with OUT OF SERVICE.
- Clairvoyant Dream. I dreamed of capturing a huge spider in a glass, and of the spider letting me view a pattern of interlocking diamonds on its belly, which prompted the thought, “diamonds of orderly precision.” The following day, an absolutely humongous spider was perched on the ceiling above my seat at the computer, where I used to write before my overly demanding spouse took all my energy. When I caught the spider in a glass, it showed me the exact same pattern of diamonds on its belly with the same message “diamonds of orderly precision” – meaning that god’s perfect craftsmanship extends into every tiny detail of the world. I hated spiders, but almost a year later I was led to visit an old friend who explained to me that spiders can be spirit messengers who come to mark that one of life’s strands is ending or beginning. The spider, it turned out, had appeared precisely when my spouse was initiating the affair that broke us up. Once I’d returned home, I Googled spider spirit messenger and, sitting below the spider’s chosen spot (where I now wrote frequently), I read: “The spider is also a writer’s totem and comes to ask, Are you not writing? Are you giving your energy to someone else?”
I absolutely bawled. I sobbed aloud to god, “You’re here! You’re here! I’ll never doubt you again!” Atheist no more. Plus, I’m kind to spiders.
- Wendy Lee. Taking down a young woman’s name on a clipboard, I accidentally wrote her last name, Lee, when all she’d told me was her first name, Wendy. “How did you do that?!” she demanded. Scribbling out “Lee,” I apologized and faltered, “I… couldn’t remember how to make a W!” I could not explain it — that I’d tried to write “Wendy,” but something kept getting in the way, like the repulsing side of a magnet, until I pushed through and wrote — whoops! — “Lee” instead. The young woman was furious, incensed that I’d somehow been spying on her.
- David Soukup. Sitting on the couch before bed I pictured vividly a high school acquaintance, David, whom I’d not thought of in decades. I remembered the dark adolescent fuzz on his upper lip, and smiled. “Just think, he’s a man now!” I marveled. In the morning, I saw David had found me on Myspace and messaged me – right at the time I’d thought of him.
- Tim Smith. Driving along, I thought – “Oh! A Weird Thing is about to happen! I’m gonna see Tim Smith!” Tim was an alcoholic I knew from AA but hadn’t seen for over two years, yet I started scanning the sidewalks for him. “There he is!” I thought. But, getting closer, I realized I’d been mistaken – it was only a Tim-lookalike. “See, Louisa,” I chastised myself, driving on and shaking my head. “You think you have all these woo-woo experiences, and this just goes to show you— Holy shit! It’s Tim Smith!” This time there was no mistaking the real Tim walking toward me on the sidewalk to my left. I FB messaged him later and, yup, that was him, walking home for lunch.
I believe god pulled the double-whammy expressly to make a fool of my inner skeptic.
- Dad’s Struggle with Death. There’s more to this than I can write. When my father was dying, he regretted having rejected the Catholic Church as a youth. My dreams were filled with his dreams, huge regret and yearning that I had left the church as I heard church bells in a desert, a furious nun throwing all my books and belongings out of the monastery onto the dirt and stomping on my glasses, regret for feuding with my brother Jerome – I felt them so intently! I went to him at 4:00 a.m. to tell him god was not angry. Again, I knew with certainty when he would pass and called the family in from the next room. I felt proud of him for crossing, but I did not feel the light.
- Very Private Thoughts. As I pulled into the Home Depot parking lot, my thoughts ran like this: “I bet Joel shops here, since he’s a carpenter. I sure do like him and his wife, Wyly. They’re great! In fact, I bet they still have great sex. I bet despite the two kids, it’s still really hot!” At this point, my mind’s eye showed me Wyly lying naked on a four-poster, her blonde hair out as I’d never seen it, streaming in front of one eye. What?! I all but slapped myself. Inside Home Depot, I wandered down a wrong aisle, turned around, and was crossing the front of the store when I ran smack into… Joel. “How’s it going?” I asked shame-facedly. “Great!” grinned Joel luxuriantly. “Wyly and I, we just sent the kids to grandma’s for the weekend and rented a bed-and-breakfast just for us. And it was… uh… much needed!” He nodded meaningfully.
After that, I knew SOMETHING had to be going on, and I’d begun to sense that it had to do with my NDE. So I took myself to my first Seattle IANDS meeting, where I was amazed to hear so many mysteries of my life explained. I’ve learned, for example, that psychic aftereffects such as I still have are garden-variety experiences for many NDEers like me.
Most importantly, I have the gift of — to me — irrefutable proof of the reality of afterlife.
As Carl Jung once said when asked in a televised interview whether he believed in god, “I don’t believe… I know.” I am so grateful that god kept prodding me with Weird Things, so grateful I get to live sober and knowing that extending goodness and kindness to others is my mission on earth. I’ve met with painful skepticism from my family, and my thoughts on god would scare away AA newcomers, so I express what I know only on this blog. But I get to live each day with a joy I never dreamed possible, and to share my journey with others in IANDS.