Video Version 2020: https://youtu.be/RXp2jbLWuD0
Video version 2019: https://youtu.be/ekr5HL-0qfk
Filmed 2012 – my first interview: https://youtu.be/O6IorZBPtVQ
Audio from IANDS Conference 2018: https://youtu.be/FnS9z9Fqfx0
My Near Death Experience – November 1982
An atheist contemptuous of all things spiritual, I’d just finished college with an award for my senior thesis, which covered Modernist literature’s gradual acknowledgement of a godless universe, when I moved to Manhattan.
I was out dancing to New Wave hits at a Manhattan nightclub with my secret boyfriend’s best friend. Between songs, we’d move to armchairs near the back and snort more cocaine. As a budding alcoholic/drug addict, the only way I knew to quiet that constant feeling that I wasn’t good enough or lovable was to stay high. So when our coke ran out, I needed more.
Someone pointed out a scrawny dealer hanging around, and he sold us a gram of white powder – good stuff, he told us. But it was not good. In fact, it wasn’t even cocaine. This little baggie actually held lidocaine, an anesthetic that, according to my current friends in AA who used to deal drugs, was commonly used to “cut” cocaine in the ’80s because it numbed the purchaser’s gums in the same way. Ingested systemically, however, it can cause death.
Not knowing this, my date and I snorted line after line, disappointed to find ourselves coming down, getting no effect. My date chucked his straw in disgust, so I finished the whole pile myself, just in case I’d get a little high. Next I shouted in his ear that I was going to the bathroom, which we both knew would have a huge line. He nodded.
In line for the bathroom, I noticed my peripheral vision had become obscured by tingly orange speckles as if I were about to faint. I was sure this tunnel vision must be some kind of cocaine side-effect, something to brag about. In the toilet stall, when the graffiti messages on the door looked like gibberish – all of them – I realized something was wrong. By I could see only as if I were looking through a toilet paper tube, and even that vision was getting infiltrated by orange speckles.
Somehow I found my date at the bar and grabbed his arm.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“There’s no air in here!” I heaved. “I need air!”
I tried to inhale deeply, with no idea that my heart was so drastically slowed by the lidocaine that my brain was getting no oxygen. I didn’t know I was dying. Rather, I felt angry and frustrated that no one else would acknowledge what an airless, suffocating space we were in.
The bartender urged me to drink some ice water. He or my date put a glass in my hand, and, though I didn’t want it, I took a sip just to comply. Then something violently struck the base of my chin like a prizefighter’s upswing. For a second I thought maybe I’d slipped and hit the bar, but in reality that was the moment I left my body.
I shot straight up into the air, up and up into the air like a character punched in Popeye or fired from a cannon, soaring into a vivid blue sky. For just an instant, I felt huge relief to be leaving behind all the work and nonsense of living my life. Below me the ocean stretched from horizon to horizon. I seemed to lead with my sternum, and as my momentum tapered, I decided to arch my back and curve over into a dive, which I pulled off seamlessly. For a moment, I wondered whether the surface, when I hit it going so fast, would be like concrete. But that went fine, too. I shot down into the water, which felt cold but lovely, and saw the beautiful surface dappling far overhead. I surfaced.
Maybe 500 feet off I saw a beach, and, wanting to be there, arrived. Maybe a quarter mile to my left, I saw a house perched above the beach on a sea stack or mesa. Arriving at its base in no time, I saw the house was a weathered, pale blue, and that to reach it I’d have to climb a bunch of boulders and slabs that were covered coated with oozy, dark muck like rotten seaweed. But I was resolved. As I climbed, my sense of having a body slipped away, so that by the time I arrived at the doorway, I was like a subjective camera moving just an inch or two above the floor.
As I crossing the threshold, I realized this was the house of my ancestors, that. all of us had passed through it. As I skimmed over the floor, I could observe the grain of the wood worn to almost a powder by the tread of so many generations. I could sense their joy at my coming to join them, and I felt the same anticipation, though in life I’d never cared about my ancestors.
I saw a big picture window and I knew my ancestors had loved to sit in an armchair facing it and admire the view. But now there was no chair, and I was too low to see out the window, though I wished I could.
The moment I wished that, something pulled me like a magnet, swooping me first across the floor, which surprised me but with a great sense of fun. I went over the windowsill, and then I was flying! I zoomed over the sun’s track of dazzle across the water’s surface, the air sliding over me in a delicious way! I thought for a moment: “Wait! People can’t fly! Is this real or a dream?” To my surprise, a voice answered me, profound and deep in its energy: “More real than anything back there!” I knew it was referencing my life as Louisa, and I knew it was right.
Meanwhile, the sun got bigger and bigger because, I realized, I was approaching it. And then, POOF! I was inside the sun.
Light engulfed me, not just my surface but permeating all through my being. And the light was love. It beamed into me from an unseen parent cradling me as though I were an infant. If all the love I’d ever felt in my life were a candle, this love was the sun. I who had starved for this feeling all my life, who had searched for it so blindly in drugs and the quest for coolness, was at last complete.
I can’t say how long I passed in this state. But then something did happen. The light cut to utter darkness. At the same instant, I was told, You can’t stay. You’re not done yet.
Wrong! I thought. I will stay! I’ll never go back! I threw a tantrum. I howled with my will: Nooooooo! All I sensed in return was a loving but inflexible ruling: Case closed, sweetheart. In fact, the parent had already gone. I found myself alone in darkness with a sensation of falling.
After a brief flash of terror, I saw against the black backdrop little chalk-lined stick figures playing and frolicking. I realized that the parent had provided this little show to amuse me until I could return. They flipped, they cartwheeled, swung on a chalk trapeze. Little verses they were calling out now. How does a hippo light a hopscotch? How many fiddles make a flim-flam? A, B, C makes 1, 2, 3-!
One of their chalk-outlined faces moved in closer and filled in like a dinner plate. How many fingers? What is your name?
I wanted to peer around him, but then I realized, he was seeing me! Dammit – this was the world again! And I was back inside the meat puppet – that heavy flesh-pocket of maneuverable limbs. I didn’t have the patience for this stupid game! It felt like sixty years of kindergarten stretched ahead of me.
“How… many… fingers?”
I remembered the rules: he was a him, and I was a me. What he wanted from me was one of those messages sent by grunting out air. I was supposed to shape them with that loafy thing parked down in the garage of my mouth. “Two,” I gusted.
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 on twisting back roads bombed out of my mind, 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 27 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 and of guardian angels that accompany all of us on earth. I have experienced my guardian angel stepping in when I’ve refused to follow instructions (to get off the road because I had no brakes) — actually clouding my thoughts so I did what I’d been told against my personal volition (he made the back of a NO PARKING sign appear to read ARTERIAL TURNS, so I turned onto a level side-street where I coasted to a stop with zero brakes). I have also asked directly for guidance in crisis and received in abundance. Here is a little video about my most recent confirmation: Miracle on Section K
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 know 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 newcomers to AA, 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.