This is one of those things I really, genuinely did not want to publish. I resisted this with a strength I forgot was possible. But, here it is. It’s for you as much as for me because I know how many of you reach out to me about this exact kind of thing.
Here’s what happened.
I have no concrete beliefs about the existence of ghosts, but I do believe a person can be haunted.
I’ve been haunted.
As an addict, I thought I knew what it was to be haunted. Just when I thought I could get a moment’s peace, memories would come storming down the doors to my vulnerable heart. But that is not the kind of haunting I am talking about.
I’ve been haunted by Vironika Wilde.
I made up that name about seven years ago. Because my real name hurt. Because I needed to be someone else. I went by that to everyone except passport officers and tax collectors.
Vironika Wilde was a very different person than I am today.
I’ve said, many times, that when I had a mental breakdown, I had to choose between change and death. I’ve said that I chose to change.
On each radio show and every stage, I’ve been talking about how confused, addicted, and self-hating Ms. Wilde was. I’ve been pointing the finger on her mistakes, proudly proclaiming myself as superior.
I’ve been spitting on my own grave.
Oscar Wilde says, “He who lives more lives than one, more deaths than one must die.”
And I did die. She did die. And she’s been haunting me.
In the place of her desperate struggle to become worthy of being alive, there’s now an endless, dark, empty void.
And, in that void, the girl I used to be has returned to me. More than a few times in the past few years, she’s danced into my head, taunting me with memories of ecstatic pleasure, her eyes glittering as she hides the comedown behind her back.
And, each time, I’d let the thoughts pass and let the feelings go, but I’d be left with a strange emptiness. The peace I thought was so beautiful, she thought was boring. And, in those moments, I could really feel what she felt. She was terrified of stillness. And each time she’d haunt me, I’d be terrified of it too.
Even when I wore that mask, I used to say I wanted peace, but what did I used to know of peace? Peace would have sent me running full speed in the opposite direction. I was used to chemically induced highs and bone-shattering lows.
Most of the time, the idea that I’m pure energy is so beautiful and enthralling, like I’m a beautiful piece of an eternal, interconnected universe. When I’m haunted, however, it’s this terrifying, empty void that eats me alive and tears me to pieces.
Peace isn’t exciting. It’s not motivating. It’s not inspiring. It’s not pleasurable. Peace is nothing at all. It’s a great big empty void. I am a great, big, empty void.
To me, that is beautiful. To her, that is terrifying.
What I’ve been experiencing for a while now is something that I’ve discovered some spiritual traditions call “death of the ego.” And, let me tell you, I always think it’s dead when it comes back for more.
And I realized yesterday that she returns to me because I’m keeping her alive, because I haven’t grieved her. I haven’t honoured her.
Because no matter how misguided, confused, and self-destructive a person was, s/he still deserves to be honoured. When we go to someone’s funeral, we go to honour the unique series and combinations of impermanent states that made up that person’s everyday existence over the years.
The impermanent sometimes dies in body, and sometimes in mind. But our spirits live on.
I thought I’d chosen change, but really I’d chosen death as well. She had to die so I could change. And, now, she’s still here because she has unfinished business, because I haven’t buried her.
For what it’s worth, here it is, for you all to see. I really did want to keep this all to myself, but then I realized that’s something she would have done. And, while that’s okay, I’ll choose to be me, not her.
Vironika Wilde is dead. By all those who knew her, she was a firecracker. She was full of passionate energy. She loved to do a million things at once, always finding herself at the top of every pyramid and at the front of every line.
She did everything to excess. She could only live in extremes. She would never calm down, and that was what was so interesting about her. She’d always be up to something. Every time you’d speak to her, she’d tell you about the million new things she was doing in-between lighting consecutive cigarettes and occasional side glances at your eyes in-between avoided eye contact.
She was sexy when she remembered how sexy she was, and that was never sober. She was rarely sober, if not intoxicated on chemicals, then on anger, or indignation, or fear turned to violence. There was a strange sort of power about her. She knew how to make people do what she wanted, and she knew how to manipulate a situation to her benefit.
She was daringly honest and never held back saying what was on her mind, even when it hurt people.
She never knew when to stop. She’d always be the last one up. When everyone else would crash, when the party was over, there she’d be—wide-eyed and hungry for more.
She could go from loving you to hating you in the snap of her fingers, which always made the people around her question if she was ever really capable of loving anyone at all. She mistrusted people deeply, but she’d try to test the waters once in a while, always disappointed when people failed her, which always made the people around her question if she was ever really capable of being trusted at all.
She knew how to be big. She did everything big. Everything had to be over the top and everything had to be different. The worst thing you could tell her is that something she said or something she did reminded you of someone else you knew.
She wanted to be an entity all unto herself, a powerful force capable of erecting monuments in one moment and crushing them in the next.
She had a vengeance, and she had a big heart. She had a pile of skeletons in her closet, and she had a way of looking at you sometimes that made you think that, deep inside, there was a vulnerable little girl, hiding, crying, frozen behind those fierce blue eyes.
She’d never show you her face beneath the layers of makeup. She’d never show you her eyes beneath the constant avoidance. She’d never show you her pain beneath the mask. She’d never show you just how much she really cared.
I think, deep inside, she always wanted to love herself, just as she was, but never really thought that was an appropriate thing to do. I think she really wanted to believe that things could be simple. I think she really did want to be able to be silent and to just exist without struggling so much every moment.
She was a good person, even though sometimes she didn’t act like it. She tried her best, even though sometimes that wasn’t good enough. And, underneath all of the fireworks and drama, she just wanted to be loved.
And she is now. She belongs to the world now.
Rest in peace, Vironika Wilde. You will be missed. I’ll never forget you. And I will always love you.
I can’t tell you how liberating this experience was. It surprised me just how much weight this took off my shoulders, weight I didn’t know was heavy until it was gone.
I hope that, if you’re haunted by who you were in a past life, you’ll join me in realizing that the dead live on because we haven’t honoured them.
I hope you, too, will write your past self a eulogy, and set that part of you free.
(Photo by Tony Fischer)