For the last two years I've been working to overcome the effects of damage done by my Grandmother, who we all called Mamaw. When I was 8 years old, she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said a famous writer, and she was appalled, and said "If you are a famous writer, they'll call you crazy and lock you up!" She reinforced that message by telling me the doctor she worked for as a nurse had confirmed that if I was a writer when I grew up, and went crazy from it, he could have me put into an insane asylum. One night she shut me up in a closet to show me what it would be like to be locked up in an asylum!

I had done some powerful therapy work over the spring of 2009 to release those old messages, but realized over the summer that my inner child, who I called Danny, was afraid to leave that closet he had emotionally lived in for over 50 years. He was afraid that if he stepped outside, the bad thing would happen! I decided to do an exercise to get it across to Little Danny that he was in fact free, and didn't have to live with that fear any longer. It was an exercise I had tried before, and written about in my book Freedom's Just Another Word. Although it sounded kind of silly when I would describe it, the exercise had brought powerful results for me, and it just seemed like the next thing that needed to happen.

This is a dialogue July 4, 2009 between my adult self, and that wounded inner child:

"Danny, I'm going to show you in a whole different way that you are free - that you are free of Mamaw, and can leave those old messages behind forever. Are you ready for that?"

"Yes, I am!"

"Excellent! Danny, do you remember the movie Forrest Gump?"

"Oh yes, I liked that movie a lot!"

"Remember when Forrest had a bulldozer knock down the house that had caused Jennie so much pain?"


"Well, we're going to do that to Mamaw's house today."

He grinned, then got very thoughtful.

"What are you feeling?"

"That feels - deep. Powerful. good. It feels right! So her house, the closet, all of it, will be gone? I like that image! Let's do it!"

"Alright. First, imagine yourself back in her house." He shuddered a bit, then nodded. "You are standing in the closet in her back bedroom." I could see him visualizing being there. "As you look out of the closet, there's a bright golden light like we pictured in the therapist's office. So there are no scary things in there. Do you see it?"

"Yes, it's beautiful!"

"Good. Danny, do you remember the lion in the Chronicles of Narnia?"

"Yes, I liked him a lot!"

"What did he represent?"

"God. Jesus."

"He was pretty powerful and golden, wasn't he?"

"Oh yes, he was enormous, and you knew he wasn't a tame lion, but you felt safe with him. It was really special."

"Yes, I agree, Danny. Alright, I want you to picture the lion standing in the middle of that back bedroom. Take your time. See him?"

"Oh wow - that is amazing!"

"OK, Danny, here's what we're going to do. When you're ready, you're going to take my hand, and we're going to step out of the closet, and go to the lion."

He nodded, then thought about that for a long time. The lion stood there placidly, watching us, in complete repose.

Finally I said, "Danny, are you ready?"


"Good. Then take my hand." He did, and then we began to walk, two steps and we were past the door of the closet. I heard his breath catch, but he kept walking, until we were standing in the middle of the back bedroom, next to the lion.

"Danny, you can pet him if you want. He'll let you." He started stroking the lion's mane very gently. This continued for a long time. Finally he stopped and looked up at me.

"Danny, I want you to hold on to the lion's mane, and then we're going to walk out of the house." He reached up and held the mane, and the three of us began to walk. We squeezed through the bedroom doorway, went down the hall, across the living room, and out the front door. We crossed the lawn, stopped out be the curb, turned, and looked back at the house.

It was nothing remarkable - a small white shotgun house, two bedrooms across the back, bathroom, small kitchen to the left as we were facing it, dining area and living room in the middle, attached garage on the right. It still astounded me that something so unremarkable could store so much pain.

The three of us stood there for a long time looking, Danny still holding my hand and the mane of the lion. Finally, I could see him notice the bulldozer, sitting silently off to the right of the garage.

"Danny, that bulldozer is going to knock down the house. But he won't do it until you wave at him. That's his signal to start. Take your time to get ready. We're in no hurry." He stood and looked at the house for the longest time. Then he let go of my hand, and waved at the bulldozer driver, and took my hand again.

With a rumble we could all feel through our feet, the powerful diesel cranked up. The driver pulled slowly up to the corner of the garage, put his blade down and started crunching through. The roof of the garage started caving in, and the driver backed out to let it fall. He moved over to the left of the porch and rammed his way directly into the living room, until it too began to fold up. He backed out, then did the same at the left corner of the house. I heard screeching noises that I presumed were the tiles on the kitchen counter folding in. Now the front half of the house was buckled down. The driver backed up, then drove up on to the rubble in the middle, wood crunching under his tracks, until the weight of the dozer collapsed the pier and beam foundation, and the whole living room area started flattening. then it was like the house broke in the middle along the roofline, and the center portion of the house dropped, leaving exposed beams. He made a couple of more passes on the right, and then the left. We heard a terrible squeal when I suspected he ran over the old metal bathtub.

Then the driver backed out, went all the way to the right of the house, and began to push on the back half of the house. He seemed to be working very methodically. He pushed through the back bedroom and collapsed that part. He backed out, moved to the center, and pushed right through where the closet had been. One more pass, and Mamaw's bedroom collapsed, behind where the kitchen had been.

All this time, the three of us were standing silently and watching, fascinated. The driver began to run back and forth over the rubble of the whole house, breaking it up into smaller and smaller chunks. I had paid him well and told him to take his time. Finally the ruins were broken down and pulverized, and the only things standing were the concrete steps at the front door, and another set of concrete steps leading to the kitchen - what used to be the kitchen.

Then the driver went once more back to the right of the house, and lowered his blade to the ground, and began pushing the rubble backward, toward the back yard. It took several passes for each section of rubble, but finally as he pushed he would be exposing raw dark dirt under the foundation that hadn't seen light in many, many years.

At last it was done. The rubble was pushed far out into the back yard, and where the house had been was only raw dirt. The driver backed out, turned off his engine. The silence felt good after all the noise and rumbling. You could still hear ticking noises off the diesel engine, but otherwise, it was silent.

We stood there for a moment longer, then the three of us began walking across the front lawn. We walked up to where the front wall of the living room had been, and stopped. I didn't want to go further, in case of random debris. All we wanted was to be able to see. Brown dirt, crisscrossed with bulldozer tracks, was all that was left of the house, all that was left of the closet.

We stood there looking at the empty space for a long time. Then we turned, still holding on to one another, and walked away.

Author's Bio: 

Dan Hays is the author of "Freedom's Just Another Word, a hopeful and inspirational memoir about his struggles to overcome the effects of growing up with a violent alcoholic. Dan also presents hopeful radio messages in his broadcasts "Minute to Freedom." On his roundtable radio show "Dialogues With Dignity," Dan discusses topics of depth and substance.