How to make friends with the dark. Making peace with the loss of a family, heartbreak, loneliness, depression, and disease.

I had an interaction with Ochaya Enock, a war survivor whose story reminds me of Kathleen Glasgow’s novel ‘’How to make friends with the dark’’.

Growing up in northern Uganda in Kitgum district, Enock got married at 21 to Carol who was 18 by then. Living in a homestead of his extended family, Enock’s life was one with fulfillment, love, connectedness, peace, and happiness. He could never imagine what could befall him later in life.

Making peace with dark paves way for light

Going away to a distant village for a trip, Enock returned home to what he called the moment that never left him the same. The Lord’s Resistance Army rebels had raided the area where his home was.

They had kidnapped all able-bodied men and women including his new bride, brother, and uncle. The old and frail in the village were killed. Among them were his grandmother and parents.

The sight of his grandmother, mother, and father lifeless on the ground with flies hovering all over them left him with traumas and nightmares that he could not bear. He dug up graves and buried each one of them. Put a cross on their graves and prayed to God to grant them a peaceful rest.

Overwhelmed by grief, heartache, and hopelessness, Enock broke down and cried seeing what was a home he loved looking like a deserted haunted place.

‘’All over a sudden my pain faded, my tears dried and I stopped crying. I stood up feeling no grief but full of feelings that I could later be able to verbalize as vindictiveness and a determination to seek revenge.’’ Said Enock.

Not considering his vulnerabilities of no fighting skills and having not even a single gun, he walked to the direction where the rebels were believed to be camped. 27miles away, he was ambushed and kidnapped as well.

What he hoped was a mission to seek vengeance, would become a decision he would later regret. He was beaten, tortured, and starved into submission to become a rebel.

Then turned a rebel, Enock was under the captaincy of an old friend who he later learned had willingly joined the rebels and masterminded the raid that left his parents dead. His new leader had also taken Enock’s wife as his own. Every night Enock saw his wife going to bed with his leader in a tent.

His wife acted like she didn’t know him and even refused to follow him the day he escaped from the rebel camp. She had turned into something he couldn’t understand. How could she become so loyal to a ruthless murderous rebel?

Enock would later learn his wife Carol had become a victim of Stockholm syndrome. A psychological condition that occurs when a victim of abuse identifies and attaches, or bonds, positively with their abuser.

He knew he couldn’t help her and that attempting to get so close to her would have him shot dead or castrated by his leader. Heartbroken and unable to get vindicated, he managed to escape to a refugee camp where he was admitted as a victim of war.

The camp was also another hell to live in, drinking water as brown as mud, eating food as tasteless as water yet so little as well. Sleeping on rough surfaces and having to deal with malaria from mosquitoes and other diseases from poor hygiene was Enock’s new life.

Living in the camp for three years, Enock faced his traumas. Pain, heartbreak, hunger, diseases, and hopelessness to become a counselor, football coach, and a light of hope in the camp.

In my conversations with him, he shared with me, answers to some questions of many people going through unending adversity. Dear reader, here is a highlight of my dialogue with him.

Me: How do you find happiness in adversity?

ENOCK:  Problems, challenges, and tough times will never leave our lives. They are never-ending. You solve problem A then problem B shows up. When I had just reached the refugee camp, I was so depressed. I was facing so much pain. But as the days went by, I realized that what I was going through was not about to end. I was alone in the world. No family, no friends. I didn’t find my brother in the rebel’s camp. Carol couldn’t even tell me anything about him. My wife left me for a rebel and my parents were killed. My situation was not about to change.

One morning, a thought hit me, what if I made myself stronger than what I was going through. Would my problems fade or become too weak to take away my happiness?

That day I promised myself to get stronger than what I had and was going through. I stopped ostracizing myself. I mixed up with people who were experiencing similar adversity but chose to find joy in hellfire.

They were sitting around a fireplace the night I stood nearby. One gentleman asked me to join them and I agreed. As they sang songs of hope, I felt a feeling of belongingness that I had not felt in a long time.

Find joy in hellfire to make friends with the dark

One lady narrated her story which somehow stimulated my grief at the same time making me stronger knowing that someone else went through a similar experience and is fighting to get back up.

When she was done, I was asked to tell my own. I did. After, two elders asked me to meet them the next day. When we met at around 10am they introduced me to a counselor and my healing process started.

My situation didn’t change. My wife kept with the rebels, my parents remained dead, the camp’s bad food, dirty water, and diseases didn’t stop and I have never seen my brother again.

However, I have grown stronger than my problems. It may require you to ask for help or just do it on your own. But once you become stronger than your problems, joy starts to twinkle into your heart and you become happier.

ME: What do you do if adversity doesn’t seem to end?

ENOCK: You have to concentrate your forces first. That starts with building your inner emotional and mental strength. Once you become stronger than the problems you are facing, you start to identify ways to get out of your situation. You can then turn adversity into opportunities.

I had forgotten about my passion for football ever since the misfortune. When I started to heal, I noticed the high number of young boys in the camp. I was able to mobilize them to form a football team. I train them to play football.

As a team, we also do community projects to help our situation. We are now working on a sieving system to improve the cleanliness of our water. We have very talented boys who we hope will make it to professional football clubs that will pay them enough money to help us here.

ME: How do you re-invent yourself amidst adversity?

ENOCK: Once again, you have to start with becoming stronger than your adverse situation. Why I stick to this, is because if you are weaker than it, it will keep wrestling you down. Once you become stronger, then you have to build hope within you. Hope for a better future and peace.

I could not bring my family back to life, I don’t know if I will ever see Carol again but I have hope that I can start a new family someday. That keeps me going and willing to make myself a better person. To re-invent yourself in adversity, you have to have something to keep your eyes on. Something you want to get or become.

ME: Have you ever contemplated suicide?

ENOCK: Many times. That night when I joined the camp fireplace gathering, I planned to take my life but something told me to give myself a chance. You never know what the world holds for you. I have friends here. People that treat me like family. I have hope to start my own family.

That is only possible if I stay alive. A woman killed herself last month because her children were taken away by rebels. They managed to escape and showed up here a week after her death. She broke their hearts. If she stayed she would be able to see them. It is important to stay alive even when you feel like it does not make sense.

ME: What is your message to people going through challenging experiences?

ENOCK: Do not lose hope. You have no idea what the universe has for you. no matter how long the night may seem, the sun will always rise. You will one day be free from your adversity. Just strive for strength.

Final thoughts: I was not able to record my conversation with Enock but his words are always fresh in my mind. Last month I sent him Kathleen Glasgow’s book ‘’How to make friends with the Dark’’, which he enjoyed reading. In his message, he thanked the author for writing a story that reminds people that you can use adversity to your advantage. I hope you learned something from Ochaya Enock like I did. Feel free to share with me your lesson in the comments.

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