I’ve heard numerous stories about children who had invisible friends. My eldest brother had one. The friend’s name was Noni. Far ahead of the times in terms of gender fluidity, we didn’t know whether Noni was male or female. Unlike Jimmy Stewart’s imaginary friend, Harvey, who was a six-foot rabbit, we also had no idea whether Noni had a human form or otherwise. It seems that my parents tolerated Noni’s unseeable presence until the fabled car trip. Many miles away from home, the quiet of the car was jarred by Paul’s anxious exclamation; “Stop the car, we forgot Noni!” I’m sure my parents did not turn around.

I always wanted a sister and would sometimes imagine what it might be like to have a resident best friend and ally. A co-conspirator to share the burden of survival and the joy of being alive. Instead, I acquired two invisible mates with insistent voices. They take up space in my head and invade my reasoning in what are now familiar patterns.

I’m not alone in having these companions. Last week I had the good fortune to be out to dinner and a live music performance. Such a treat after months of pandemic isolation and deafening quiet. I uttered a sarcastic comment that made people laugh, however inside I knew it was edgy and critical. I followed up quickly, “I can’t believe I said that out loud. It’s my evil twin Dale.” More laughter, this time with heads nodding. It seems others have an alter ego that voices things that are best not said. Immediately there were stories of regrets over comments made, thoughts shared, and quick replies that could not be put back in the box.

Dale is a show off. She’s feisty, fearless, and ignores social filters. She preens her ego often at the expense of others. She loves to make people laugh. And frequently wishes she hadn’t. She loves to grab attention. And frequently wishes she hadn’t. She tells herself that she’s being honest and direct. And then silently admits that it was unnecessary and not nice.

Dale has a sister. Edna, the inner critic. Only I hear her. She is sometimes the voice of my conscience. More often the voice of a mean girl. She changes my reflection in the mirror to one of wrinkled and frumpy. She views my cooking as bland and overdone. She perceives my creative energy as irrelevant and banal. I know that I am not alone in having this voice as a chronic visitor.

In my program of recovery, I have learned that there are times when I am most vulnerable to her toxic nattering. That is when I am hungry, angry, lonely or tired – easily remembered by the acronym HALT. She feasts on low energy, negative thoughts, and a lack of attention to logic. A compromised state empowers her.

I believe that she will accompany me for the rest of my life – unlike Dale who I am trying to break up with. Edna has value as my conscience when she partners with my intuition and spiritual foundation. Together they help me tune into my gut and seek to do the right thing, be a better person, and avoid ego traps and self centredness.

And I need to accept the dark side of Edna. I no longer drown her in wine and gin. When I did, she just quieted until the morning – waking me up with a vicious tirade that crippled my attempts at rationalization or denial. Choosing not to believe her, gently pushing aside her voice and summoning my own grace and power, will silence her.

Those who practice Buddhism would encourage me to make friends with her. To see her as my teacher. I’m happy when I can acknowledge her presence and not engage in her commentary. Then I am empowered.

At least, that is my experience.