Chasing Serenity

30 Years After JonestownCan anyone who has experienced the dark side of humanity ever escape it? Will there always remain the nightmares? By day we can acclimate, mold, and actually metamorphose into what we perceive as “normal.” But just beneath the surface, where the inner voice resides, it calls out to us: “Be careful… they almost figured you out.” This is where we are truly imprisoned. Afraid and ashamed, we try to stay hidden and anonymous, praying that we’ll not be found out before we so choose.

Haunted souls are we, trying not to show our real anguish and misgivings. Often quite resilient and well able to cloak ourselves, we hide the imperfections of our thought processes and the maladies which afflict our self-esteem, then move quietly into your world and reside within its shadowy boundaries.

We are always chasing serenity, wanting desperately to feel accepted and internally untroubled. Yet for those of us who have returned from the damned and lived through unfathomable fear and genocide, the nightmares continue. They will always come back, even after years of seeming tranquility. Watching a movie or reading a newspaper can trigger the angry ghosts who ooze their way up into our consciousness, out of their holding cells and into the pretty places we have worked so hard to create for ourselves.

How does someone truly move on and make a life for themselves? It is possible to do so, but there is a cost to the psyche. Shame desperately tries to push us into the “I’m just like you” path of dishonest living. And still we remain haunted – touched by the troubling nightmares and the evil which we have passed through.

Since writing my memoir, Seductive Poison, I have transcended much of the haunting. Although I remain a product of my history, I won’t let it define who I am.

And yet I remain mired in my wish to be known as something more than “the Jonestown woman.” I so hope that all of our epitaphs might say something truly meaningful when that time comes—like: “great mom,” “loving daughter,” “fabulous writer,” “wonderful friend”—because each of us are so much more than the sum of one event in our lives.

(Deborah Layton’s book Seductive Poison has been required reading at Stanford, Rutgers, Gonzaga, UC Davis and CSU Fresno. An extensive “interview” from February 2014 – in the form of questions she answered online for a number of readers on the Reddit website – is here. An interview from January 2016 appears on the Target Liberty website.)

(Ms. Layton can be reached through her website, or email at