We’re All Looking For The Answer

We’re All Looking For The Answer

Today’s post is a bit of a topic combo, if there is such a thing. What’s on my mind? Elements of a February 2019 post called No More For The Road and the March 2019 post I Survived Catholic School.

Don’t worry. I won’t repeat what’s in them. You can read them for yourself.

But here’s the thing: my newest novel Whizzers had some of its genesis in what I discuss in those posts.

The Anonymity Thing

I started writing the book nearly 20 years ago, I think. And it’s safe to say I struggled mightily with the idea of discussing my recovery from alcoholism in any sort of public manner, much less in a deeply personal, semi-autobiographical work of fiction.

As time marches on, though, I realize it can’t hurt me to talk about itas long as I maintain a few personal boundaries.

So here they are:

  • I’m not a therapist or recovery professional, so I can’t advise anyone on their journey.
  • I’m not going to say I am, or ever have been, in a 12-step group of any sort. That’s implied by the character in the book, who’s a fictionalized version of me. It’s fiction, not a memoir or tell-all.
  • The autobiographical aspects are strong, but the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. I’ve got a few historical figures in there, and the usual disclaimers apply. The names of my real-life antagonists never appear.

I think that’s about it. Anyone who has a problem with what I’ve written, feel free to contact me directly. I might respondbut if I do, I won’t argue.

Catholic School + Bullying = No More For The Road?

On the combo of topics, I want to write about one thing. This was a big question for the first two or three years of my three decades of sobriety.

“Why did you drink?”

I really, really wanted to know exactly why I drank. Was it an inherited gene? Was it because of some deep dark secret I didn’t even recall, some precognitive abuse?

Alcoholics almost always want to find things to make them feel better. As I wrote in the No More For The Road post, I felt horribly hypersensitive as a young guynever more so than when I was newly sober. It was awful, and I hated every second of it.

Consequently, I wanted to know any and all root causes for this awful disease that almost took me out.

I read the spiritual books and pamphlets, the scientific books, the not-so-scientific books. I owned a hardcover copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a.k.a. the DSM. At one point in my life, if you asked me what my hobbies were, I’d have said, “Mental health.”

So Why DID You drink?

Why indeed? I found the answer after reading and therapy and inventorying, and plenty of other work. And I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t satisfying to learn.

It didn’t matter why I became an alcoholic. What matters is what I do about it.

In my case, there was certainly a loaded genetic gun. But beyond that, I could point to plenty of incidents of abuseincluding, but not limited to, the apocalyptic bullying I endured in seventh gradeand any one of those could easily have done the job.

In other words, if you had my background, you’d drink, too.

Now, I know that’s not true for everyone. Plenty of people endure horrible abuse and go on to overcompensate their way into tremendous success, all in an effort to heal their deep psychological wound.

I did a bit of that, but in the meantime, I was too steeped in getting baked to get into Harvard.

Could I have had that kind of success if I never took a drink or a drug?

Probably. The evidence from early childhood through junior high is strong. My standardized test scores were off the charts.

But the abuse broke me. And it took a good ten to twelve years of substance abuse before I found a solution. Only then could I start putting the pieces together, and become whole again.

What about you? Does your story have something in common with mine? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

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I Survived Catholic School

I Survived Catholic School

This post isn’t meant to be provocative, though I understand my readers who also happen to be good Catholics might see it that way. No, it’s something else altogether.

Years ago, it wasn’t unusual to hear someone talking about how the nuns hit their knuckles with rulers, or spanked them, or some other form of corporal punishment. But I don’t have any of those types of war stories. I didn’t love the nuns or lay teachers in my Catholic school experiences, but most of them were okay.

Now, I say “experiences,” plural, because I actually attended two Catholic schools. The first, St. Joseph’s, was a grammar school that ran from K-8. In my case, I only attended for sixth and part of seventh grade, having gone to a very good public school for K-5.

After transferring to another public school for the remainder of junior high, I then went back into the Catholic education experience for all of high school, graduating from St. Paul Catholic High School in 1983. Altogether, I attended Catholic educational institutions for a total of almost six years.

Brutality As Bio

All this autobiographical material came to mind today as the result of something I did this weekend. I worked on what will likely be the last third or so of my novel, Whizzers. The main character is a thinly-disguised version of yours truly, although the situations in the book are primarily fictional.

This character’s visits to certain places in the past, however, are not based on fiction; they’re based on my own recollection of incidents I can only process as formative, or at least pivotal.

If you’ve ever been bullied, you’re probably scarred for life. You can heal from it, sure, but dredging it up can’t feel good.

When I was bullied – and ostracized, and ganged-up-on, and even beaten up – I was only 13. That experience forms the basis of a scene in Whizzers, but it’s not something I keep secret. In fact, I’ve talked about it multiple times in different settings. It was so extreme, it actually led to my transferring out, ¾ of the way through the school year.

Still, writing about it seems to be a whole other animal. Whereas I can open a talk with self-deprecating humor, and then enroll an audience with the story of being bullied, I can do so with a certain distance, or detachment.

Writing myself into such a scene this weekend, however, brought up powerful feelings of grief. Perhaps the specificity of it all – the green ties and white shirts, the cold blacktop outside the school – lent itself to re-experiencing some of those awful emotions.

What about you? Anyone reading this survive Catholic school? Or have to deal with bullying or other abuse at an early age? Please feel free to share in the comments section.

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Then everyone jumped for joy, but Joy jumped out the window.

I know those only work when spoken aloud, and in the #MeToo era, it’s a pretty safe bet to say they don’t work at all anymore. But I think there was once a variant on them involving Goofy…something about getting kicked out of Disneyworld for “feeling Goofy.” You get the idea.

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Feeling Bad, Feeling Better

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The fun started in mid-February when I got a nasty sinus infection that laid me out for about a week. By the time I started feeling better, I’d sprained my right wrist, which really made February a boatload of laughs. I’m right-handed, and as a writer, I kind of need both wrists. One cortisone shot and some ibuprofen later, I was finally starting to feel like a human being again.

But then it was my wife’s turn to get a sinus infection. I’m not sure she got the same one I did, as her symptoms were different – but she needed some time off too. I think we’ve had one day in the past three weeks where we both felt 100%.

Finally, though, we’re both better…maybe even feeling a bit giddy, if not goofy. Since we’re only about 1.5 hours from Disneyworld, and have three-day passes to use, we decided a little trip to Orlando was in order. Hence today’s “Goofy” photo and theme.

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