When I started writing my latest novel, I didn’t have an agenda or even a plan. The story of Whizzers came about very organically, though it has roots in my own life from many years ago.
To understand how I evolved as a writer, you almost have to understand how I evolved as a person. My early years were an almost golden era of acing virtually all my schoolwork and feeling surrounded by nice people.
It wasn’t until a 1972 sledding accident and a fractured skull that I felt different, uncomfortable, and vulnerable. Couple that with growing up in a volatile household—including an alcoholic parent—and by the time I reached early adolescence, I had some issues.
Without knowing it, I was already set up to develop a substance abuse problem of my own. But fortunately, said problem was brought to my attention at the ripe old age of 24, and I never got into trouble with the law…or anyone else, for that matter.
The Actual Kicking the Can Moment
In the early days of my sobriety, everything was a stunning revelation to me. I must admit, I was a bit like a stoner dude saying, “Whoa, man,” every ten minutes, even though I was now under the influence of pure reality. As some have noted, S.O.B.E.R. stands for “Son Of a Bitch, Everything’s Real!”
This was brought forcibly home to me on multiple memorable occasions, some of which actually seem funny now. Once, at a meeting, a sober relative of mine approached me and said, “This guy told me that if you ever need someone to talk to, you should give him a call.” He handed me a piece of paper with the name and number of another sober relative, and that was the moment I learned of that other relative’s recovery. More moving than funny.
One “stunning revelation” moment came when I was enraged. I don’t recall anything about why I was having such a bad day. It might simply have been the fact that I had to walk twenty minutes to take a ninety-minute bus ride to a part-time job, knowing full well I could make the same trip in about twenty-five minutes…if I had my own car. I didn’t.
Whatever the cause, I was stomping down the sidewalk, as if storming out of an argument, when my foot struck a can on the pavement. The can flew down the sidewalk ahead of me, bouncing a few times on the way. When I got to where it had landed, I realized it was a partially crushed, empty beer can.
Now, that might not sound like a profound message from God to you, but in my early days of sobriety—when so many mind-blowing events happened on a seemingly daily basis—I can tell you it felt like a warning: Slow down. Calm down. If you keep storming ahead angrily, you’re going to run right into something like…what you just kicked.
It’s Not Business—It’s Personal
Some of this feeling about going through stresses and strains informs Whizzers. And in a way, it provides many kicking the can moments, though most of the truly autobiographical scenes are more challenging to the character than revelatory.
Was my moment of literally kicking a can revelatory? Probably not, and it strikes me today as funny. But in that moment, it felt like everything stopped. I calmed down. I regained my composure. And, in early sobriety, gaining or regaining composure was pretty damned important.
There are quite a few stories left to tell about times I lost it completely, but I’ll save those for another day. They’re hilarious now, but they were extremely embarrassing then.
What about you? Any tales of demented (or overawed) moments in your life, sober or not? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.