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 it—as 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 respond—but 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 guy—never 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 abuse—including, but not limited to, the apocalyptic bullying I endured in seventh grade—and 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.