This piece is from a mother/daughter memoir we’ve been working on for a number of years.
My daughter took her first round of SAT’s. Before delivering her to the site where hordes of anxious adolescents stood by padlocked doors waiting access to this barbaric rite of passage, we argued about food. She didn’t want to eat. I told her she needed fuel for her brain.
Of course she won.
As she stepped from the car she whisked off her jacket, exposing a pink tank top filled with her young ripening body, then flung the garment into the back seat. My heart stopped. First no breakfast, now no jacket. How will I ever get through this? I cried the whole way home. A sophomore in high school, she’s far too young for the rigors of this pre-college inquisition. I’m almost certain I weaned her from my left breast the other day.
This only child of mine has always been a good student, using grades to fill the gap our broken home left in her psyche. Testing has never been a problem for her. I don’t believe she even grasps the phrase test anxiety. This was not the case for me. An affliction I’ve been intimate with for many years. Far more intimate than I’d like to admit.
A second child, I’m one of the middles of four siblings. My sister, the academic headliner of the family, was a master performer on the scholastic stage. Waltzing her way through high school with top honors, I had the inconvenience of trailing behind her—three years her junior—not enough time for teachers to annihilate her brilliance from their memory banks. Ah, Sue Weis’ sister, they proclaimed upon eyeballing me my first day of freshman year. We’re SO glad to have another Weis at our school. Despite emerging from the same womb, my sister and I had little in common, a romance with testing was not one of our shared attributes. Witnessing the nonchalance my daughter brought to the task, sauntering from the car as if meeting a small gathering of friends, I considered her the same alien pedigree as my sister.
I vaguely recall the day I took the SAT, certainly not in my sophomore year, as I slogged my way through the mire of high school that year. With desks crammed together in a stuffy classroom, I imagine sweat pouring from pits and gushing from palms, prohibiting me from holding my pencil in place, that cursed #2 point slipping from the page, marking the wrong minuscule circles on the answer sheet that seemed an irritating blur before me. Or being so nervous my blood sugar plunged off the hypoglycemic charts, which meant not one clear thought surfaced during the test session, let alone a correct answer.
Naturally my scores reflected my battered composure. My math score slid into second at 485 and my verbal struck out swinging somewhere around 423. I believe they gave us two hundred points just for showing up and scribbling our names—a bribe of sorts—the only surefire way they could guarantee my attendance. As my mother used to say, in a tone far too syrupy for the message she aimed to provide, My darling daughter, you are your own worst enemy.
Those words chimed in my ears as I fetched my daughter after completing her exam. She smiled brightly as she slid into the car next to me. Though I’ve suggested that testing is not an issue for her, I detected a different demeanor, a bit more relaxed. I asked how it went. She shrugged her shoulders as she always does, not exactly sure how to decipher her own performance. I only left five blanks, she said proudly. All the others I knew.
She was hungry and craved a high caloric breakfast from McDonald’s, a sausage biscuit to be exact. That sounded good to me. Comfort food was what I needed. Because I am still my own worst enemy. I’m the one who worried for days about my daughter’s SAT, worried about her getting enough rest the week before, about her skipping breakfast the morning of and relinquishing warmth for fashion before entering the test site. And as I watched her chomp down on her sausage biscuit, I sighed, knowing I’d just gone through another round of letting go.
Happy New Year!
Twenty-five years ago today, I had my last drink.
And now I’m working on a book proposal for a memoir about my drinking years and recovery, researching articles and sites that support my project. When I found this piece on high-functioning alcoholics, I found myself. At least, who I was.
A bona-fide HFA. Could you be one too?
I loved this post by Kathy Weyer on Writeonsisters.com so much, I needed to repost it here.
Writing Is My Prozac
I call it The Beast.
As a mental health professional, the death of Robin Williams struck a profound chord. He had it all – fame, money, respect, children, a new marriage. Many people are asking – how could he?
We’ll never know what happened in his head, but clearly he saw exiting the world as his only way out of whatever pain he suffered. He tried drugs and alcohol to escape and found that destructive. It’s a good guess that he was being treated professionally for his depression. His Beast could not be slayed.
Many writers suffer from depression, often called malaise or melancholia. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Virginia Wolff all suffered from depression. It grips you and won’t let go.
Believe me, I know. It occurred to me that that’s why I write. It helps exorcise some demons.
While there may be some root causes for depression (grief that sticks, then becomes a habit of sorts,) most is organic, meaning the chemicals in the brain are off and medication will help organize them back into shape and help balance out your moods. That, along with talk therapy, will often be successful. But it’s a lifelong process.
I don’t have the statistics, but I would bet that most creative people have some sort of emotional or mental issue. Artists, writers, most craftspeople, really, have a different slant on life. Geniuses abound in the creative world, and, coincidentally, in recovery centers. Not all geniuses are alcoholics, but a lot of alcoholics have IQ’s that are off the charts. Alcohol is a depressant; perhaps it calms the storm going on in their heads. I don’t know because I’m neither a genius nor an alcoholic.
People who abuse drugs and alcohol are trying to find peace through escape. The Beast takes a nap for a bit, but, like a vampire, he reawakens, ready to ruin your world, which is tight and dark with no windows and no options.
I am editing stories for someone who had a drug and alcohol problem for twenty-seven years – from age thirteen to forty. He never completed high school and therefore his writing and grammar skills can use some polishing. It’s an addiction problem with him – first smoking, then alcohol, then drugs, then working out. Now it’s writing.
When he’s not working, he’s writing on an old computer, banging out stories from his experiences in flophouses, making deals, living off the streets, in jail, and with others. The stories are tough – there is one where he’s in a hotel room with a young girl who shot up heroin and gave herself too much. She died, but, all by himself and with the nervous energy that methamphetamines give you, he banged on her chest and got her heart started again. It’s repulsive and riveting.
He says he can feel himself shifting with every story as he reviews the true happenings in his life and can examine them from different angles. I send them back with notes “go deeper”, and he does. He talks about the lack of feeling at the time, lack of remorse, lack of respect for himself and others. He’s learning about himself as he spills out the story of his life.
Writers are very seldom rich people. We don’t do it for money or fame, although that would be nice. We do it for ourselves and hope and pray that it appeals to others. Every idea, every story, every plot and concept comes from somewhere deep inside us, from our own experiences. It all means something very personal to us, even though we may not recognize it at the time. (“Where did that come from?”)
We need to get to know ourselves better, and writers have found a way to do that, creatively and hopefully artfully. But in the end it’s about going deeper, finding out the why, the how, and the lesson of each story of our lives.
The stories I’m editing have taught me a great deal and opened my eyes to giving permission to delve deeper, open those windows and shed some light on your past, and ultimately take steps to slay The Beast, one story at a time.