A Review by Thomas B.
According to Forbes Magazine, some 85 books are published in the US every hour. That’s hundreds of thousands of new titles each year — 744,600 to be precise, plus another 2,040 every four years during leap year!
I spent an hour or so Googling memoirs, trying to determine the number of memoirs published each year. The one source that may have provided me with that information was behind a paywall, so I let it go. I am ever so grateful that increasingly, as a result of long term recovery, it becomes easier and easier to just let things go.
No doubt, a significant number of these 85 books published each hour are memoirs.
The other day, cozy and warm in my living room with the wood stove fired up during these frigid, dark days of winter, I finished reading a perfectly splendid memoir about recovery and discovery of self by David B. Bohl, Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth. I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story about recovery and discovery of self.
I was utterly captivated by his story of recovery from a virulent addiction to alcohol that had been fueled by a pervading sense of shame from the age of six-years-old by the fact that he had been adopted.
Despite being adopted shortly after birth by loving parents from an upper middle class background with above average means, which included a summer house on a lake in Wisconsin, David was haunted throughout his childhood, adolescence and adulthood by what happened when he first related that he was an adoptee to two first grade buddies while walking home from school one day.
His term for himself is that he is a relinquishee — he was relinquished by his birth mother at seven days old and put up for adoption.
Instead of being accepted such as he had been by his parents about who and what he was, his friends were confused, laughed at him and called him a liar. David took them home so that his mother could verify that he had indeed been adopted. But he discerned immediately that he had made a terrible mistake by relating this truth about himself to his friends. As a result, he felt for the first time a terrible shame about who and what he was, a shame that burned down to his innermost core. Here is how he described it:
It wasn’t neat or cool. Or amazing. Or good.
It was bad.
I was bad.
I could tell then for sure that my confession was backfiring. It only demonstrated that I wasn’t like them. I could tell that instead of being impressed, they were feeling sorry for me.
In the Foreword, written by memoirist Jowita Bydlowska, author of Drunk Mom, A Memoir, the overarching and persistent impact this shame had on David’s life after relating to his friends that he had been adopted is examined in detail. Drawing from addiction experts, such as Gabor Maté, and experts in trauma and the challenges experienced by persons who are adopted, such as Dr. Allan Schwartz, she provides a rationale for why David was so haunted by shame throughout his life, both while drinking and after he achieved recovery.
As David recalls,
I was always feeling less-than, and always entering life situations by adapting to them so as not to be found out and rejected.
Externally, David experienced a most fortuitous childhood and adolescence, especially during the summers at the lake house his family had on Lake Beulah in Wisconsin. There he felt most at home and developed a love of sailing, being in or on the water.
But here is where he also started drinking, socially at first, but slowly, imperceptibly he began to rely on drinking to drown out the shame he continued to be possessed by and always experienced. Inevitably, he had other shame-filled incidents as a result of his drinking, such as side-swiping a friend’s car in a blackout after a party at a friend’s lake house, which doubled down on the shame he experienced.
Parallel Universes traces his life growing up, almost flunking out of Marquette University, on impulse moving to Florida and graduating from the University of South Florida, becoming a successful trader on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange, marrying his childhood sweetheart — whom he had met at Lake Beulah — fathering a daughter and a son, being able to retire early due to the massive amounts of money he made as an options trader, becoming a master sailor where the adrenaline rush of winning races replicated the alcohol-fueled rush of trading options during his younger years, all the while drinking, drinking, drinking, both at raucous lakeside parties as well as while alone down in his basement office, trying to drown out the pervasive shame he always felt.
He experienced and survived the downward spiral of alcoholic deterioration, the car wrecks, the DUIs, the horrible hangovers, the unmanageability of worldwide travel drunk in blackouts, spending thousands of dollars on a spree in Rome and never getting to the Vatican so he could mark it off his bucket list, a business trip venture with a friend to India, drinking his way across the Pacific and the Indian subcontinent, having a withdrawal/anxiety attack while visiting his daughter in Florida, and finally awaking alone with his family gone from a blackout and listening to dozens of messages of concern from friends and family. Here’s how he describes his bottom:
I called my wife. ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ I said. My voice broke into a sob. Do what? I wasn’t even sure I meant drinking. I just meant everything . . . I cried loudly, cathartically, all the lies washing out of me as my wife waited patiently on the other side of the phone.
When queried by his wife what he was going to do, he responded that he would call a help line for an assessment. He did and had one scheduled. After a few minutes, he called them back:
“I’m an alcoholic,” I said. I don’t need an assessment. Just take me in. And they did.
Thus began his sober “parallel universe,” one fraught with many challenges and conundrums. An atheist, despite desperately seeking some god, praying even for one to reveal itself to him, he again was tormented by shame that he did not fit in with most AA believers until a therapist helped him to understand that reality was his higher power. He had difficulty with the pat simplicity of a number of AA’s slogans, and he could not understand how he could somehow be at fault or had anything to do with being abandoned as a newborn infant.
He was especially relieved when he found agnostic meetings!
After several years sober, mostly by working with others, he began a quest to seek out his roots, to find out where he came from and who his parents were. His wife’s family had records and lineage going back to the 1500s. He only knew from his Mother who had adopted him that his birth mother had been a student at the University of Wisconsin and that his father had been a football player. That was it.
He therefore dedicated himself to get information about his hidden past. Whole new vistas opened up for him. He was able to discover that both of his parents had died of alcohol-related causes. He was able to connect with a half-brother and several half sisters. He was able to evolve a legacy for his children from his side of the family.
In addition to his quest to find out about his family, he was able to complete a Masters degree program from the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. Currently, he is an addictions consultant with licenses to practice in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, where he specializes in helping those with addiction and suffering from trauma to include being orphaned and adopted.
David Bohl indeed has been most fortunate in recovery to be Born Again !~!~!
Along with the fascinating story of his descent into alcoholic madness and recovery therefrom coupled with his dedicated quest to discover his heritage, what especially intrigued me reading Parallel Universes was his ability to express with captivating lucidity his feelings, those of serenity and delight as well as those of utter despair and bafflement.
Here’s one example describing his affinity for the lake of his childhood, where he met his wife:
A lake is a beautiful thing: with days ending in reflections like crystals shimmering on the surface of it as the sun sets, and with mornings full of freshness and promise.
At night, a lake is an extension of the sky. Millions of stars above as you lie down, facing the sky, the waves lapping gently against the side of the boat. You are cocooned, lulled to an incredible sense of peace.
Growing up by a lake alters you – the natural, good energy of it stays in you forever, and you can never quite leave it behind. It’s a siren voice that calls you over and over to come back and immerse yourself again.
It’s safe here, the voice says, it’s home; it’s love.
But, perhaps the passage that I love best is this short, pithy statement in which, commenting upon how dogmatically much of traditional AA has become in following “precise instructions” from the Big Book, David curtly observes:
Instructions are for fixing bicycles, not for fixing people.
For a great read about another of our unique stories of recovery as secular members of AA, I heartily recommend you read David Bohl’s fascinating and heartwarming memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth.
You can also visit the author’s website here: David B. Bohl.
David Bohl was the author of an article in Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA. You can read that here: A New Man.
Thomas B. also contributed to Do Tell! His chapter is called My Alcohol-Addicted Agnostic-Atheist Recovery Story. Thomas has also written his own memoir: Each Breath a Gift: A Story of Continuing Recovery.