It’s hard to not make it sound as if it’s not my ego that needs stroking, but when I think about my work as an author—not as a successful addiction specialist or a counselor—I’m realizing more and more that authors like myself really depend on their immediate communities. Authors need readers; they need support. Like everyone else with a product, authors sell and profit because there’s interest in their work. When there’s no interest, no books get sold and the whole enterprise goes to die in a tower of dusty paperbacks in the back of a bookstore—if the said bookstore even agrees to carry the author’s work.
What’s different about authors who write books intended to carry a specific message intended to help people is that the selling also means the message is indeed being heard. We don’t write to get rich (and let’s be honest, it’s very hard to get rich off writing these days); our primary intention is to be heard and to have others respond. But for that, we need not only readers we can reach through the word-of-mouth and the Internet; we need readers who live in our communities, who can carry this message further, who feel proud and supportive of us.
My memoir, Parallel Universe, is a book with a message. Although touted as a memoir, it is also a story about adoption (relinquishment), betrayal, addiction, recovery, and redemption. I’ve used my own life to shed light on issues that extend beyond just my personal experience. My intention was always to bring attention to taboo subjects that often get covered up because of the prevailing stigma. And I’ve found a vast audience in those who simply struggle to feel like they belong – somewhere and/or everywhere. We live in such challenging times—if we don’t start helping each other soon, we won’t be able to sustain this for much longer. We are isolated, still shell-shocked from the pandemic, and so many of us suffer because of loneliness and lack of mutual understanding. Our mental health is fragile; we don’t know where to turn, who to talk to. For many of us, books are a gateway to connection. Books are safe, books are accessible, they are intimate, but they don’t demand anything more than our attention. And they give so much back! Having read many memoirs and non-fiction books myself, I can testify to books being a safe haven, a starting-off point for me to be able to investigate my own life. They were the first, primary connection with the world I felt so separate from. I wanted to do the same thing with my book.
When I first decided to expose my life so publicly, I knew that I would be risking judgement, possibly even ridicule. It was scary and exhilarating to finally be able to break the silence and shame that haunted me for so many years. Being a relinquishee and a person with Substance Use Disorder has taught me many maladaptive coping mechanisms, one of them secrecy and hiding behind delusion. I needed to hide my origins because I was not like everyone else with their biological mom and dad and a perfect birth story. I was born to an unwed mother who had to give me up because of the prejudice against women like her—young, unmarried, with an accidental pregnancy—that existed back in her day. And, as an adult, I continued the legacy of secrecy by coping with my trauma through drinking and drugs, hiding my pain and torment from those closest to me. To the outside world, I was a successful father of two with a great career but on the inside, but I was slowly dying: of shame, of addiction, of total disconnect with reality. When I started writing my memoir, my impetus was thinking that surely there are others out there like me—people who live double lives, who hurt and who don’t know how to recover. Whether relinquishees and/ or people with addiction, or some other betrayal or trauma that kept them stuck, there had to be people who would be able to relate! And I had some good news for those people—it was possible to heal! Having a limited platform, writing a book, and going all out with my story—naysayers be damned—seemed like the best option to reach as many of those folks as possible.
But self-promotion is hard, and it’s a delicate balance between taking ownership of the work you’re proud of and trying to convince others that they should pay attention to it in a way that doesn’t seem manipulative. I’ve had some success but I’ve also had a hard time breaking through, especially in my own community, where even stocking my book has been a challenge. The support I’ve gotten has been tremendous, but it’s hard to say if anybody’s paid attention here in East Troy, Wisconsin. Call me a dreamer, but it would mean the world to me to be this place’s another author besides the other one who’s already made a splash. And it would mean the world to me to be supported in the very place where I have healed.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Southern Lakes Newspapers for featuring this message in the September 1 -2 , 2022, issue of their Living section.