Truth


I thought I was joking when, a week or two ago, I wrote that I needed some time sitting alone in a dark room to digest the experience of reading Neil Strauss’ book “The Truth”, but no: it turns out that it wasn’t a joke. I really did need almost a week to get my head on straight again.

There are books you read for pleasure and there are books you read to learn, and sometimes there’s a book that inspires you to leap from the bath crying “Eureka!” and changes your life a little bit.

“The Truth” was none of these things. “The Truth” was the kind of book that starts out as a good time and then doses you with sodium pentathol and forces you to take a good long look at your life choices and then drops you off on the side of the road somewhere in the country and tells you to find your own way back to civilization.

That said, I recommend it highly.

First, a little context: I got the book at a book signing with the author, who is someone who’s work I’ve admired for a while now. I utterly failed to say anything meaningful to him when I had the opportunity. If you want the details of my abject mortification you can read all about it here.

In tandem with the book signing, there also came an announcement about a kind of companion experience called The Human Anti-Virus Experience. It sounded suspiciously self-help-life-coach-y, but I clicked on the video anyway. I made it through the first third or so and my initial reaction was “I don’t need this, I’m already enough. I’m already AWESOME.”

But I was also crying at the same time.

In public.

On the bus.

So clearly we are not in consensus about our own awesomeness.

I didn’t sign up. Firstly, because my previous experience with life-coaching turned out to be an expensive boondoggle, and secondly because I wasn’t even able to make it through the video without getting scornful and defensive so I probably wasn’t mature enough for that kind of journey yet.

It has nothing to do with my almost-pathological aversion to asking for help. Obviously.

So I wasn’t ready to sign up for an internet soul quest (now available on Apple and Android!), but I was looking forward to reading “The Truth”, which is all about relationships. Specifically, it’s all about the author’s own journey to find the right relationship fit for himself: going through sex addiction therapy after cheating, struggling with monogamy, breaking up, trying all the constellations of polyamory, cleansing through anhedonia, and ending (spoiler alert) with a wedding, just like a good, American fairy tale should.

I’m a little bit salty about the ending. It feels pat. But, whatever, it provides closure and obeys traditional narrative structure, so what am I whining about?

It’s not that I object to happy endings (phrasing), especially in a book about someone’s real life, but when a book contrived to put me through the kind of emotional calisthenics that this book did, then I kinda want more from the ending than “the social norms are pretty ok, let’s have a wedding and live happily ever after”.

Let me take you on a tour of my journey:

Part One: Monogamy Sucks

The book begins where other stories end: in rehab. The author undergoes therapy for sex-addiction, after cheating on his girlfriend, and gets a crash course in the various philosophies designed to treat disordered behaviors: drug addiction, sex addiction, PTSD, eating disorders, etc. There’s a lot of discussion about trauma and family history and how we build our identities and outlooks around early life experiences, which can lead to disordered behavior.

Me, being the overachiever that I am, decided to follow along at home. What were my early childhood traumas? How was my relationship with my parents affected by their relationship to one another? I searched my memory deeply for incidents that might’ve warped me, or things I might’ve repressed, or some deep, dark secret that had been there all along but that I’d never dare face head-on. After all, “If you’ve never found a skeleton in the closet then you haven’t looked in the right closet.” The book posits with great assurance, and I was sure it was right. Those periods of anxiety and depression that I occasionally suffer had to come from somewhere.

I was sure that it was my parents’ fault.

For the next few days, I kept waking up in the night in tears. Lying there in the dark, trying to cry without making any noise, I would run my thoughts over the jagged edges of my mind trying to think, and to remember what traumas had distorted me into the eldritch creature that I am today.

But the longer I looked and the harder I searched, the more I was led back to the same conclusion: that I’d had a functional childhood. My parents were and are happily married. They might’ve argued, but I can’t remember them ever fighting. My siblings and I were trained, from a young age, to solve problems constructively and using our own resources (“how do we solve this problem creatively?”), and to speak well of ourselves and others (“I LIKE myself. I LIKE myself”), and there was never a sense of favoritism or secrets.

It was around this point that I realized: it WAS an option to have had a healthy childhood. Within the framework of the book, the concept of a healthy childhood was held up as a kind of measuring stick against which other, disordered childhoods could be compared. It was presented as if it were an abstract ideal, instead of as an actual experience that someone might have. But I’d had it.

I chose life.

I immediately stopped waking up in the middle of the night in tears.

My parents, it turns out, were not responsible for messing up my life after all.

Part Two: Poly, Poly, Poly

After nearly a year of giving therapy the ol’ college try, the author concludes that the problem is actually monogamy. And there’s something to be said for the you-always-want-what-you-can’t-have reasoning behind this notion. He breaks up with his girlfriend and proceeds to try all the other options that polyamory (relationships with multiple people at once) has to offer: hippie love orgies, switch clubs, harem life, swinging life, open relationships, tribes, pods, etc… etc… etc..

All the options.

Seriously, some even get glossed over in comic book form to save time.

I have to appreciate the thoroughness.

I keep waiting for the Curmudgeonly Lion to get to the Harem chapter and to turn to me and say “Hey, wanna start a harem?” At which point, the obvious response will be “Have you made it to the end of that chapter yet?”

Because [spoiler] it’s hard work to manage that many Feelings.

The various attempts end poorly, but I daresay not from a lack of effort. If you’re going to go, you might as well go all the way, and I appreciate the enthusiasm that went into each attempt, but all I could think while I was reading it, though, was “Wow. My life is dull.”

I considered the nature of my daily life: go to work, and then go home, and then go to work, and then go home. Work by day in payroll. Escape briefly into writing, which may or may not ever sell. Dinner with the Curmudgeonly Lion. Bed. Rinse. Repeat. I imagined this pattern stretching out into my future unto the crack of doom. Left in this environment long enough, I could imagine myself constructing a cucoon out of old invoices and emerging, magnificently, as Barb From Payroll. I would move to the suburbs. I would have a couple kids. I would join a Presbyterian church. I would make rice krispie treats on the weekends and teach Girl Scouts how to make shit out of felt.

I might’ve panicked. Just slightly.

I mean, this guy may have gone through hell, but at least he was trying some things. His life was interesting and he had some good stories to tell about it. What story was I going to have to tell for the story of my life? I wanted to live a life that was interesting enough to become a book! I only get one life, why was I wasting it…. *descends into spiral of angst*.

The author concluded that polyamory was not the magic key to happiness.

I concluded that I need to live a more interesting life.

Part Three: Self-Relationship

The sense of strangling inadequacy about the state of my life lingered into the final section of the book, which is all about learning how to love and be in a relationship with yourself before trying to build a relationship with anybody else. The book winds down with the author finding closure and growth, but meanwhile I continued spinning deeper and deeper into the angst vortex.

I went to work. I went home.

CARPE DIEM!!!! The voice in my head was screaming. CARPE GODDAMN DIEM!!!!!!

I went to work. I went home.

The final section of the book was both incredibly relevant to my state of mind, and yet also completely divorced from my personal dilemma. Here the author reconnected with his girlfriend and re-built the relationship from the ground up in order to arrive, happily, healthily, at the altar in holy matrimony. The Prodigal Son had gone out into the world and suffered a mighty Ordeal and was now returning home with the elixir that would heal what was broken and set right what was wrong.

And societal norms would not be too deeply disrupted by the diversion.

Meanwhile, I was trapped in the role of the Dutiful Son: watching the party going “What the actual hell, guys!?!”

This is what happens when you have a functional childhood.

So maybe that’s why I was so annoyed by the pat, Happily-Ever-After wedding-ending. The story wrapped up neatly with a big fluffy bow. But meanwhile the book itself it had gotten into my mental control panel, pressed every button, turned every knob, flipped every switch and then dusted it’s hands and said “My work here is finished.”

In the end, maybe it’s not the book that I wanted, but rather the book I deserved.

If the key to learning to love yourself is to discover the things that are the most meaningful about your life and to pursue them fully, then this book was a well needed kick in the pants to keep myself from getting complacent. My mental landscape is finally beginning to settle back into some kind of order, and I’m trying to take a good look at the pieces so that I can put them back together in a way that makes me better than I used to be, but it’s going to take some time. I’m just not going to be the same person when I’m done. Which I’m OK with, as long as I’m not Barb-From-Payroll.

But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on May 23, 2018.

2 Responses to “Truth”

  1. […] I picked up “Windy City Blues” by Renee Rosen just a day or two after finishing “The Truth“, so I was a little bit off my reading game. It was the last book in the stack from my most […]

  2. Thanks for sharing. A new book has been added to my ever growing list of self help literature.

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