Lisa Hickey thinks we need more stories like Hugo Schwyzer’s, not fewer.
TRIGGER WARNING: this post may be triggering to those in recovery or victims of violence.
A thought experiment:
Scenario One: You are driving down a road approaching an intersection. You get distracted for a moment, run the stop sign. A policeman pulls you over, gives you a ticket.
Scenario Two: You are driving down a road approaching an intersection. You get distracted for a moment, run the stop sign. You strike and hit another car, killing a passenger. You are immediately arrested and jailed.
In both cases, your actions leading up to the event were the same. You were driving. You were distracted. You ran a stop sign. But what happens next, changes everything.
There is no miracle of science that allows us to undo past events. No matter how they happened. No matter what led up to them. No matter how good our intentions.
Hugo Schwyzer has written almost 100 posts for The Good Men Project over this past year. He knows how to tell a story. He’s written about his lesbian ex-wife, about rape and sexual violence, about conscious celibacy. He’s been attacked for his stories – everything from “too hard on men,” “too feminist,” to being called the dreaded “mangina”.
But no attack has been as vicious as the uproar and ostracization Hugo has received over a story on his own blog, a story about an event that happened in 1998. Back when he was binge drinking and drugging, Hugo tried to take his own life along with that of his girlfriend. If you read his post about the issue, be sure to read his response of today as well.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through the almost 5,000 stories I’ve read and discussed since launching The Good Men Project 18 months ago — goodness is not an inherent quality. It is not something you “have.” It is not immutable – like love, it can change and grow. I see goodness as a moment-by-moment series of decisions and actions. Goodness is something you define for yourself every day.
Sometimes you get distracted by driving and run the stop sign. Sometimes you make what seems like an endless series of bad choices. Sometimes you make a horrible, horrific decision and need to repair the damage in whatever ways you can. But the thing you can do best, today, at this moment in time, is to re-visit your intention to be good.
I’ve heard it said that depression is worrying about the past, and anxiety is worrying about the future.
Peace of mind is when the voices inside your head stop squabbling. When the voices of guilt and shame reliving the past over and over for you, and the voices filling you with fear and anxiety about the future finally stop, there is a lovely silence that lets you live in the present.
The people who try to shame us are trying to rob us of peace of mind. They tell us we should worry about a past we cannot change and then continue to worry about the future because there is never hope of redemption.
The shamers apparently prefer to live in a world filled with more depressed and anxiety-ridden people.
But I would prefer to live in a world with more Hugos.
When I read Hugo’s story months ago, it didn’t change the person I had talked to the day before. It didn’t change Hugo-in-the-present the day after. The only thing it did was open my mind to what Hugo had been through in the past and gave me another point of empathy. He had done something horribly wrong. He admitted it. He had done what he could from that moment on to make things right.
We need more stories like Hugo’s so we can get more people to understand that addiction breaks people. A truism is that if you stay addicted long enough, it is inevitable you will end up in a mental hospital, jail, or dead. In Hugo’s case, he came perilously close to all three in a twenty-four hour stretch.
The problem with addiction is, you can’t admit it when you’re in it, and those around you often can’t imagine that their loved ones will end up behind bars or in a psychiatric ward or in a coffin. It would be great if more people like Hugo could step up and say, this is what could happen. This is what bottom looks like. Hugo, who is alive and well and outspoken and articulate. He’s not homeless and sleeping on a park bench, he’s someone who could be my younger brother. Shaming people like Hugo and others from telling those stories doesn’t do much to solve a single problem.
Shame is what keeps addicts from getting help. Shame is what keeps our mind from being able to move forward in a way that would be most helpful. Shame is what keeps survivors of sexual abuse from coming forward. Abuse plus silence paves a path for more abuse. If we’re ever going to put a stop to abuse of all kinds we have to let people talk about it. We have to let people tell their stories.
Hugo and I have had our differences, but I respect Hugo and all he has done on his path to restorative justice. I hope that others will let him continue that path – openly, honestly, with the grace and compassion he deserves.
NOTE: After this story was posted, it was pointed out to me that one of the unintended consequences of storytelling is harm you might cause others and who were involved in the same story. This I believe, and I would actually like to point out that fact very strongly. FIRST DO NO HARM TO OTHERS. I will be writing more on that, but if anyone would like to right about that part of it, or any other concerns this post brings up, please email me at lisa at goodmenproject dot com.
photo: jason_burmeister / flickr