Interview with Michele Whitney

Michele Whitney

Mary Akers: Thanks for sharing your wonderful essay “The Shrink Who Killed Gazoo” with us. I love the way you use humor to tell this story. We all take ourselves too seriously, don’t we? Is humor a regular part of your writing routine? Do you laugh when you write it? (I ask, because I’ve written a few humorous pieces and always felt cranky and exhausted afterward. Being funny is hard work!)

Michele Whitney: Thank YOU for seeing the value in my piece. It is truly an honor to be published in r.kv.r.y.

Humor and laughter have always been a part of my life. My laugh is a bit of a national treasure. It’s one of those loud laughs where you either love it because its contagious, or you hate it because, well, you’re just an unhappy person. Humor was something that my mom instilled in me growing up; finding the humor in things when life isn’t so humorous. I also learned how to tell a funny story from my mom. There are so many stories that she has about growing up, or even about her courtship with my dad that still crack me up even after I hear the same stories over and over. I currently live with my mom, so I have exposure to these funny stories everyday. I’m thinking of compiling a book of these stories one day. The only “downside” to humor (I realize that’s kind of an oxymoron) is that too much humor can keep us in denial about our issues. There has to be a balance, or an “integration” of humor and laughter with the sadness and tears as well.

I would say that my traditional writing style is not predominately humorous. Humor is definitely integrated into my writing, it’s just not as obvious. This essay was a bit different from my traditional writing style because there was sharp, sarcastic, witty humor throughout the entire piece, whereas normally I am more heartfelt and gentle. I laughed as I was writing this piece. Only because the way I told it is the way it exactly happened. It was one of the few times that I took a relatively recent experience and wrote the whole thing within days after it happened. Every word and reaction made me laugh when it happened as well as when I was writing it. It was one of the “easiest” pieces I’ve ever written. The only real work was getting the background research done on “Gazoo.”


MA: One part of your essay in particular resonated with me: “I’m just the kind of person who thinks that everything is my fault. Perhaps it’s the conditioning of my conspiracy-theory-filled mother or the paranoia I formed from growing up in an alcoholic home. Or perhaps I’m just crazy. But if there is a conflict, I think it’s my fault. If there is tension, anger, sadness, or fear being expressed…it is my fault. If I experience loss…again, it’s my fault.”

I get that. I grew up in an alcoholic home, too, so what you wrote made a lot of sense to me. But it turns out a lot of people struggle with this idea of thinking everything comes back to them–that they must be at fault. John Rosemond, a parenting guru, calls it GAS. That stands for God Almighty Syndrome. (Why do we think we are in control of everything?? Do we think we are God?) And sometimes I have to remind myself when I feel guilty or anxious or responsible, that I’ve just got GAS. Anyway…my burning question after all of this is…have you killed Gazoo yet?

MW: Oh my goodness! I’ve got to use that…GAS! Now I know there is an acronym for it, so I feel much better. Ha! I think for me the issue was that growing up with an alcoholic father, I had little control over anything. And neither did my mom. Imagine me being maybe 12 years old one Christmas Eve, getting ready for Christmas Eve church service when there is a knock at the door from my dad’s work stating that he had been found face down drunk in the snow. Or imagine my heartbreak when I begged my dad over and over again on my high school graduation day to not drink, but for “some reason” he just had to have one beer. When you have little control over the outcome of things growing up; when there is so much uncertainty over many life events, I think you want desperately to never have that feeling again. So as an adult, you try to control everything. When I first started recovery from codependency, and one of the aspects of being codependent was “control,” I thought…”well I’m definitely not a controlling person!” But as I began to work the program, I realized that I very much wanted to be in control. I wanted to control the outcome of things, so that they would always be favorable. So that they would always turn out good.

As far as killing Gazoo. It’s funny, a friend asked me that same question literally the other day. I wish I could say he was completely dead. Perhaps he is on life support. It’s not easy to do away with something that has most likely been with you from the beginning of time. Remember, Gazoo is not necessarily evil. Sometimes he thinks he’s helping me because he thinks he’s protecting me. He represents the coping skills that may have worked in the past, but no longer serve me well as I become more evolved. The important thing is awareness that he is there, and to know the triggers that make him come out.
MA: I was reading over your blog (happy belated birthday!), and the idea of being “in-between” has stuck with me. Sometimes I wonder if we feel in-between because we spend so much time either dreaming about the future or remembering the past. What happens if we change the language and say I am “present”? That could also mean in-between, but maybe it has a better connotation? Words have power, don’t they? Both power for good, and the power to make us doubt ourselves. Another word I like to use to express the notion of in-between is “fallow.” In farming, you have to give a field a rest every once in a while. While it’s resting, good things are happening. Connections in the soil are being made, nitrogen is building up…good things. There is a lot of potential in a fallow field. So maybe being “fallow” is another way to think of this. Your thoughts?

MW: Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! And thanks for the birthday wishes. Wow, I love the concept of “fallow.” The reason I love that concept is that you definitely know that something good is going on in that “rest” season. But I’m assuming that in farming, “fallow” has already been proven to be a time of “good things.” There is no faith required, it just kind of happens the way its supposed to. This time of my life is filled with so much uncertainty (which I talked about before) and I can’t stand uncertainty! Some would say I have a huge lack of faith during this time, which is most likely true. What I struggle with and really struggled with prior to recovery is that I sometimes believe that nothing good is going on when I’m in this season of “fallow.” That there is no purpose in the in-between period, and that I’m just kind of floating around with no reason for being. My issue is that I’m in-between with so many things right now, including career, school, and love. The challenge for me is being present for everything in the here and now…practicing gratitude and having faith that things may not work out the way I want or expect them to, but they will work out…and they will work out good. Some people call it acceptance…that last stage of the grieving process. I used to think of acceptance as giving up. But now I’m realizing that acceptance is just a way of being present for “what is,” so that we can be open to “what will be.”
MA: Did you read much as a child? Who were (and are) some of your favorite writers?

MW: As a child, I liked to read, I wish I could say that I loved to read then. My “love” for reading really didn’t take off until I was in high school. I had a really cute English teacher, so it was fun going to class just to look at him. 🙂 And then all of a sudden I was reading. One of the assignments we had in the cute teacher’s class was to read  Richard Wright’s Native Son. It was one of the first books I really remember enjoying from start to finish. There was love, sex, murder, all told from an intriguing African American perspective and set on the South side of Chicago (where I’m from). As an adult, I acquired an unbelievable collection of books both real books and on my Kindle! I have diverse interests when it comes to writing, including mystery, romance, and self-development. Some of my favorite writers are Sidney Sheldon, Maya Angelou, Danielle Steele, Melody Beattie, and Stephanie Meyer (yes I’m a ‘Twi-junkie’).


MA: And finally, what does “recovery” mean to you?

MW: Recovery means “connection” to me. It means to restore our connection with the Divine. It means that we realize that we were never really separate from the Divine in the first place (however we choose to define the Divine for ourselves). It means being in constant connection with our “inner child”…the person we were before the “world” and its dysfunction got a hold of us. And finally, it means that we realize that all of the above is an imperfect process and that each day is a new day to begin again.

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