Margot Genger author of Shift Happens: Breakdowns During LIfe’s Long Hauls discusses recovery from alcoholism and mental illness while recounting her adventures as an over-the-road trucker in the early 1980s.
00:00 John S.: This is AA Beyond Belief the Podcast, episode 96.
00:24 John S.: Today, I’ll be speaking with Margot Genger, author of Shift Happens, A Memoir: Breakdowns During Life’s Long Hauls. Margot will share her experience with mental illness, alcoholism, and what she learned about herself as an over-the-road trucker in the early 1980s. Margot, how are you doing? Thank you for joining us.
00:45 Margot Genger: Thank you, John, and I’m doing quite well.
00:48 John: I enjoyed reading your book. I like memoirs because I feel like I get to know the person and it’s a double bonus to actually get to speak with the author after reading the book, so I’m just really grateful that you would take the time to do this.
01:03 Margot: If you’ve read the book, you know me. You know my history. [chuckle]
01:06 John: Okay. [chuckle] Why don’t we start from the beginning? You grew up in Eureka, California. Your father was a doctor, and you grew up in a house where you were well cared for, but there were some issues in the family. I wonder if you might want to talk about your growing up in Eureka?
01:28 Margot: Oh, my goodness. My take on my mother, was that she was a 1950’s housewife, and she grabbed the brass ring. She married a doctor, so there was wealth and there was status, and that was what I think social convention said she should desire. I think what happened is… There’s this essay by Alice Walker where she writes, “What if all you wanted to do was paint the landscape and the sunset, but you had to pick cotton 12 hours a day?” I think my mother would have liked to have written poetry. I think she would have liked to have branched out, but she chose a life of being a doctor’s wife, and I think it made her unhappy and I think her solution became drinking too much, rather than getting into a recovery.
I think I wanted to make her happy. That’s what I took on or received from my family, the message that if only I could make her happy. Then, I think that expanded into, I need to make everybody happy, that’s my job or something—and it was not. I was not successful in making friends. I also had quite a talented and gifted brothers, all three of them in their own right, and I just took on that I wasn’t good enough.
03:09 John: At the time, probably because of where women were at that time, and how they were treated, your father really didn’t expect much of you, did he? He was just expecting you to go out and get married and have children, and that was pretty much it.
03:25 Margot: You know, he took all of my brothers in competitive swimming, AAU swimming, and they did quite well. He took them camping, he took the… I call him the golden brother. It’s not fair, to call him that, but he took the golden brother on a whaling ship, and to see an old growth redwood cut down and on and on. Yeah, I wore dresses and went to San Francisco and stayed with my grandmother, and we went shopping. I was more of a tom boy, I think, and I didn’t get to go.
04:39 Margot: I thought, up until AA recovery, I actually thought that my Dad… I didn’t give him any credit. He was an 8mm video camera guy, and in recovery, I finally spent like over a $1,000 and I had all his 8mm’s transferred to DVDs. I sent copies to all my brothers, and then we sat down and watched them–and I was the star. [chuckle] I was the star of the videos. I was just all over those videos, and I had no idea. I had no memory that he paid so much attention to me. Isn’t that sad? I had to write a letter and burn it, you know, and do a little meditation thing to ask for forgiveness.
04:56 John: Something else you described about your relationship with your mother, that seems to be almost a recurring theme with other women who I have met and talked to in AA. You wrote about this after she died, that all these other women came up and talked to you about how much your mother meant to them, and how much she did for them, and what a wonderful person she was and it was like… It was like that wasn’t your experience with her.
05:25 Margot: Yeah.
05:26 John: And it seemed that a little bit of sadness came with that.
05:30 Margot: Oh tremendous sadness and jealousy, and I think. My counselor who I’ve had off and on for years, said, “Well, you were her confident,” and in that way I was, in that she would oftentimes share her judgmental nature with me about other people, and not with a friend.
05:56 John: Yeah.
05:57 Margot: That was confusing, but the best thing that happened was in the writing of the book, I was talking to one of the women that just, oh, adopted my mother, just loved her so much. And she said, “The only thing I remember your mother ever saying about you, Margo, is that you were like a chameleon, and she never knew who was going to show up at the door when you came over.” And that just shifted my perspective, because there’s some truth to that. [laughter]
06:30 John: Sure. Sure.
06:31 Margot: There’s quite a bit of truth to that.
06:33 John: I could relate to a lot of what you wrote when you wrote about your mental illness. I’m treated for depression. I don’t know if I have bipolar, but I can see a little bit of that in me. I also have a brother who has Schizoaffective disorder. So it was really interesting when I was reading your description of some of the episodes. I wonder if we can go into that a little bit, beginning with one of your early relationships with Jeff? He was a drug addict. He was abusive. You broke off that relationship just before you got married, and then went to therapy to deal with this. Can you talk about that time in your life? That seemed to lead up to your initial psychic break, if I recall that correctly.
07:23 Margot: Yes. Well, I’m going to take a divergent path here.
07:28 John: Okay.
07:28 Margot: I just finished the book Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. In the book, she wrote about her bipolar disorder, and she’s in the science field. Great book. But the thing that I got out of it was how different her bipolar experience was from mine, and how much her bipolar experience reflected her upbringing with her family. So, I don’t know if we could generalize anymore. I had generalized that I had the worst bipolar diagnosis, because of the psychotic episodes that lasted for so long. Now, after reading her book, I’ve come to think, “Gee, I can’t put a gradation of the spectrum of what bipolar is.” At any rate what happened is I started choosing a reality that was in my head. This is my perception of what happened. I started choosing a reality that was in my head about becoming important and necessary and worthy, rather than accepting that I was a complete failure. And I think the chemical imbalance just said, “Yeah. Go for it! Let’s get high on this, and happy and excited on this.”
08:55 John: Yeah. That makes sense to me, and it almost carried throughout your book. It seemed like you were a happy person, and an adventurous person. There was a certain amount of assertiveness to what you did. Like when you got out of the relationship with Jeff, and it was a smart thing to do. You just said, “Okay. This is my escape.” He was drunk, he stepped out of a moving car, he ended up going to the hospital, and he showed up, I think, at some time, and you just said, “It’s off! This is it!” Then you went to therapy, and your therapist was helping you to set some boundaries.
09:36 Margot: You know, the sad part about that is it happened the night before I was going to get married, and I would have married that guy, rather than admit I was wrong.
09:48 John: Had it not been for that accident.
09:50 Margot: Had it not been for that accident, I would have married him rather than admit I had made a mistake.
09:58 John: Yep.
10:00 Margot: What is that?
10:01 John: Wow.
10:01 Margot: Wow.
10:02 John: Yeah.
10:02 Margot: Wow.
10:03 John: But shortly right after that, is that when you had your first hospitalization?
10:08 Margot: Well the first hospitalization, let me see… May, June, July, August, September… About four or five months. What happened is the counselor started popping my bubble. He kept pointing out things like the amount that I was drinking, like, the amount that I was… What’s the kind word to say, being promiscuous. When he pointed that stuff out, I didn’t like it. I think what happened is when he did this goal-setting, and I started looking at what I wanted to do, as opposed to drinking and going home with men, is I said, “Wow! I’m going to do this!”, and I got pretty excited about setting goals and doing things for myself.
11:09 John: That’s where I related to you. I sometimes find myself coming up with an idea, and it’s just, “I’ve got to do it,” and sometimes I go a little bit overboard. Your situation was a little bit more serious, because it was totally interfering with your life.
11:28 Margot: Well, how did you decide that you go a little overboard? How do you back off from that?
11:34 John: [laughter] Oh God! You know what? It just seems like it happens. Like, I’ll just give you an example. I used to collect coins as a kid, and one day I decided I was going to start doing that again. I couldn’t just do it a little bit, I had to eventually create a big website and start selling coin collecting supplies.
11:55 Margot: [laughter] Yeah.
11:57 John: I had this big business, and I was going to….I thought it was going to be a big business. I started traveling around the Midwest to coin shows, selling the supplies and I had my basement full. It was just crazy. Finally, I just couldn’t, I guess, I just kind of gave out of steam. This seems what happens to me. I just gave out of steam, lost interest, and now I have all these coin collecting supplies in my basement that my wife is constantly telling me, I need to get rid of. But yeah, I just kind of stopped.
12:27 Margot: But did you have fun while you were doing it?
12:29 John: I did.
12:30 Margot: You had a high in having fun?
12:31 John: I did. I did.
12:32 Margot: Do you think there was value in that time or did you just say, “Well I didn’t make the dollars so I failed?”
12:43 John: I wish I could have. I wish I wasn’t, I guess I wish I wouldn’t have been so spontaneous, that I would have been able to think about it and plan it out. And think about the pros and the cons and the time involved, and been like a real rational person. But what I did was I just did it.
13:03 Margot: You ran on enthusiasm.
13:07 John: Mm-hmm. And I kind of sensed that when you had the idea for the school without the administrators.
13:16 John: It’s a good idea. So I can relate.
13:22 Margot: Yeah, that was going to happen. I was going to make that happen.
13:27 John: Also, when you were writing about that time, I was thinking about my younger brother who has Schizoaffective Disorder. Right now, it’s not being treated. He’s actually in jail right now, after being homeless for a period of time. He’s had some really serious psychotic episodes, but he’s never talked about them, when he was well. After being on medication, he never talked about it. I often wondered if he knew what was going on at the time? I found it was really interesting that you did have some awareness, that you were able to write about it afterwards.
14:05 Margot: I didn’t write… I wrote this book 35 years after the episode. But you have to consider that I write. I’m a writer. I was born and that’s what I do. And for years and years it went in the bottom drawer. But when I was having that episode, I was important. I had to keep a paper trail because we had to know what’s going on here. And for Pete’s sake, I was going to prevent World War III. This was serious business. So, I wrote profusely when I was through the whole thing and I had all those notes. So yes, I had a rationality, but I kept that… Writing something down is really helpful for the memory too. Even in my writing group, all these years later, I brought this section, and they said, well what’s the point? They just kind of said, “This doesn’t work at all.” Then, I confessed to them that I had put verbatim what I had written while I was in the hospital. They said, “Well, that isn’t going to work.” And it didn’t, so I softened it. And yeah, so you’re saying your brother doesn’t have a memory or an awareness of what happened? It’s like he kind of had a blackout or different personality?
15:40 John: I don’t know. Either he doesn’t remember or he didn’t want to talk about it. I think he knew that he had an episode, but he never really… And maybe nobody would want to, he just didn’t go into detail about it. I don’t know, I just found it interesting to read your account, and as I was reading, I was thinking of him.
16:02 Margot: Yeah. Several people have told me something similar. They’ve never talked about it. It’s a big secret.
16:10 John: Yeah, and mental illness is something that affects so many people and it is so difficult for families to help a person because of the laws we have. You have to prove that the person is a danger to himself or others before you can get him help. Because most of the time, they won’t go voluntarily. That was the case with my brother. I don’t know. It’s kind of frustrating. It might have been easier, I guess, when you were first having your episodes at that time to get you in the hospital. But they didn’t treat you right? Did they?
16:44 Margot: No. I think, looking back, I was actually lucky to have that total psychotic breakdown. I did things that were clearly not acceptable. I mean going over to the school and pulling the fire alarm and stepping on my glasses. I was a looney tune. In retrospect, I think that saved me, because the diagnosis was a no-brainer. So, it wasn’t about not being able to get help. It was what help can we give her.
The other part I want to add is that I was in a small town. I did have the status, I suppose, or the feelers, the network of people out in the community to spread information about what do we do for Margo. I had a safety net, whether I accepted or recognized it or not. But they did diagnose me. The diagnosis actually came out. It’s not mentioned in the book, when I saw the papers, “adjustment reaction to adult life.” That was supposed to help me so that I wouldn’t be labeled as something for the rest of my life as schizophrenic. In reality, I took that to mean that I had utterly failed as a human being, and that I couldn’t even arrive at adulthood. So, that was depressing. But yes, they diagnosed me as schizophrenic and told me I’d have to take Thorazine for the rest of my life. That stuff is terrible.
18:37 John: Yeah, you described it as almost paralyzing.
18:40 Margot: It was awful. Stiff as a board. Stiff as a board.
18:44 John: Your family, your mom, and your brother I think… Your mother asked you to go off, didn’t she?
18:48 Margot: Yeah, and my brother and I was afraid I’d go insane again. He told me I’d have to take it the rest of my life if I wanted to stay sane. And I didn’t want to go insane again, but they said they liked me better. I mean, I was a catatonic zombie. It cut up… It cut up my thoughts.
19:10 John: Yeah.
19:11 Margot: So I… It was just, oh my goodness.
19:13 John: So, you did go off of it. Then, this is where you get into where you start truck driving school and become an over-the-road trucker. I love the story because you were sitting in a cafe having some coffee, and I guess a couple of trucks drove by. And you just had the idea. If I’m describing this right. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you just had the idea that, “You know what? I’m going to be an over-the-road trucker, and I’m going to drive all over the country, and I’m going to write a book about it.”
19:40 Margot: And then I’ll come home, and I’ll be good enough finally because I’ll be famous. [laughter]
19:45 John: Yeah. Yeah.
19:47 Margot: But we have to consider that I went for an entire year isolating in my home, and then culminating in a failed suicide attempt. “If I can’t even die, I might as well live,” is what I said. So, talk about the bottom end of bipolar, that’s pretty horrible. It’s horrible. So, if you suffer from depression, that’s just so painful. And it’s real when you’re… You don’t know. It’s just like when you’re on the high end, you don’t know that this isn’t real.
20:26 John: Right.
20:27 Margot: That it’s just a high. Yeah, and so I think there’s another thank the universe for allowing me to jump into being high again and having an enthusiastic plan.
20:40 John: Yeah. What was interesting to me is that when I was reading that, this part of the book, I love this part of the book. It’s just, it was like, it seemed like a happy time for you almost, it was like you made this decision, you went to truck driving school, and you started having all these adventures, and you wanted to have these adventures, and it just seemed like you were spontaneous, and that you were confident. I wonder, did you see yourself that way? Did you feel that way at that time?
21:09 Margot: I would have to say yes. It was the first independent act, independent decision, I had made. All my other decisions in my life was how can I get you to like me, so I’ll be happy and have friends. Or how can I fit in? Because I am faking, I’m pretending I don’t know who I am. So, it was the first time that I said, “Okay I’ll do this and it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.” So, I was free from all of that pretending, and I was anonymous. I wasn’t in the small town where I thought everybody was looking at me, which they weren’t. So yes, I was happy and confident, and yeah, it was a good time.
22:05 John: One thing I recognized, I guess it’s because I at one time lived in a really bad neighborhood, and I remember I used to always have to kind of prepare myself for what, who might attack me if I get out of my car. It was like… I would see you doing that to throughout your book. You’d always have a plan if something happened. I just thought, “Yeah, she’s really smart. She’s taking care of herself. She’s really smart.”
Then you write about all these various partners that you had in your trucking career. This was really interesting because, oh man, they all had their little things. Some of them were really, really difficult. Some of them are just really bad people maybe. Some of them were good people. And then you would write about it. It seemed like there was one section of your book when you looked back on some of these relationships with your partners, and you wondered if maybe you didn’t view them right. That they were maybe kind of how you described your father, where you thought your father wasn’t paying attention, but then you saw the film. Am I getting that?
23:11 Margot: Yes. I think you’re getting it. And I so appreciate, I just so appreciate this. After I started going to the AA meetings, they talked about “You spot it, you got it.” Have you…
23:28 John: Right.
23:29 Margot: Okay. I said, “Well you spot it you got it.” Well all this stuff I spot in this truck driver and that truck driver, what do you mean? What do you mean? I don’t do that. Then I had some pretty incredible dreams, and all of a sudden I realized, “Oh yeah. All those men that I was promiscuous with back then, and even with Jeff, is that I was looking for somebody to meet my needs, my fantasy of what a friend would be, and the truck drivers who drove me up the wall were lonely. They were looking for somebody who would meet their needs, and they didn’t know who I was from Adam, just like I didn’t know who those men were from Adam . I just went, “Oh, maybe I can be a little kinder.”
24:25 John: Yeah, and I didn’t mention that, but it was during this time when you were driving trucks that you’d already got introduced to AA, because wasn’t it like right after truck driving school that you had a DUI, and that’s what got you going to the meetings?
24:39 Margot: Yes, yes. And how interesting that that also was the night before I was to leave to go to my truck driving job. Unbelievable.
24:50 John: But anyway, so you started going to meetings, and there’s one thing that you wrote about that I found interesting because you’re recounting people in AA who ask you, “Well, what’s your part?” We always have to think about our part. But it seemed when you wrote about it, that it’s not really always our part. There were things that happened to you that weren’t your fault, that weren’t something that you had a part in. Do you think that maybe sometimes we carry that too far about looking at our part in things?
25:22 Margot: That’s a good question. I think it varies. I think it’s probably on a spectrum of what’s your part in it. For me, I hadn’t ever considered that my priority of saving money no matter what was selfish on my part, as far as being kind to somebody that I wouldn’t go in and eat, or sit in a restaurant with them if I didn’t like them. I had never considered, I had never considered that. There was a shift in perspective. I don’t think I discounted that other people had their parts too, but I had never considered my part in it.
26:10 John: That’s a good point.
26:11 Margot: So, in that respect, I would say it’s a good tool, and it’s not to be saying “Everything is my fault.” But to at least if I see that I have a part to play, then I could choose whether that’s the part I want, or maybe that’s a part I want to adjust.
26:34 John: What was it like going to AA meetings while you’re on the road? What was AA like at that time, and was it helpful to you?
26:43 Margot: Well, I never thought I was an alcoholic. I didn’t believe it. I thought, “Hey, you guys talk about insanity, you want to know about insanity, I’ll tell you about insanity. If you think insanity is having a blackout, getting drunk, well, forget it.” I really was invested in believing that.
When I went to AA meetings, I was not raised with the tools that AA had to offer, and you know what? As a writer I wrote down, I wrote down the slogans and things they said. I just couldn’t get over them. So when I went, it had a feeling, I had a respite from being entirely alone, I had a respite from the cultures that I experienced in truck driving, and people said really interesting things, so I loved going to the meetings.
When I say how are they are different, well boy, the meetings up in my home town are like family because I attend regularly, but the meetings in Los Angeles where I went, there were a hundred people. I didn’t join in conversations but I listened to what people shared, and it was wonderful. Yet I was not a member, I didn’t consider myself a member, I considered myself… Well, I don’t know what I considered.
28:26 John: Right. Also, another topic I wanted to touch on, that came up a couple times in your book, was the subject of race because you grew up in a town where you weren’t around minorities, everybody was white pretty much…
28:42 Margot: That’s correct.
28:43 John: So you were looking forward to having this experience where you would be the minority, and you actually went and had those experiences, then you had one experience in Memphis that was really frightening, a blatant racist experience. Why did you write about race? Was this something that was important for you in your personal development? They were really interesting parts of the book, but what motivated you to write about that?
29:12 Margot: There was this conversation I had with an African-American, it was in Indianapolis, and it was kind of at the beginning of the book. He and I ended up… Well, I got in his car. I mean, it was just ridiculous, the risks I took. And he scared me a little bit, but in the end we had a conversation about what the deal is between black people and white people, and I thought he knew more than I did, and he said that he thought white women and black men really have to… They’ve been beaten down, and they need to find each other. They identify with each other. And black women and white men, they have more opportunities than the other way around. He was quite strong on it, and I can remember saying to him, that I think it’s all about a sexual fantasy.
30:26 Margot: So, I can’t say what 29-year-old Margo was… I don’t think I was rationally going to do a statistical study on what African Americans or what it felt like or what… I just had a curiosity, and frankly, we could extend my curiosity to many things. I would prefer to go into a culture that is totally opposite my own, a third world culture as opposed to going to Europe. I mean as a vacation. So I think it’s innate, it’s kind of innate in me, the curiosity to go someplace absolutely foreign like truck driving.
31:17 John: Well, that makes sense and I love that part of your book too, and I love that conversation that you had with him and then that experience in Memphis too where you were… The fellow gave you the bike to ride and you were going to tour the zoo, and you were in the black part of town and it was this wonderful day, and then all of a sudden at the end of the day you go to get your truck and somebody writes on the back of your truck. Oh boy, what did he write? He was saying, she rides with the N word or something like that, yeah.
31:49 Margot: Well, it’s the N word drives this truck.
31:52 John: The N word. Oh okay.
31:53 Margot: The N F word drives this truck.
31:55 John: Yeah.
31:55 Margot: It’s… Oh my gosh. Yeah.
32:00 John: And the guy was…
32:00 Margot: And he was staring at me.
32:01 John: Standing out there. Yeah.
32:02 Margot: Oh my gosh. It was something.
32:04 John: So that was something else for you to experience that, coming from California. And you really didn’t have before that too much experience with the southern part of the country, I don’t think, did you?
32:16 Margot: None.
32:16 John: That was kind of a new route for you or something.
32:19 Margot: None. Yeah.
32:19 John: So anyway, getting to this part of the book where you meet Hal. This seemed like another good time for you, and this was also a time when you left AA. When I was reading that part of the book, you were describing, okay, your relationship with Hal, and having a family, and it seemed like a good happy time that Hal was very supportive–and you left AA. Now, I didn’t read the rest of the book at that time. I finally got to the other part where you go back to AA, but at that point, I thought, okay, that was it. That was it. She’s happy. She left AA. She didn’t need it anymore. What was that part of your life like?
32:50 Margot: I left AA because his passion was Aikido, and Aikido met and trained at the same time that AA met. I was supposed to, in my mind, be with my partner 24/7, and that’s… I mean it was like we better be joined at the hip because I don’t know what to do without you or something, even though I’m mad at you all the time.
When I look back on it, I think Aikido, it’s a martial art, gave me my higher power. Aikido, if it is literally translated, it’s harmony with the energy of the universe, and my theme is “I don’t belong. Nobody likes me. I don’t belong.” For some reason, that is my habit, the belief that I’ll go to. So, harmony was the energy of the universe. My gosh, Aikido, well, I’m a believer in the bends that will bring an attacker to the ground and etcetera, etcetera, and it gave me an idea that everything is connected. In science over and over, you could just see the incredible connections between all things. Well, if all things are connected, then how am I connected? I’m alive, so I must be connected. It kind of solved my, well, it’s bigger than me. I’m connected, so I just need to do whatever footwork I do to find out what my connection is to the universe.
34:38 Margot: That kind of solved that whole issue, but I lost all the tools when I quit going to AA. So, even though I had that notion of harmony of the energy of the universe, I was angry and I was right all the time because, well, because don’t you know, I know what we should be doing. So, it had this whole element of pretending on the outside and then coming home to the family, and being angry and right but sober, dry. And isn’t that a parallel to my family who went out and were the socialites and wonderful friends and everything, and then on the inside who were drunk?
35:26 John: And after 25 years of not drinking, you drank again, and was it your son who saw you or… I can’t remember if it was your son or daughter?
35:38 Margot: It was my daughter.
35:38 John: Your daughter and…
35:39 Margot: Yeah.
35:39 John: And that motivated you to get back to meetings, to go back to AA.
35:45 Margot: Yeah. It motivated me to go back but I didn’t want to go back immediately because I was just about to leave for a two-week Spanish immersion course in Guatemala and I wanted to drink in Guatemala. So, I said, “Well I’ll come back and I’ll get sober after the trip.” And I went down there with colleagues that I had worked with for years and years, so uncomfortable with other people, sober, and I was the only one who had a room with a television in it. It’s a longer story, but I searched and searched and found bottles, and had to really search to find corkscrews to open my bottles of wine. I drank wine in my hotel room on a two-week vacation in Guatemala. [chuckle] That’s alcoholism.
36:43 John: Yeah, yeah.
36:45 Margot: Yeah.
36:45 John: So you got back to meetings and you’ve been fine since then, and I guess you’ve mentioned in your book that you found your tribe, that these are your people. I have that sense too, it’s the…
37:00 Margot: Oh it’s wonderful.
37:00 John: It’s what I love about AA is the ability to form these connections with other people who will just accept me.
37:09 Margot: Yeah.
37:10 John: I just love it. It allows you to, I guess, to open up parts of yourself to other people that you might not otherwise.
37:17 Margot: I have a story that I just learned last night. First of all, is the first night I came in, there were seven people and I had counted them, that discussed attempting suicide, and some of them were hilarious.
37:34 Margot: It was unbelievable. But last night, is the first time I’ve ever heard this. Now I didn’t do this. The person chairing, shared that she thought she’d sober up a little bit if she went in and threw up. So she went in and threw up, but up came her Oxycontin.
38:01 Margot: And it was still… [laughter] And it was still whole, and she said, “Well, God, those are pretty expensive.” So, she fished it out of [laughter] her vomit.
38:11 John: Oh God.
38:13 Margot: Then as people shared, she wasn’t the only one, [laughter] but two more, who said they had done that also. I just thought, “Oh my gosh, we are a… ” [laughter]
38:24 John: Yeah. [laughter]
38:27 Margot: We are weird humans. We’re just so addicted to that immediate gratification of relief.
38:38 John: Yeah. I love though how… It’s funny, people who aren’t familiar with AA, they would be surprised at our gallows humor, the things we can laugh about… [laughter]
38:46 Margot: Yeah. Gallows humor. Yeah.
38:47 John: I guess we can, because it’s like, “Okay, I’m not having this problem today.” And I’m talking about what happened at one time, and we can laugh at it, I guess, because we’ve somehow managed to not find ourselves in that position today.
39:02 Margot: Yes. Yeah. [chuckle]
39:04 John: At the end of your book, you wrote something that I think everybody should read–your comments about mental illness. You described some movies and I haven’t seen all of these movies, but you wrote that it would be better to have a story about the difficulty of finding the right treatment, rather than all the other drama. Am I understanding that right?
39:35 Margot: Yeah.
39:36 John: Could you expand on that a little bit?
39:38 Margot: Well, I wish for your brother to find a treatment.
39:44 John: Yeah.
39:44 Margot: When I first took the very first… It took three and a half years, first of all, for the right medication, and I take three different types of medication. The first medication he put me on was Lithium, and I can remember exactly where I was standing in my house. I stopped and I said, “Is this how other people get through a day?” I couldn’t… It was just unbelievable that my brain was so calm, or that it was just so easy. I don’t know how to put it in a verbal expression. And my experience with people in my tribe in AA who I see suffer with depression, or do the cycling, the rapid cycling of up, down, up, down, and their difficulty with life, and their resistance to taking medication, or the attempt to get a medication and it doesn’t work.
40:58 John: Yeah.
41:01 Margot: And giving up. I think one of the major blessings that for some reason, is that I was sober for what, 15 years before I started medication. So, I had a really good barometer to decide whether I was being triggered by something external to me, or whether maybe a chemical had influenced my reaction.
41:27 John: Such a good point. My doctor told me when I was first going on antidepressants. He told me that, “It’s a good thing you’re not drinking” because he says a problem he has with alcoholics and drug addicts is, they really need to be off of their… They need to be free from that addiction for a while, so he can understand what the behavior is. Is it part of the drug addiction, or the alcoholism, or is it part of the mental illness? So yeah, good point.
41:49 Margot: And can you help your doctor analyze what’s going on?
41:54 John: Exactly, exactly.
41:55 Margot: Yeah.
41:56 John: Yeah, yeah. That was another good thing for me too. Well, there was good and bad. For a long time I was dealing with depression without being treated for it, and it was very difficult. After about 10 years of sobriety living like that, but then I finally got help, and I had a similar experience. It was like, “Wow, I can go and I can have a conversation so easily and I’m laughing.” It was a different experience and it was amazing to me, but now it’s just become normal. After all that time in AA, I could finally ask for help, to be honest, and describe my feelings and so forth.
42:36 Margot: Yeah. It’s a gift and I would love to have other people realize that gift.
42:44 John: Yes. Me too.
42:45 Margot: And I would love to have it become socially appropriate to share our experiences. But how can other people understand? It’s the same as why don’t you just quit drinking. Well, duh, but they don’t get that it’s such an obsession.
43:08 John: Well, just to conclude things, let’s talk about your life today. I know you write poetry, and I wonder if you would like to talk about that a little bit, or whatever you might want to talk about. What brings happiness into your life today?
43:21 Margot: I didn’t know how writing Shift Happens would change me, and it’s not even the writing of it. It’s the publishing of it and letting it go out in the world. There’s a spaciousness inside me that I’m more interested in hearing other people’s stories. I’m more interested in listening. I’m more interested… I have more patience to listen and be a friend authentically, no strings attached with waiting to tell my story. And I’m too busy now. I don’t like being this busy and be careful what you wish for.
44:01 Margot: But the poetry, now I’ve started going to a Tuesday night open mic, every week and I’m developing a writer’s tribe and I am free. I’m free to be this person who writes this stuff. I don’t have to… I’m not about being judged and I’m not judging. Well, isn’t that a miracle? I judge everybody, same as… Anyway, I’m very happy. I get along with my husband, in the last 10 years since AA a,nd I stepped back and I started saying, “Well, let’s look at him.” Rather than saying, “If only you would, then I would be happy.” I had that one going.
When I finally stepped back and said, “I wonder who he is?” and watched rather than… I kind of dropped my expectation. Well, my marriage has never been better. It’s just… And he has opened up. The writing came step by step by step for writing… I mean, it just fell into place. I didn’t struggle as far as getting people who wanted to meet with me, and share writing and respond on it, and it just grew. Yeah, I feel like I’m living the life beyond my wildest dreams.
45:46 John: Well, that’s wonderful and I look forward to reading your poetry. We’re actually going to start publishing poetry at AA Beyond Belief. There’s a fellow who has been writing a poem a day ever since he’s been sober, and he’s got like 4,000 of these poems. I’m not the best judge of poetry, but I think they’re pretty good. So were going to post these things, like every Wednesday, we’re going to post some of his poetry, and I just think it’s great. He wrote about what writing means for him. It was therapeutic. That writing poetry is the best way he has of communicating and understanding his feelings.
46:28 Margot: It is a voice. It’s a special voice, the poetry. Oh, that’s wonderful.
46:32 John: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I mean, that was very generous of you to spend an hour here talking with me, [chuckle] but I loved your book…
46:43 Margot: John, I am thrilled. Thank you.
46:46 John: Well, your book is wonderful and I think that the people in our community are going to really enjoy it. I like the aspect that it covers both mental illness and addiction, and it’s even a travelogue, it talks about [chuckle] life as a trucker over the road and all the people, adventures. It’s just a really wonderful story.
47:07 John: So, thank you for writing that.
47:09 Margot: You are dear and I am humbled. Thank you.
47:11 John: Thank you.
Margot Jarvis Genger
Poet, videographer, teacher, truck driver, mental patient, wife, and mother of two. Her poems have been published in The North Coast View, HSU Toyon, California Association for the Gifted Quarterly, and also appear in her chap books; Before Waterfalls and Middle Chapter. Learn more about Margot and her work at her website mjgenger.com.
Shift Happens, A Memoir: Breakdowns During Life’s Long Hauls is available at Amazon in paperback, e-reader, and audiobook.