Fatherhood Saved Ozzy, Eddie & Me

Yesterday I watched the “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne” documentary, which focused heavily on how his addictions maimed him and his family over four decades. Though my addictive behavior pales by comparison, it still struck a chord.

Mood music:

What hit me deepest is how Ozzy finally decided to get real sobriety after his son Jack had kicked drugs and alcohol. It took his son to show him the light.

There’s a similar plot in the recent comeback of Van Halen. Armed with the knowledge that he’d be able to make music with his son if he cleaned up, Edward Van Halen finally got sober a few years ago.

The son showing dad the light theme is an old one. It’s the whole “Luke Skywalker helping Darth Vader find his good side again” story. Only in the real life examples, the fathers get to live after having their epiphany.

In the documentary, we see Ozzy changing into a different, crazy person who continuously brings heartbreak to his family — especially his children. The daughter from his first marriage is asked point-blank if he was a good Dad. Her answer is a simple “No.” We learn — though it’s not really a surprise, given how incoherent he was in all the episodes — how his alcoholism was at its worst during the run of “The Osbournes” and how his youngest kids started using in that period. Finally, we see his son Jack deciding to clean up, inspiring his father to do the same.

Like I said, my addictive personality didn’t come close to the levels of Ozzy Osbourne or Edward Van Halen. But it was bad enough that I can relate to things like being useless on the couch when my kids needed me. I was never that way all the time, and I’ve been a pretty active Dad more often than not. But I am guilty of those bad moments.

But what I relate to most is how it took becoming a parent to drive home the need for me to be a better man and reign in my demons — the OCD and addictive behavior    that was a byproduct of constant fear, anxiety and exhaustion.

It wasn’t an instant thing — Sean was almost 4 and Duncan was was barely 2 when I realized things were not right in my head — but the cattle prod was definitely my hunger to be a better parent.

So yeah, I have to say I’m inspired by these rock n’ roll stories.

For A Girl Recently Diagnosed With Crohn’s Disease

The daughter of close friends just found out she has Crohn’s Disease. She’s suffering a lot right now, and I know exactly what she’s going through. This post is for her.

Mood music:

Hello, my young friend. I’m sorry that you’re hurting so much right now. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was around your age, and spent many weeks in the hospital between ages 8-16. It stinks. But if there’s one thing I’d like you to remember after reading this, it’s that it WILL get better.

I experienced all the things you are now — the massive loss of blood, the knifing pain in the gut, sleepless nights in the bathroom, and more blood.

A couple times, I’ve been told, the doctor’s came close to removing the colon. Too much of it was under siege and they didn’t know where to start in terms of targeting it. But it never came to that.

The pain was pretty intense. I really don’t know how my parents were able to get through it. I think it would cause me more anguish to see one of my kids suffer than to go through it myself. That had to hurt. Especially since they lost another child along the way. It also couldn’t have helped that I would be in the hospital for six-week stretches in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981.

I mention this because you should know how hard it is for your Mom and Dad to see you hurting. They’re new to this Crohn’s thing, and they will worry endlessly about what they are doing for you and whether it’s the right thing. Be patient with them if you can. But if you need to yell at them once in awhile so you can cope, go ahead. That’s what parents are for.

As you will probably soon discover, the most popular drug to treat what’s making you sick is Prednisone, which comes with a long list of side effects. Your face might get puffy and you’ll want to eat everything in sight. But you’re a strong kid and you can handle that.

A lot of people helped me survive a childhood of brutal Crohn’s Disease: My parents, great doctors, school friends who helped me catch up with my schoolwork and rooted for me whenever I got out of the hospital, and a great therapist who helped me sort through the mental byproducts of illness.

I think you’re going to get through the current attack and that you will be able to move on to a better life. Again, I lean on my personal experience.

I’m probably one of the luckiest Crohn’s patients on Earth. The last bad flare up was in 1986 and I haven’t had once since. I still go through frequent periods of inflammation, but nothing that requires drugs or hospital stays. The colon is checked out every other year to make sure the layers of scar tissue don’t run wild and morph into cancer.

Had the doctors removed the colon when I was a kid, I think things still would have worked out. I would have learned to live with it. Whatever you have in front of you, I think you can make the best of it and push through.

Be strong and keep the faith, my young friend. I hope you feel better soon.

–Bill

P.S.: Here’s a picture of me the year I was diagnosed. I’m the kid at the very back, right in the middle. As you can see, Crohn’s Disease couldn’t kill my smile. It won’t kill yours, either.

Strong Too Long, Or Weak Too Often?

There’s a saying on Facebook that depression isn’t a sign of weakness, but simply the result of being strong for too long. Somewhat true — though weakness does feed the beast.

Mood music:

I’m feeling it this morning.

I’ve always taken a certain level of satisfaction from my ability to stay standing in the face of death, illness, family dysfunction, depression and addiction. Sometimes, I get an over-inflated sense of survivor’s pride.

People love to tell you how awesome you are when you emerge from adversity stronger than before. The victor is placed on a 10-foot pedestal and life looks hunky-dory from up there. But it’s only a matter of time before the person on top loses balance and crashes to the ground.

I’ve fallen from that pedestal a bunch of times, and my ass is really starting to hurt from all those slips off the edge.

All this has me asking the question: How much can you blame depression on being strong too long when many times it comes back because the victim has been weak?

I don’t think there’s a precise answer. I only know this: I feel like I’ve been trying like a motherfucker to be strong 24-7. But I don’t seem to have the fortitude to maintain it, and I give in to weakness.

In the past, that weakness would involve indulging in food, alcohol and tobacco until I was too sick to function.

Today, the weakness involves getting angry and self-defensive and distant at the drop of a hat.

For all the progress I’ve made in managing my OCD, there are still moments where I go weak, put the blinders on and do some stupid things.

It’s the compulsion to keep staring at the laptop screen when one or both kids need me to look up and give them some attention.

It’s stopping in the middle of a conversation with my wife because the cellphone is ringing or someone has pinged me online.

It’s spending too much money on food and entertainment for the kids because it’s easier to me at the time than  cooking the food myself and playing a board game with them instead.

I’ve been working double-time at bringing my compulsive tendencies to heel, going through some intensified therapy. The short-term result is that I’m an angrier person than I normally am.

My therapist made note of that anger at our last meeting. The trigger in the room was him taking me back to my younger years in search of clues to present-day debacles. I thought I was done with sessions like that five years ago.

But I’m learning that the road to mental wellness is not linear. It goes in a circle. It’s like driving to the same place every day for work. The drive to work and back is a loop of the same landmarks, the same traffic patterns and the same behind-the-wheel thinking sessions.

I’m learning that managing my issues is going to involve frequent trips back and forth from the past to the present. This pisses me off. But I know I have to keep at it.

I guess I’ll always have my weak moments because of the events that shaped me.  But you can still be strong throughout it, learning to regain your footing more quickly  and being better at the kind of discussion with loved ones that prevents endless miscommunication from adding up to a mountain of pain.

I don’t know when I’ll truly reach that level of strength. But for now I’m leaning hard on all my coping tools, including the music and the praying.

The Wit And Wisdom Of Sean Brenner

Today is Sean’s 11th birthday, and we’re all very proud of him. In honor of this special day, I share with you some of my favorite Sean-isms.

Mood music:

–Heard in the bathroom: Sean singing to no one in particular, “Your butt’s too big to be real…”

–Me: “I missed you Sean. I love you.” Sean, staring intently at the drawing he’s working on as I tell him this: “Dad, go get me a pencil”

–Sean, grousing about his loose pants: “This is ridiculous. If Eve didn’t eat that stupid apple, I wouldn’t have to worry about pants!”

–Sean, explaining The Prodigal Son to Duncan: “If there were a third brother, he would have just sat there chilling out, taking it all in.”

–Sean-ism of the morning: I learned Australian in second grade. It’s my second language.

–Sean, exasperated that Duncan is running around sans pants: “For Pete’s sake, Duncan! You’re a lot of work.”

–Sept. 23, 2010: I feel a strange sense of satisfaction for a Dad who was just informed by his oldest that “You are ruining my life.”

–Sean: “Babies come out the you-know-what” Duncan: “Gross. Why’s that?” Sean: “That’s just the way life works.”

–Sean, in response to me telling him and Duncan to do a chore: “Dad, if you’re trying to annoy us, it’s not working.”

–Me to Sean: “You’re so stinkin’ cute.” Sean to me: “You’re so stinkin’ ugly. No offense.”

–Sean, noticing the Greek Orthodox church we were driving past: “Gee Whiz! I didn’t even know Greek Mythology was still around!”

–Sean, trying to coach Duncan through a Star Wars game online: “Oh, for crying out loud Duncan… USE THE FORCE! USE THE FORCE!”

–The Sean-Duncan Star Wars feud takes a dark, stinky turn: Duncan says Sean keeps calling him Sen. Poopatine and he wants me to punish him.

–Bathtub chatter: Sean: “Cheese is your favorite food, right Duncan?” Duncan: “Of course.” Sean: “I read they’re gonna stop making it soon.”

–Sean’s take on his grandfather (my father): “I’ll tell you what, Duncan. There is nothing we can’t get him to do.”

–Sean, growing impatient with the DC-to-Boston drive: “What state are we in besides a state of confusion?”

–Sean: “Can I have more computer time?” Me: “No.” Sean: “Wow. That was unexpected.”

–I have a ZZTop concert streaming on the laptop while I work. Sean takes a look and asks if the guitar player is “that @jack_Daniel guy.” (Jack is a heavyweight in the security industry who looks a lot like Billy Gibbons from ZZTop)

–Sean’s Lament: “My workbook project calls for a mural about compassion. Much to my dismay, it makes me want to barf.”

–Sean just proclaimed that my iced coffee looks like cow manure with ice cubes on top.

–Sean: “One of the things I really love about Gramma and Grandpa is that they’re so disorganized.”

–Sean just kicked my ass at 3 games of checkers. Now he’s trash-talking me. My revenge will come later, and it will be spectacular.

–Sean-ism of the day: “Thank God for Dunkin Donuts. There’s always one along the road when you really need to use the bathroom.”

–Bad Sean joke #452 … Sean:”Why did the cop wrap the crook in tinfoil?” Me: “I dunno. Why?” Sean: “Because he wanted to foil the crime.”

–Sean: “I’m looking forward to seeing the White House tonight. Good food there.” Me: “We’re there for a tour, not dinner.” Sean: “Oh well.”

–Sez Sean, because I didn’t look at his computer game fast enough: “C’mon Dad, what’s more important, your son or your Blackberry?”

–Sean, fighting with Duncan: “My life was pretty good till you came along.”

–Sean scolded me for killing an ant cause “They’re God’s creatures.” Then he found one on his Lego sets, and now he wants all ants dead.

–Sean’s description of Duncan’s breath: “Like a cat climbed in your mouth, peed, pooped and died.” His breath was just as bad.

–Sean hasn’t stopped laughing since I told him Bun Bun — the Whites’ dwarf hamster — got caught in Sam’s closet and crapped everywhere.

“You are the picture of evil.” Sean, after I made them do homework on their snow day.

Sean, pretending to be a clone trooper from Star Wars: “I hate this job. I don’t get MLK Day off. Crap, I didn’t even get Christmas off!”

Me to Sean: “I have a thought.” Sean: “There’s a 50-50 chance I’m gonna protest it.”

Sean: “Duncan, how many kids do you plan to have?” Duncan: “20: 10 girls, 10 boys.” Sean: “I can’t watch all those kids. Scale it back.”

Sean’s 9-year-old reaction to news that Uncle Brian is getting married: “Oh yeah? Whatever.”

Duncanism of the day: If the inside of my head was empty, I’d be light-headed.

Sean’s reaction to the Duncanism of the day: “Duncan, you infuriate me.”

“Good luck. You’re gonna need it.” Sean, wishing one of Erin’s friends well in an important business venture

“Get out of the way, Lando! For crying out loud!” Sean, temper flaring, during a particularly difficult Wii game of “Star Wars: The Complete Saga.”

–Said Sean, matter-of-fact-like: “If you don’t want your butt to get burned, don’t live in a frying pan.”

A Death Survival Guide For Novices

A friend is reeling from the death of a grandparent. Outliving your older family members is considered part of the natural order, especially if it’s a grandparent. But if it’s your first taste of death, it’s got to be pretty devastating.

Having experienced more than my share of friends and family dying, I figured a few words are in order.

Mood music:

I got my first taste of death the hard way, losing my brother Michael when I was 13. I knew of family deaths before him, but I was far removed from them. My grandfather — who I was named for — died some nine months before I was born. My parents wanted to name a child in his honor, and so here I am.

Losing a brother was not the natural order of things, obviously. The grief from my parents wasn’t the normal grief I later came to expect with the passing of grandparents and 70-something uncles. It created dysfunction that haunts the family to this day.

So when my great-grandmother died in 1994 — a few hours shy of my 24th birthday — I thought it would be easier to deal. It was, but it still sucked. Two years later, my other grandfather was gone, followed less than two years after that by my paternal grandmother. By maternal grandmother was gone a few years later. In between all that, my best friend died, followed a few years later my another friend.

I’ve learned a few things from all that death. I hope the following takeaways will be helpful to my friend:

1.) Let it suck. Don’t be a hero. If you’re feeling the pain from losing your grandmother, let it out. You don’t have to do it in front of people. Go in a room by yourself and let the waterworks flow if you have to. Don’t worry about trying to keep a manly face around people. You don’t have to pretend you’re A-OK for the sake of others in the room.

2. Don’t forget the gratitude. When someone dies, it’s easy to get lost in your own grief. There’s even a self pity reflex that kicks in. Try to take the time to remember how awesome your loved one was. Share the most amusing memories and have some laughs. The deceased would love that. And you’ll feel more at peace when you remember a life that was lived well.

3. Take a moment to appreciate what’s STILL around you. Your girlfriend. Your friends. If the death you just suffered should teach you anything, it’s that you never know how long the other loves of your life will be around. Don’t waste the time you have with them, and, for goodness sake:

4. Don’t sit around looking at people you love and worrying yourself into an anxiety attack over the fact that God could take them from you at any moment. God holds all the cards, so it’s pointless to even think about it. Just be there for people, and let them be there for you.

5. Take care of yourself. You can comfort yourself with all the drugs, alcohol, sex and food there is to have. But take it from me, giving in to addictions is nothing but slow suicide. You can’t move past grief and see the beauty of what’s left if you’re too busy trying to kill yourself. True, I learned a ton about the beauty of life from having been an addict, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever wish that experience on others. If there’s a better way to cope, do that instead.

6. Embrace things that are bigger than you. Nothing has helped me get past grief more than doing service to others. It sounds like so much bullshit, but it’s not. When I’m helping out in the church food pantry or going to Overeater’s Anonymous meetings and guiding addicts who ask for my help, I’m always reminded that my own life could be much worse. Or, to put it another way, I’m reminded how my own life is so much better than I realize or deserve.

This isn’t a science.

It’s just what I’ve learned from my own walk through the valley of darkness.

I’ve learned that life is a gift to be cherished and used wisely.

I’ve also learned that it hurts sometimes.

That’s OK.

When The Going Gets Tough, I Disconnect

I’m leaving my weekly therapy sessions with a headache these days, because I’m working through another deeply embedded flaw in my soul.

Mood music:

It’s not nearly as bad as the therapy I had in 2004-2006, when I had to endlessly churn the sewage of my childhood memories in search of clues on what was wrong with me and how I got that way. Back then, I didn’t know myself very well. Now I do.

Knowing myself as I do, I’ve started to zero in on the ongoing flaws that hold me back and hurt loved ones. That apparently requires a few more trips to the sewer.

I’ll give you a fuller account further along in this process. For now, let’s just say I have a wall I tend to hide behind when the going gets tough. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if not for the fact that life is ALWAYS tough. Not just for me, but for everyone. We all have our Crosses to carry and difficulties to endure. In my case, it’s a lot harder with a wall in the way.

So here we are again. Back in the mental sewer. I know my way around now, but the stench can still be too much to take.

The first question from the therapist was if I had talked to my mother lately. No, I told him. I thought Mom and I were making progress in December, but she couldn’t handle this blog and went off the deep end. I won’t defend myself. She’s entitled to her point of view. But let’s just say I was hoping to be writing posts by now about how we were reconciling.

So no, I told him. We’re not talking.

Then he asked about how I handled my brother’s death when I was 13. I told him I pretty much disconnected from the world. Same thing after my best friend killed himself in 1996.

“You’re starting to see the pattern?” the therapist asked.

Yeah. When the going gets tough, I disconnect. The bigger events caused that self-defense mechanism to take root all those years ago. But it kicks in during life’s more routine challenges. And when the wall goes up, my anger level kicks up a few decibels. I don’t do what I did in my teens and 20s: Throwing furniture through walls and plotting endless ways to find those who hurt me so I could hurt them back.

I’m not THAT guy anymore. But I do still get angry. When I do, I turn in on myself and brood.

But I knew that already.

Now the question is, what to I do about it?

I love my life now, and I’m blessed beyond measure. But the better my life gets, the more of an eyesore the wall becomes. It’s got to go.

My therapist has seen this stuff before. He knows the wall is rooted in the memory sewer.

So I guess I’ll be here for awhile longer.

Crude But True

This pic, making the Facebook rounds, is crude. I’ve always hated the “T” word. But the overall message is the truth.

McDonald’s is where I binged again and again when my compulsive overeating was at its zenith. But I’ve never blamed the fast-food chain. Buying their food — my heroin — was my choice and responsibility.

When you have young children, you have far more control over what they put in their bodies. If you’re an over-eater yourself and you’re always stressed and on the run, you probably let your child eat this stuff all the time. If your child is fat as a result, that’s your fault, not McDonald’s.

We all have choices. When we make the bad calls, we have to own it.

McDonald’s has put a lot of effort into adding healthier, low-fat selections to its menu. You can get salads, fruit, yogurt and other healthy foods.

But I still won’t go in there.

If I do, I know I’ll order all the bad, high-fat stuff on the menu. When I want to binge, I want the baddest of the bad. Who the hell binges on apple sticks and celery? If yours is an addictive personality and food is your drug, the fruit and veggies will be passed over every time.

And so I stay away.

That’s my choice.

Don’t Let Anger Blind You To What Really Matters

The front office at my kids’ school is mad at me and another parent for complaining about something on the school’s Facebook page. I don’t think they saw yesterday’s post in this blog. That would make them angrier still.

Mood music:

I’ll admit I was angry when my wife told me the principal and office administrator got after her about my behavior. It’s not like I jumped up and down on Facebook yelling obscenities and calling people names. I simply agreed with the other parent’s dismay over a specific matter of the school not following up with parents on a school closing next week. I think I was more ticked off that they gave Erin trouble, because she did nothing wrong.

I make no apologies, because, as I said yesterday, we practically break the bank every month paying the tuition to send our kids there. In essence, we parents are the customer. The customer is not always right, contrary to popular belief. But school administrators should respond to them as if they were, unless the parent is way out of line, which we weren’t.

On to the main point of this post.

There’s a lesson here for everyone, whether you’re dealing with difficult people at your kids’ school, in your workplace or on your street. Anger should never blind us to what’s truly important.

Some are probably asking why we would continue to go to a church and send our kids to a parochial school where there’s dysfunction. My answer is simple:

–For me, going to church is about getting closer to God. Everything else is second fiddle.

–Our children’s education is far more important than squabbles with parents and administrators, though it obviously becomes a problem if the latter has a negative effect on the former.

–This is our home, and I don’t believe in pulling up stakes and leaving because of dysfunction in the institution. I’d rather stick around and try to be part of the solution. That’s not always possible and sometimes it’s best to leave. But I don’t see this as an example of that.

–If you leave and go to another community, you’ll find dysfunction there, too. Where there are humans, there is dysfunction. That’s life. It may not be fair, but no one ever promised life would be fair.

Since this is an issue within our parish family, I can’t help but bring my faith into the remainder of the post. If religion isn’t your bag, leave now.

This is Holy Week, where we remember the sacrifice Jesus made to give us all a shot at redemption. It’s incredibly easy to forget the core message when we get busy arguing with each other over matters that are more political than spiritual.

I officially became a Catholic at Easter of 2006. I was in a pretty dark place at the time, struggling with a binge eating habit that had me shot-gunning $40 worth of fast food on the drive from the office to the house every day. I was crazy with fear and anxiety, the result of OCD out of control. I was a depressed, disgusting mess inside, and it was slowly working its way to my outward appearance.

Finding my faith was a major step in bringing those demons to heel.

But it remains a struggle sometimes, especially when you have disagreements with people in the community. So I wrote up the following manifesto to help bring me back to the center. I’ve used it several times in this blog, but it bears frequent repeating.

These are the bullet points. Click on any of them to see the full explanation.

1. Don’t Succumb to “Happily-Ever-After” Syndrome.

2. Peace IS NOT The Absence of Chaos. It’s a State of Mind (or, if you really want to get technical, a state of being in God’s Grace).

3. What You Get is Only As Good As What You Put In

4. Don’t Let Politics Get in the Way

5. Plan to Fight the Good Fight to Your Dying Breath

Keeping my head and heart on those personal items is much more important than besting church and school officials in an argument.

And so I move on.

When Your Children’s School Grows Dysfunctional

billbrenner1970:

Please indulge me while I contribute to this pile-on.
Personally, I love the school my kids go to. The teachers and support staff are wonderful. I’ve made some of the best friends ever among the parents. I adore the fact that my children are in the same school their mom and aunts attended. And, most importantly, the kids are being infused with a faith that will carry them through all the difficulties that await them in adulthood.
But there’s a lot of truth to what Linda writes about. There is a lot of dysfunction.
I wrote about the parental gossip awhile back in a post called “Schoolyard gossip and the damage done.” http://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/schoolyard-gossip-and-the-damage-done/
I wrote about the school administrative culture and it’s frequent cluelessness on how to deal with the more challenged students among them in a post called “Taking the different kids out with the trash.” http://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/taking-the-different-kids-out-with-the-trash/
When parents pay a hefty tuition every month to send their children there, the administration has a responsibility to listen to parental concerns instead of dismissing them as rabble rousers.

They have a responsibility to communicate clearly and often, but they have slipped on that one regularly this year.
With families so over-scheduled these days, you have to be from another planet to expect every parent to remember a note from last year and in September about school closing for three days BEFORE April vacation so teachers can attend a conference. To get defensive when parents take you to task for not putting reminders in the weekly school updates is maddening.
If the Archdiocese of Boston thinks this event is so important that every teacher needs to be there, they should consider holding it on a weekend, during school vacations or in the summer, to minimize disruptions in the school schedule.
What does this have to do with the subject matter of this blog? Two things: I know parents who, like me, have dealt with illnesses of the mind, body and spirit in the past.

The better the school communicated with them and works with them, the better they can parent and, in turn, the better their kids will do in school. More importantly, this is about the children. When the school doesn’t properly communicate with parents, the students suffer.
And when it comes to children with special needs, it is the school administration’s responsibility to make sure ALL of the student’s teachers are on the same page. When the ancillary teachers mark a kid down because of deficiencies caused by something like ADHD and you, the parent, learn later that those teachers were not told of the child’s issues, it’s inexcusable.
All that said, I don’t think there’s a single problem here that can’t be fixed. We can all learn from the problems, help in solving them and emerge as a school community that’s stronger than before.
But if parents like us keep our mouths shut or sugar-coat things because we fear retribution against ourselves and our kids, nothing will ever improve. Pure and simple.
Personally, I don’t fear retribution from school administrators. They are good people at the end of the day, and they want to do their best. Sometimes, public pressure is necessary to help them reach that full potential.
I’m not worried about being blackballed by other parents, either. Frankly, the folks who would be angry with me are already the ones who aren’t inclined to like me anyway.
And who knows? Maybe this public display of concern will lead to some new, unlikely friendships. Those are often the best kind.

Originally posted on Crud My Kids Say:

Every school has its issues.

Issues with teachers. Issues with other parents. Miscommunication. Problems with other students.

Every school.

There’s no getting around it. We’re all human. We all have failings. And a school is, after all, made up of us imperfect humans.

But at what point does a school have so many issues it becomes dysfunctional?

Is it when the faculty talks out of turn to your child about their parents’ divorce?

Or perhaps it’s when other parents refuse to accept that their child is the school bully & consistently puts the blame for their child’s behavior on the very kids he’s bullying.

Is it when there are arbitrary punishments meted out at whim? One day a behavior is punishable by making the child sit out of recess. The next day, the same behavior is overlooked. One day, uniform infractions are barely mentioned. The next day, a student loses…

View original 470 more words

‘Shattered Hopes’ Director On My ‘Learned Helplessness’ Post

Ryan Katzenbach, director of “Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders,” sent me a note on Facebook yesterday regarding the post I wrote on one of the themes of the film: Louise DeFeo’s “learned helplessness.”

Ryan always responds to his fans when they have questions or comments on the documentary. Given his high profile and workload, it amazes me how accessible he is. Anyway, I wanted to share what he wrote to me, because it really captures the purpose of this piece of work:

Bill, this was truly great reading. When we finished with Part I, and in watching the subsequent installments through the editing process, I had wondered if our film would actually help anyone out there who finds themselves caught in a similar situation of domestic, be it verbal or physical, abuse. Originally, this started as a means of understanding the family dynamic of 112 Ocean after hearing stories, like those of Peg Giambra, the juror from the case, when she told of the horrifying stories that she encountered while sitting through the trial. 

For me, growing up in a home that was never dysfunctional or abusive, there was a huge gulf between understanding WHY people stay and WHY they don’t leave. When you grow up absent any such environ, you simply don’t understand. I would ask myself “given the means of the Brigante family, why didn’t Louise do something?” Part of that answer, I would learn, was due to the era. We didn’t recognize domestic abuse as we do today; it was hushed, it was quieted, and essentially, it was a man’s right as the king of his castle. But then, when Drs. Hickey and Puckett began to apply clinical psychology to the situation, it really came into focus. Part of what they did was help us understand the tumultuous cocktail of dysfunction and WHY and HOW it happened. The next part of what they’re going to do is help us understand the psychology behind murder itself, and reviewing the elements of our forensic study encapsulated in Part III, it is, in many cases chilling. There are passages that cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, still. Far, far more haunting and disturbing than Jodie The Demonic Pig. Because this stuff is REAL.

I hope that maybe as a residual, perhaps….MAYBE….somehow…some person who sees our film and finds themselves in this type of domestic abuse situation will be able to summon strength from the story of the DeFeos to do something in a proactive approach to escape their personal insanity. If just ONE person were to learn from what has been presented and get out of their situation, then perhaps the DeFeo family did not die in vain…..maybe their lessons will impact others and from this, we can draw a positive from a story that is otherwise dark and negative.

Just my thoughts.

Thanks for the feedback, Ryan.