May 29

“Joyful Recollections of Trauma” by Paul Scheer

Although I’ve been barely familiar with actor/comedian Paul Scheer, author of the new memoir Joyful Recollections of Trauma, his wife is June Diane Raphael, a favorite of mine since Grace and Frankie. Add to this that trauma was a therapy specialization of mine, throw in the kind of bittersweet title that never fails to attract me, and bingo: this post.

An excerpt of Joyful Recollections of Trauma (Vanity Fair) reveals that in childhood Scheer experienced abuse at the hands of his stepfather, Hunter. Scheer recounts the lack of help he and his mom received—from extended family, the community, and therapy.

Although his family’s inability to help was perhaps the most grievous for Scheer, the failure of the professionals is something I feel the need to highlight in this space.

After hearing about Scheer’s victimization, the family therapist said she’d call the police if Hunter was ever abusive again. She failed, however, to do so. “She treated him like she had caught a kid stealing an Oreo from the pantry. I had never felt more helpless. I knew she was never going to call the police, and I knew we were never going to family counseling again, because Hunter had gotten lucky, and he wasn’t going to double down on his good luck. We left that office and never returned, and the therapist never followed up with us.”

It was only when Scheer anonymously called Child Protective Services himself that the police did come to the house, accompanied by a counselor.

They interviewed Mom and Hunter together in the same room. It was like interviewing a kidnapper and kidnappee together: you aren’t going to get the true story. My mom was too scared to say anything. Plus the counselor never spoke to me. Suffice it to say, CPS didn’t find anything wrong—once again reinforcing the idea that if you live through it and have no scars, you’re fine and why complain. I often thought, Maybe one time he will break my arm or leg, then I can finally get some real help. But he never did. That was the trickiest thing about his violence: it didn’t leave any physically permanent marks.

On the brighter side, individual therapy proved to be effective when Scheer, left with severe anger and aggression issues into his adulthood, chose to try it out.

As he told interviewer Stuart Miller, Los Angeles Times, another helpful factor in his life was his move from his home state of New York to L.A..

It’s the self-help capital of the United States and people here do wild things. There’s a culture where people are fine talking about their issues and there’s a lack of judgment. Los Angeles is open to everything: scream therapy or this or that. They say, ‘My healer does this’ or ‘I’ve done this ceremony’ or ‘My myofascial release took out trauma.’ I have a friend who went to Peru and did ayahuasca and changed his life, but I also have friends who do ayahuasca in an afternoon around somebody’s pool and I say, ‘You’re just doing drugs.’

So L.A. has freed me of a certain amount of self-judgment.

Married with two kids and successful in his career, Scheer is truly a survivor. Kirkus Reviews sums up Joyful Recollections of Trauma: “He chronicles his journey through abuse and into the life he dreamed of to show how he did it: through therapy, self-acceptance, and prioritizing his family.” And Jack Probst, Paste, says, “He expertly balances the humor with heartfelt ruminations on resilience, personal growth, and parenthood. Scheer’s candid exploration of these themes makes the memoir relatable and profoundly moving, even as it keeps you laughing.”