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.”

Feb 26

Rules of Three: How to Live Better

When seeking advice on how to live better, many have found that rules of three, well, rule, so to speak, as they are often more digestible than longer treatises.

One recent example: Actor André De Shields drew attention last year when, during his Tony Awards acceptance speech, he offered the three rules of longevity he’s learned: 1) Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming, 2) Slowly is the fastest way to get to where your want to be, and 3) The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.

And, maybe you’ve seen the following popular graphic online:

Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz‘s “3 Things” lists what the singer does “when my life falls apart”:

…I cry my eyes out and I dry up my heart…

…close both of my eyes
And sing my thank yous to each and every moment of my life…

take a breath and bow and I let that chapter end
I design my future bright not by where my life has been
And I try, try, try, try
Try again

In other words, 1) grieve, 2) express gratitude, and 3) move forward.

Psychologist Daniel Tomasulo‘s three rules for a positive transformation (Psych Central):

  1. Change takes time.
  2. Notice and allow the changes.
  3. Be the change.

Miriam Tatzel is another psychologist with rules of three for a happier life (Inc.):

  1. Cultivate your talents.
  2. Accept yourself.
  3. Seek out new experiences.

Denis Waitley, motivational speaker, says you can transform negative anxiety into positive success by following these rules:

  1. Accept the unchangeable.
  2. Change the changeable.
  3. Avoid the unacceptable.

The recently published book by former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, Three Rules for Living a Good Life: A Game Plan for after Graduation, expands on the following:

  1. Do what is right.
  2. Do everything to the best of your ability.
  3. Show people you care.

But it’s not just the modern world that’s produced rules of three.

Writer Henry James: Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. 

Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. 

Philosopher Immanuel Kant: Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.