Title: Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief
Author: Debra Whittam
Publisher: Turning Point International
Genre: Memoir/Women’s Psychology/Applied Psychology
Am I Going To Be Okay? is an American story with a universal message. Ms. Whittam traces her history in the form of stories about her all too human, and sometimes unhinged family; she throws a rope to the little girl living there, and in adulthood, is able to pull her out to safety, bit by bit.
Her history is peopled with folks from a different time, a time before therapy was acceptable, 12 steps unimaginable and harsh words, backhands and even harsher silences can be spun to appear almost normal. She writes of a mother who would not or could not initiate love nor give it without condition, and a father, damn near heroic at times, abusive at others, a survivor with his head down and his sleeves rolled up.
Ms. Whittam approaches her past with the clear-eyed tough but sensitive objectivity necessary to untangle the shame from the source. She speaks of the people that affected her life so deeply with an understanding of their time and place in American culture; a family not far removed from immigrant roots when men carried their own water, emoted misplaced anger, and with fresh socks and food found on the trail, were confident, unflinching and at that same time tragical- ly failing to the little ones they ignored.
Like many of us, details notwithstanding, Whittam responded by numbing, running and gunning. Alcohol gave her hope, soothed a crushed soul for a time and wrecked her on a train, until finally she had the courage to accept it wasn’t working for her anymore. It was time to stop drinking and take inventory and accountability. It was time to accept, forgive and move forward. She healed where she was broken.
It is in the telling of this story that Whittam teaches us the difference between just surviving and surviving well, the importance of shared introspection and a careful eye on the wake we leave behind in our actions. Her story is a guide to surviving abuse and addiction. It is also about witnessing and dealing with the shrinking faculties of aging parents in the unavoidable circle of life. Finally, she offers a realistic sense of hope, forgiveness and a life we can shake hands with.
For More Information
- Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is available
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
In my therapist’s office, during my first year of recovery from alcoholism, I saw one of her graduate school psychology books on her bookshelf. It was sitting alongside many of her self-help books which I had borrowed during the past year. I read several hoping to find a cure from my irrepressible anxiety that I had previously drunk away. I imagined the wordy text was far from my ability to comprehend as I was at that time only able to retain small bits of information. I asked my therapist if I could borrow that college text titled “Human Growth and Development.” I read it from cover to cover within a short amount of time and surprisingly, was able to digest and retain it. I had to quit doubting my ability. Being hard on myself was no longer the answer. I wanted more.
That following summer I enrolled in a graduate course of the same name. I wanted to see if I could retain enough material to pass a higher level learning class. I loved it and I got an A.
No longer living in a world governed by my need to numb myself through copious amounts of alcohol, I started doing what I wanted to do with my life. Encountering the self-doubt I had always carried within me became the guidepost by which I continued to prove my “what ifs” unnecessary in order to keep myself safe.
My intention in writing this book is to reach out to all who struggle with being frozen in fear of “what if.” This book may trigger emotions that have been shoved down so far they might not have a clear story to them yet. It might trigger memories of resentments, regrets or painful unhealed episodes of your life. These moments may have happened long, long ago or may have been more recent. We go back into the past to find answers. The idea is not to stay there long, but to find healing through understanding the ‘why’ of it. Then begin our process of learning to self-sooth and love ourselves.
Nothing is going to happen that you can’t handle. Nothing.
Isolated within my world of fear, I wouldn’t attempt anything outside of that small world. I had no foundation to stand on as a spring-board toward finding out who I really was, so I joined a 12-Step group. The beauty of being in a community of recovery, from whatever we might be working on, brings connection. at is what I needed so badly.
I hope, within these pages, you are able to find a spark that ignites your longing for more. I urge you to find your own path of being okay by whatever non-mood altering way that makes sense to you; even, or especially, if it is unfamiliar to you. In writing this book, I intended to show how we can all go through our fears and do “it” anyway, whatever “it” is.
Letting go of fear suggests we “just breathe” and be ourselves. Thee “how” of being okay is within these pages and within yourself. Stop listening to the repeated echoes of old messages in your head, messages like “You’ve done it again,” “You aren’t good enough,” “You should just give up.” These messages cause you to doubt yourself. Instead, listen to the other voice inside which says, “You can do this,” “There is a way.” Don’t ignore it. Don’t push it away. Don’t argue with it. That voice is there, even if you can’t hear it and I am here to help you find it. I look forward to hearing you say, “I AM going to be okay.”
About the Author
Debra Whittam is a licensed, practicing mental health therapist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who specializes in addiction, anxiety and depression, grief and loss. Whittam is passionate about her work in all areas of her specialties, especially addiction. Working in a detox unit for over three years before beginning her own private practice, Whittam realized, while counseling patients in the life and death arena of the detox unit, how much the loss of a beloved through death or a relationship impacted those struggling with addiction.
In this memoir, Whittam skillfully infuses her memories, stories and professional insights to remind us that the most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. She splits her time between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and Paris, France.
For More Information
CA: Debra. Thanks for being here today. Tell me about you.
DW: I’m very sensitive, open, honest and sometimes self deprecating to a fault. I love people with a passion. Even or especially those of whom I’ve just met who, I can sense, are quite the same. I find joy in this relatively new venture into the world of creative non-fiction, of actually being a writer. Whatever was pushed very far down within myself and considered ridiculous, has now become quite possible and, I hear, moving and funny. I am sarcastic one minute, hopefully not without being offensive; with laughter and tears the next. An open book as they say.
CA: If you cold hang out with one famous person for one day, who would it be and why?
DW: Most emphatically, it would be J.K. Rowling. Her 2008 Harvard Commencement Address gives me chills and makes me laugh each time I watch it on youtube, which is often. I love her no nonsense style, her depth of writing from some of her dark places; as she has mentioned often in rare interviews she has given.
I relate to what I imagine were some of her most wretched betrayals. I’d like a best friend like her. The entire day with her we would take turns talking and listening from the heart, I’m sure. Some kind of kindred spirit moments that would build into a life-long friendship even if we would see each other only rarely in the future.
She is open, honestly herself which I adore about famous people.
CA: What’s the story behind your latest book?
DW: “Am I Going To Be Okay?” is a memoir of my life with my mother, my entire family actually, but she and I from my birth until her death in 2012. Interwoven within this narrative is all of the untreated mental illness, untreated addiction and unacknowledged grief that has flowed through my family tree from whenever we all started.
I am a licensed professional therapist, and in my work I have come to realize that this appears to be the state of most of us on earth. A human condition as it were. The impact of all of these adults acting like “little monsters” as Eckhardt Tolle says, is on the little children soaking up of this chaos and drama at a very vulnerable and impressionable age. As these open, loving children we assumer that what we are seeing, what we are hearing and how we are being treated is either one of two things. 1. Something is wrong with us or 2. we’ve done something wrong. I travel through time back two generations to explore how there is to be NO blame on anyone. The farther back we go more is revealed as to how our parents and grandparents experienced life as those hopeful yet fearful little ones. All of us grow up searching for reasons to imagine we matter from all of the years of silence and denial. My story is one of hope and recovery. I have been honored by many reviews and acknowledgements that this book has made an impact on my readers. “I want to read more!” is what I hear most often.
CA: What is your writing process?
DW: I find pure joy in the act of writing wherever in the world I am. Most of my book was writing very early in the morning, sitting cross-legged on the floor, writing longhand sitting in front of a beautiful painting I purchased in Place de Tetre in Montmartre, Paris. I wrote my first manuscript by hand and it took about three years total with a long, hard (!) seven months of editing, revisions, changes, changes to the changes and final manuscripts that evolved into Final Manuscript#12 before my editor and I were completely satisfied. I have written in the library above the wonderful bookstore Shakespeare &Co. in Paris, gazing at Notre Dame while I let my thoughts wander into my past remembering from my experiences what and how things happened. I’ve written at a lake house I rent in the Adirondack Mountains in New York where I am from originally. The aroma of pine, balsam and antique things placed lovingly in this cottage bring me peace, replenish my soul where I find even more paths to the journey of where I’m from.
CA: If this book were to be made into a movie, who would play the lead?
DW: This summer I am taking a screen writing workshop at Oxford University in Oxford, England in order to create a movie from my book! It is as a movie when the reader reads and goes from scene to scene throughout my life. I imagine Sandra Bullock from the days of her early work in movies would play me as a young to older adult.
Me very young probably would be played by whom ever auditioned that had imagination and sensitivity written on her sleeve. In Sandra Bullocks early work she had an open and honest way of portrayal that wasn’t over acted. Now it seems to me she’s changed not only physically, I liked her nose as it was, but I see in her now what I see that happens in most people. A change that loses the fresh, beginning new actor she was.
CA: What are you working on next?
DW: I can’t wait, I’m so excited about this one. I plan on writing a sequel of “Am I Going To Be Okay?” since most everyone has remarked they want to know what happened next. But after that, I am working on another non-fiction, query if you will, to the world, “Are men and women really meant to live together?” That is not the title, however, society as it evolves appears to have women realizing, finally, that ‘Men do what they want, Women do as they’re told’ well, they don’t put up with that shit anymore!
Men are left thinking there is no reason to do any of the work to ‘evolve’ they state they are, ‘Already there’. This is a book not about men against women or the opposite.
This is a book of research I have done and case studies of men and women I have worked with who heartily say, “NO!” to the initial question. Basically from caveman times men and women have had the same roles until the mid to late 1800s. I think this will have an impact on my premise and intentions of all my books, which is “Let’s Start Talking About It.”
CA: What advice do you have for other writers who want to get their work out there?
DW: Since this is my first book, I have taken every and all suggestions from my amazing editor, Judi Moreo. She had me purchase a book called, “1001 Ways To Promote Your Book” written by John Kremer. It is the thickest book I have ever read but it has invaluable information for those of us doing our own promoting. I also find being on this Virtual Tour with Dorothy has enabled me to reach an audience never before imagined. It seems social media is the way to go to promote and reach the widest reader audience possible.
CA: What is your favorite book on your shelf right now?
DW: Definitely, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It had been sitting on my book shelf for years. I resisted the depth I might have to go to do whatever work I though it would demand. I have been able to reach even deeper into my creative spirit and see the hows of replenishing myself when depleted with writing or working at my private practice or whatever life brings my way. This book along with the Morning Writing Pages was referred to me by Judi Moreo and has changed my thoughts about myself as a writer and creative soul in general. I find peace and support in those pages.
CA: Do you have any special talents that no one knows about you?
DW: Absolutely! I love taking ballet and tap dancing lessons. I once belonged to an adult dance troupe here in Pittsburgh back when my children were young. I still have my tap shoes in my closet ready and waiting if the opportunity arises! I also can drive a forklift like nobody’s business! In my early twenties my former husband and I met at a ceramic tile and marble distributorship where he taught me how to drive a forklift like a pro!
CA: If you had the choice of a super-power, just one, which one would you choose and why?
DW: Time Travel. Most definitely Time Travel would be my super power. I imagine traveling back to the times of my earliest memories, of which I write, and watching what happened from an adult perspective. I am reminded of the play, “Our Town”, written by Thornton Wilder. I mention this play in one of the final chapters in my book as I wandered Grove Cemetery where my mother is buried. So many of the people Mom use to mention from her youth and people I had known are buried there. It reminds me of the third act of “Our Town”. I imagine my Time Travel would end up working out the same way as being wonderful, wistful and not done as often as I had thought I would.
CA: List five things on your bucket list.
DW: Five things on my bucket list are:
- Meeting J.K. Rowling.
- Purchasing an writer’s studio apartment in Paris.
- Becoming a famous writer who makes a difference.
- Being able to travel the world over as often as I like.
- Making people laugh and cry at the same time.
CA: Where can readers find you on the web?
CA: Do you have any final thoughts?
DW: What a wonderful dream it all is to have published a book and share myself through the book and the social media. I am humbled.