Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball, by R. A. Dickey, with Wayne Coffey.
We’ve all had painful experiences in our past. Some more painful than others. Many of us are able to deal with those experiences and keep going. But some of us either try to pretend the experiences were normal, or feel so much anxiety or shame that we block out the memories.
The problem is, the memories are still there somewhere, and they can lead to a variety of negative actions, including extreme risk, which could result in death.
Cy Young Award winner and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R. A. Dickey writes about his experiences with excruciating memories from the past in his recent book, which I highly recommend.
There’s more than one way to commit suicide.
For some, a painful past leads to extreme risk and can result in death. Don’t let something in your past lead you to commit suicide through extreme risk.
I remember “Extreme Risk,” an episode of Star Trek: Voyageur, where B’Elanna Torres is suffering from various injuries because she is going on dangerous holodeck programs with the safety mechanism turned off. She eventually tells Chakotay that since she learned of the death of most of their Maquis friends, she has been numb. The risks she’s been taking have been to try to find out if she’s still alive inside.
In reality, this is clinical depression. And B’Elanna might very easily have died.
An accident? In some ways. But it’s also a form of suicide. People who play with fire usually get burned.
R. A. Dickey is a baseball player, a knuckleball pitcher, and a National League Cy Young Award winner.
But while his book certainly chronicles his journey to become a major league baseball player, it’s about a lot more than that. Like B’Elanna, R. A. did some crazy things because he felt numb inside.
Dickey’s parents got married because his mother was pregnant, and according to him “the marriage didn’t last five years.” They divorced when R. A. was 8 and his mom turned to alcohol for solace. His dad, who had been a good father, gradually eased out of his life. R. A. felt alone and confused.
Then, when he was 8, a 13-year-old babysitter abused him sexually. Afterwards, in his words, “I feel discarded, like a piece of trash. She acts like she’s mad at me, like I didn’t follow her orders properly. I lie on my bed by myself, wondering if what just happened is real. I am trembling, still sweating. I feel paralyzed, my limbs leaden.”
It happens four or five more times that summer.
But something even worse happens that fall.
While visiting with family in a farming area, a boy of 16 or 17 finds him alone and grabs him, then overpowers him and abuses him.
R. A. boxes all these memories up and hides them in his mind as far away as possible. And he becomes numb. Until he’s 31 years old, he never tells anyone, doesn’t even let himself think about them. On the outside, he appears to be normal, but without his even realizing it, the memories are impacting him, telling him he’s “filthy and bad, like the scum of the earth, only worse.”
This goes on until he’s 31 and his own marriage is in serious trouble.
He finally breaks down and tells a counselor about the babysitter. He feels a measure of freedom, but he can’t go all the way; not to the brutal experience with the teenage boy.
A year later, on June 9, 2007, he does something absolutely crazy. While in Council Bluff Iowa with his triple A baseball team, the Nashville Sounds, he jumps in the Missouri River to swim across it. The water is brown and sludgy and there are strong currents and undertows. He’s wearing boxer briefs and taped-on flip-flops. He is basing this swim on the fact that he’s in good shape, and once upon a time, years ago, he swam the 200-meter freestyle for a local team. He believes he can do it.
And that’s where I was reminded about the Star Trek episode.
Because this isn’t the first time he’s done something crazy. In his words, “You could say—and some have—that I have a death wish. Not sure. I think it’s more accurate to say I have a risk wish, somehow clinging to the notion that achieving these audacious feats will someone make me worthy, make me special, as if I’d taken some magical, esteem-enhancing drug.”
He doesn’t make it across the river; instead, he almost drowns. But as he realizes he’s going to die in the muddy water of the Missouri, he finds a new desire to live. And afterwards, he’s finally able to talk about the worst experience of his life, and face the darkness and the anger that has burned inside him for all those years. Anger at the boy, anger at himself, anger at his life, anger at the God he believes in but up until now couldn’t fully embrace . . .
And he begins the journey to freedom, to feeling truly alive, and to helping others break their shackles of self-condemnation and shame.
Terrible things happen to most of us.
They don’t even have to be huge things, like sexual abuse or violence. Sometimes it’s just a person who constantly puts us down or tells us we aren’t good enough that stays within us and makes us numb inside.
No matter how much we try to pretend they never happened, they don’t go anywhere. They stay inside and tear us down.
We have to find the strength to bring them out and examine them, talk to people we can trust about them, and let God heal us and cause good to happen.
R. A. is now passionate about helping kids who have suffered from abuse.