MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Monday, February 1, 2016

Guest Post: The screenwriter of My Name is Bill W. on the genesis of his memoir about his father.

By William G Borchert 


Telling the Story of AA's Bill W. Was One Thing, But My Dad Was the Hardest Of All

How I Became My Father... A Drunk


Every author I have known or have studied over the years usually had a reason or purpose behind every book they wrote. I am no exception.
In fact, in my case I’ve had very specific reasons and purposes behind all the books and movies I have written over the last two decades: to shine the spotlight on why, how and where to find recovery from the deadly disease of alcoholism. And as a recovered alcoholic myself with 53 years of sobriety, this was especially true for my newest book, How I Became My Father…A Drunk.
How much better can it be than my mother finding in sobriety the husband she always wanted and a son finding a father he could love and respect.
When I wrote the movie My Name Is Bill W., starring James Woods, James Garner and JoBeth Williams, my goal was to let the world know how the program of Alcoholics Anonymous has and continues to save millions of lives all over the world. Now that the Bill W. film has become the most watched television movie ever made, it is certainly well on its way to achieving that aim.

When I wrote the book The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough, my goal was to bring the supportive program of Al-Anon Family Groups to the attention of suffering spouses and others affected by the disease of alcoholism. The movie I wrote based on that book When Love Is Not Enough, starring Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper and produced by The Hallmark Hall of Fame, further supported that aim.

Most of the other books and movies I have written, from 1,000 Years of Sobriety to 50 Quiet Miracles That Changed Lives, have also been focused primarily on how those addicted to alcohol or drugs can find or strengthen their recovery.

But my newest book, How I Became My Father…A Drunk, is one I never intended to write for two basic reasons. First, I had finally made peace with my dad and found great love and respect for him when he also got sober. Second, I don’t enjoy thinking about or dwelling upon uncomfortable situations. While I know our past can often be our greatest asset, it can also be our greatest source of pain if we wallow in it.
The reason I finally decided to tackle this difficult task and share openly and honestly about how alcoholism had painfully impacted my relationship with my father, as well as his family and mine, had little to do with me. It had to do mostly with a recovery counselor in Florida, my loving wife Bernadette, and three very close friends whom I trust and love dearly convincing me this story could help people. Like so many others who seek to do the same—help people—I get great joy from this pursuit.

So the purpose of this new book simply became my reaching out to families still trapped in the malady of addiction to show them through my own personal experience (and that of my father’s) that there is a way out—and a life for them beyond their wildest dreams.

Trying to recall things that happened many years ago, especially painful, life-changing incidents, is a significant challenge to say the least. But perhaps the so-called memory experts are correct when they say that the older you get, the easier it is to remember the long ago than it is to remember what happened yesterday. That was certainly true in my case.
I was able to recall many incidents from my early childhood, especially the terrible arguments, fights and drunken brawls that tore my family apart. My two sisters, my brother and I would be awakened in the middle of the night by loud yelling and screaming and various objects being thrown around the house, crashing into the walls and ceilings. Then, more often than not, our frustrated and usually hysterical mother would drag us out of bed, cover us in coats or blankets and cart us off to our grandmother’s place for a few days until my father sobered up, apologized and things calmed down—until the next time.
Add to all that my mother’s resulting anger and rage, which she often took out on her children, and you’re left with some very painful memories.

Let me share just one of many unforgettable incidents involving my father and me. I was around 11 or 12 at the time. I was playing stickball near my house one day with a bunch of young guys from the neighborhood. Suddenly, a taxicab pulls up and my father falls out into the street so slobbering drunk that the cab driver had to almost carry him into the house.

Most of the guys I was playing with knew my father but still couldn’t help but laugh, some louder than others. I was so filled with shame I just took off running. I didn’t know where I was headed but I just kept on running until I got totally exhausted. Then I sat down on some rocks in a barren field somewhere and cried. That’s why many times during my growing up years I swore I would never become anything like my father. But alcoholism is a cunning, baffling and powerful disease that runs in families. When I started to drink, I not only became like my father, I became even worse.

In writing How I Became My Father…A Drunk, I wanted to share not only the painful experiences alcoholism brought into both families—my father’s and then my own—but also the time period and the atmosphere in which we lived and the historic events, the colorful drama and funny anecdotes that surrounded the ups and downs of our lives. For example:
    • What it was like as America struggled its way out of The Great Depression when, despite the Prohibition law, people drank just to feel better.
    • The inside story of the derelict’s haven called "The Bowery” which was once one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in New York City.
    • The heyday of journalism in New York City when there were 18 daily newspapers and exciting, unbridled competition for exclusive stories.
    • Waking up in a smelly, flea-bag hotel on The Bowery where the room cost two bucks a night or three bucks if you wanted a sheet to cover the urine-stained mattress.
    • Some of the epic events of the time such as World War II; the Korean conflict; Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for racial justice; the Soviet’s Sputnik rocket that launched the Space Race, and the last execution in Sing Sing Penitentiary’s electric chair.
    • The lowdown on once-famous celebrities like Las Vegas showgirl Zsa Zsa Gabor; actress Diana Barrymore; singer and movie star Dick Haymes; wealthy playboy Mickey Jelke who ran New York City’s biggest call-girl ring, and the shameless international gigolo Porfirio Rubirosa who married two of the world’s richest woman and was writer Ian Fleming’s model for James Bond.
    • The excitement of one of the greatest baseball World Series ever played when the Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat the New York Yankees in seven games in 1955.
When I finally finished the book and sent the manuscript around to a few friends for comment, I was almost embarrassed by the kinds of compliments I received. James Woods said: “Another courageous story that will help many people, especially families, find their way out of the pain and confusion caused by the addiction to alcohol. I was proud to work with Bill when we made My Name Is Bill W—it was the start of Bill’s attempt to help alcoholics find their way to recovery. I am especially pleased with his new book since it will help so many. Bravo my friend.”

Norman Stephens, Emmy and Peabody Award-winning producer commented, “This remarkable family drama will touch the minds and hearts of millions of readers whether or not their personal lives have been impacted, maimed or destroyed by alcohol, or they’ve been blessed by recovery.”

Oscar and Grammy Award-winning songwriter and actor Paul Williams added: “You need not be a member of the recovering community to be deeply touched by Bill Borchert’s writing. His new book will both entertain and enlighten many about the terrible disease of alcoholism.”

And Andrew Pucher, President of The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, kindly remarked: “Bill Borchert’s dramatic and heart-wrenching new book deftly describes the often crazy, unpredictable and tragic lives of those growing up with an actively alcoholic parent, how the children are impacted and how some may unwittingly follow the same path. Happily in this case Bill also shares the joy of recovery for himself, his dad and their families. This is a great read for anyone impacted in any way by the disease of alcoholism or anyone who simply enjoys a dramatic, somewhat painful yet marvelous story.

While writing How I Became My Father…A Drunk was a difficult task, in the end it turned out to be one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. How much better can it be than my mother finding in sobriety the husband she always wanted and a son finding a father he could love and respect. Just another one of those miracles we see all the time in recovery.

Read more at The Fix

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