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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Berntsom

The Story You Live

Do you ever feel like you just don't count? Like no matter what you do or how hard you try, you're the Invisible Man (or Woman)? Do you ever feel like you're born under a bad sign or even cursed?

Good. Then we can relate. Lately, I've begun to think that there's some supernatural pall over me that's trying to push me down, take away my happiness, or make sure I don't have time to do what I love. For example, every time I request time off from work to write, something happens: they're either redoing the hallway outside my apartment, or tearing up the concrete outside my window. This last time, they were renovating the apartment just above me. I took four days off. By the time they were done, I had one day left to write: Tuesday, and then it was back to work. Of course, I left, walking around town in 95 degree weather without any water, because they shut my water off that day to fix some plumbing in the building, not to mention the renovation upstairs. So, I went to my girlfriend's house and read. And to get water. It might be time to get some headphones, although with as much noise as they were making, I'm not sure it would've made a difference. Pretty small potatoes, really. There are worse things going on in the world.

The reason I bring this up is because I have had a hard time trying to make anything work in my life lately. It makes me wonder what it's all for. I try to believe in God, but He doesn't make it easy, does He? I've even been going back to a non denominational church, and though it has brought me some peace, I've found myself even more confused sometimes.

More than twenty years ago, I joined the Mormon Church. A lot of my family are Mormon, and I got swept up into it. I think I just needed something in my life at the time. I needed a belief, and there it was. I would've accepted anything: religious pigs with wings, maybe. I was that desperate. Just as quickly, though, I fell away, but not after paying a price. I wanted to be a saint, living up to my potential in the eyes of God, but I also wrote some very dark things. I didn't understand how they went hand in hand. So I talked to a bishop about it. He told me, during a very candid meeting, that I should burn everything I've ever written because my life was for God now. Being the brain-washed, weak-minded person I was, I did just that. Back up discs and hard copies all went onto a barbecue pit and up in flames. About fifteen years worth of work to be exact. I stared at those flames thinking something very evil was happening. I looked at my soon-to-be-wife, and she had a demonic smile on her face, glad to be rid of a certain darkness that made me who I was. One day, while sitting in church with my wife at the time, I heard a voice say: "You realize you lost everything that made you the unique person you were?" That scared the shit out of me, and I leaned over and said to her: "This is my last day here." I started drinking heavily, and six months later, I was divorced.

But I did get all my stories back. I talked to my grandfather about it (God rest his soul), who ironically, couldn't read throughout his life, let alone sign his name. He was weeping uncontrollably when I told him the story of burning all my tales. He said, "Do you realize what I would do if I could just read one of your stories?" That broke my heart. I told him, "The bad thing is, I can never get them back." He smiled at me with tears in his eyes and pointed to his head. "Oh, yes you can. You have them all right here."

So, I started rewriting every story I'd spent fifteen years laboring over. I started with the earliest idea I could remember, The Roommate, and wrote them one at a time. They came back better than ever, and I felt a joy I'd never felt before in writing them. I felt like I was hovering ten feet off the ground. I felt true bliss, and I truly wondered if God was giving me back every tale, because I'd given them to Him.

But the drinking and the drugs continued, and I had to put myself through rehab after a near-death experience with speed and alcohol. I'd been up for five days. It was two days before Christmas, and I thought my heart was going to implode. I had no phone, and the neighbors were all gone for the holidays, otherwise I would've sought someone to call an ambulance. It was a miracle when I woke up alive the next day. I couldn't believe I wasn't dead, and I made an appointment with the Bear River Mental Health Substance Abuse Program by the end of the week . That was over ten years ago.

I've also struggled with depression, and long after I got sober, I was put on medication. After so many years of being medicated, I started to feel nothing at all, and that scared me as much as the voice I heard in church that day. The meds were starting to have the opposite effect. So, I weaned myself off of them and tried to get back to normal. Sometimes, I'm not sure which is worse. I'll take the emotions any day, but it's hard. My doctor told me I was a Highly Sensitive Person, on top of being a hardcore introvert. Can't handle loud noises, big groups of people, over stimulation to the nervous system. No wonder I chose to write.

I prefer the one-on-one conversations that you can get over dinner or in a coffee house. You can see the expression on people's faces then, read their reactions, and reach out and grab their hand when they and you both need to be comforted. I like that. I never actually thought about writing (especially on a blog) about my personal life or my story. I just didn't think people cared. I thought it sounded egotistical. Who am I? Just another starving artist trying to find his niche. Why should anyone care about that? I wrote a post about looking for beta readers without getting a single response. I can send out an email to almost 2000 email subscribers about a new release, and I'm lucky to get one sale. I post on Facebook, and the crickets start chirping. So, maybe I'm just going about all this wrong. After all I'm not really very vocal on Facebook. I see people who are good at it, and use it the way people should, but I get distracted easily. After all, I could be writing.

I think we all need to be recognized, loved, respected, validated, and acknowledged for what we do, though. That's just being human, but not everyone knows how to go about doing that, or maybe we just don't know. Sometimes we're not taught. We speak through music, artwork, or maybe . . . a story.

I've been in therapy since I was a kid, and I still don't know anything about how life works, people, God, love, relationships, or hopes and dreams. All I know is that I wanted to make people feel the way books made me feel, the way books still make me feel: loved, and not so alone, like a have a friend when I need one most because sometimes people aren't always there. But the books are always on the shelf, waiting for you. That sounds a little dramatic maybe, but it's true in some ways. Despite every hell and horror going on in the world, or in your personal life, a reader and writer can make a very intimate connection, and that is a beautiful thing. . . that some author knew what I was thinking when I picked up my first horror novel, or fantasy novel, or classic novel meant the world to be. It meant I not only wasn't alone, but it was okay to have the thoughts and feelings that I did, no matter what they were. That I could, in fact, write about them as a form of therapy, what I was feeling and going through, despite being alone and adrift in a sea of a billion faces. I needed that when I was a teenager looking for validation. I hope I can provide the same thing now. But I can only do it if I'm honest with you and with myself. I hope that's my strength, or at least one of them. I guess that's why I wanted to write this post. To share more of myself.

What always helped me was writing and the imagination. No matter how broken I felt, or how painful the tears were, I was lucky enough to have passion, this love for creativity, books, stories, and other worlds. I've had a few near death experiences, but I came through it. I've had the broken, failed relationships, but here I am, hopefully better for it. I've tried reaching out to God in understanding, in contrite tears and shame, and here I still am. We all have our moments, our weaknesses, and shame. Because we all have to walk through the fire at some point. We all have to face it. The suffering is part of it, and those stories of suffering help other people with their suffering. Maybe that's what it's all about. Not the stories you write, but the story you live.

Recently, I've reached out beyond my comfort zone to admit I just didn't get it. I didn't understand how a person could try so hard and fail so miserably. To try to be a good man, a better writer, boyfriend, even a child of God, and feel he'd failed so terribly with all those avenues of his life. To have that meaning just sucked right out of you is horrible. One of these men I reached out to said, "Pain with purpose is hell on earth." I can't help but agree, because I feel the same way now . . . where I no longer care about what happens with my writing or the books (as much as I love them), so much as I just want the pain to end.

I needed some men in my life who were older, wiser, and had been through the fire long before me. I still feel adrift, but I don't feel so alone, and I know my story is the same as many others. But I think we need to reach out in order to make those connections. Being alone, being isolated on our journey, can be hell on earth as well. People need people, even the introverts, the highly sensitive individuals, who, for the most part, walk alone.

I know the road has been long, trying, and at times, unendurable, when I just want to feel joy and peace, and to know I mean something . . . that what I'm doing is important.

I guess that's why I wanted to write this, to reveal a piece of myself, who I really am as a man and a writer. I have regrets, sure. I'm a complicated individual as well, and I'm still fighting, scrapping, and clawing my way through, perhaps a warrior and a survivor, if I try to hold onto something optimistic. Maybe I'm not actually cursed at all, and maybe . . . neither are you.

Because the story is not yet over.

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