“Herein lies one of life’s many paradoxes, although embracing one’s thoughts and feelings is essential to the pursuit of happiness, it is not easy,” writes Charles Creath McCormack in his new memoir, Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale.
Throughout the book, McCormack takes readers on a journey from his tragic early life, through hard won battles and challenges, to the experiences that ultimately led him to the craft of psychotherapy.
“The family of my father’s teachings was tyrannical and sadistic, interspersed with manic moments of humor and gut-splitting laughter, fueled by all the tensions and anxieties that had preceded it,” writes McCormack.
For McCormack, growing up with a militant and demanding father and a warm mother meant that he experienced two separate realities; the one he was born to, and the one he created for himself.
“I don’t think it was by accident that I engaged in the autistic self-soothing activities of nail-biting and head banging. My introversion poorly suited me to the fear engendered by my father’s invasively chaotic behavior combined with the insecurities of a nomadic life,” writes McCormack.
After being sent away to a boarding school that he describes as sadistic, McCormack began to rebel, but he also learned quickly to avoid punishment by appearing contrite and turning himself in before he was caught. When his complaints to his parents about his experience at school fell on deaf ears, however, he also learned that he could not trust them.
Upon entering college, McCormack was introduced to a variety of religions and philosophies. There, he made an interesting observation.
“I learned that observing emotion is the difference between having an emotion and becoming that emotion, the difference between feeling panic and being panicked. Emotions, like waves, expand and contract, ebb and flow, and eventually, given time, dissipate,” he writes.
But he continued to find himself at the mercy of his emotions, which even led to him awakening face down in the pavement after crashing his motorcycle into a car. Shortly thereafter, he was accepted into the military and eventually offered a three month contract with the Department of Defense. Later, on a trip to Mexico, he made a prolific discovery.
“During this trip, the universe had conspired to help me understand the paradox of freedom. I was free to choose among many options but was free only until I did – once committed, I was on a path. By the same token, if I refused to choose, I was also not free – I would be committing to a directionless life. I realized that, at some point, we all commit, whether we want to or not, and that commitment did not have to be a trap. I was happy and excited. I wanted to commit to something and I had now figured out what that something was,” writes McCormack.
When his plans to achieve a doctorate degree were derailed, McCormack was forced to shift gears and graduate with a master’s in social work.
“As it does to everyone, life had presented obstacles. And, like most people, I had learned to adapt, move and counter-move, sometimes going backward to get ahead, but never losing sight of my goal,” writes McCormack.
Working as an inpatient therapist, McCormack uncovered the horrors of managed care.
“What got to me, and I hope to you too, is that all this horrid behavior says something about us human beings, and it applies to all of us,” he writes.
McCormack later found himself struggling with his own marriage, looking to his wife to soothe all of his ailments. At the same time, he began to feel less and less connected to her.
The problem was not that he was not connected to his wife, but that he was not connected to himself.
“To have any hope of securely connecting with another I had to become more secure within myself. I had to accept my ultimate aloneness and individuality in the world; I had to stay on the road toward independence, to never be willing to lose myself again by giving myself up to the thrall of another,” he writes.
When he became a grandfather and began reflecting on his life, McCormack found joy in the precious, yet fleeting moments.
“Be true to yourself and manifest yourself truly – have genuine relationships with all who are important to you, warts and all, if you want a guaranteed way to keep growing,” writes McCormack.
Part memoir and part self-help book, Hatching Charlie is a fascinating tale about overcoming obstacles, wrangling with the great questions of life, and finding understanding amidst life’s many paradoxes. For anyone seeking to understand themselves more fully, it is worth the read.
Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale
Charles Creath McCormack
Softcover, 424 Pages