A Suicidal Pee-Soaked Thumb-Sucking Alcoholic Mini-Vampire

Lately I’ve received some emails and comments from people asking how exactly I survived my less-than-Cleaverish childhood.

First of all, I didn’t die. I’ve found that goes a very long way toward surviving.

Isn’t it weird, though, really, how much, no matter how deeply you’re suffering, you just keep not dying? You keep … stayin’ alive. You think you’re going to die; you sort of assume that your system can only take so much before it simply closes up shop. But then it doesn’t close up shop. The shop remains open! You keep breathing. You keep watching TV. You keep sleeping at night; you keep still being there when the morning sun arises.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Here are some of the ways that just how unhappy I was as a kid manifested. I didn’t think anything of this stuff at the time. To me, this was just … life.

  • I went through a long phase where every morning I would wake up on the ground beside my bed. And I’d usually be hurt. My arm would be all cranged up beneath my body somewhere, or I’d have this big gash on my shin or head where on the way down I’d cracked myself on the steel edge of my bed frame. This happened for about a year. It was so depressing. I’d wake up on the floor, try to feel which part of me I’d hurt this time, and think, “This sucks. One night I’m gonna fall on my head and snap my neck, and that’ll be that. Do I need a crib, with the bars?”
  • I used to sneak out of my room in the middle of the night and go walking everywhere. I’d wake up at about two in the morning, get dressed, quietly climb out my window, and spend a couple of hours just walking around my neighborhood in the dark. I liked the quiet; I liked the the coolness of the air; I loved being out of my psycho house. I felt like a phantom walking  around. Sometimes I’d go and, from the shadows of the darkness, watch through the windows as a man in a white apron made donuts at a Winchell’s Donut House.
  • The ceiling of my bedroom was covered–and I mean covered—with black squashed spiders. Pressed up against the outside of my bedroom window was a bamboo bush. The thing was crazy with spiders. And the screen of my window was severely bent, from my nighttime escapes. So big black spiders were forever pouring into my room. They seemed particularly fond of the ceiling. I poppled them with the butt end of my tennis racket. After a couple of years, the ceiling of my room was almost literally covered with dried squished spider bodies.
  • I used to pee on my bedroom carpet. There were few things in my world worse than leaving my bedroom to go out into the rest of the house—even just to sprint to the bathroom. My solution was to simply sometimes pee into my 70′s green-shag carpet. I think the foamy padding underneath the carpet absorbed it. It apparently didn’t smell too bad, since no one ever said anything about it. I wasn’t aware of any bad smell. But I was sort of … disconnected from my environment. I didn’t do this often. But I did it.
  • I periodically peed my bed until I was about seven.
  • I sucked my thumb until I was twelve or thirteen.
  • I used to think a lot about killing myself. I didn’t experience those thoughts as an extension of any sort of depression, but rather as intellectual curiosity. I wanted to know what happened after we died, and I didn’t want to wait to find out. So I looked into killing myself, and learned the best way was to sit in a warm, half-filled bathtub, and to cut your wrists longways, not across. So then I’d study the different knives in my house, and see which one would be best suited for the job. It was pretty clear any number of the knives in our house would do the job.
  • I started drinking in the fourth grade. I don’t know if they still make this sweet fortified wine called Ripple, but that was my original booze o’ choice. I’d steal it from the store. Sometimes—especially if I’d arranged for a girl to meet me in the middle of the night somewhere—I’d drink it during my phantom walks through the neighborhood. The father of a friend of mine used to work for an airline. By rummaging through his stuff, we’d snag all these dinky bottles of booze. I used to hide those bottles in my junior high school locker. One time I opened my locker, crammed my head and arm into it, and quickly downed such a vodka. At that moment I was student body vice-president of my junior high, and captain of a basketball team that was about to play an intramural game. I had stopped off at my locker to catch a buzz on my way to the game. As I tipped my head back in my locker, and felt the burning vodka going down my throat, I thought, “Interesting life you’re leading here, Contort-o-Boy. You’re going to have to stop drinking.” After that, I seriously cut down.

Anyway, that’s some of that stuff. And I know this all makes it sound as if, as a kid, I was a suicidal, pee-soaked, thumb-sucking alcoholic mini-vampire. And I guess I kind of was that. But mostly, weirdly, I was what I guess I would have to call psychologically, spiritually, and socially successful. My life outside of my home wasn’t just good. It was grand. It saved me, every day. Maybe I’ll later write about how and why that was.

Here’s to how we survive.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Grace

    I really really love this post! Particularly the title! Possibly because, somehow, it seems more upbeat than some of your other recent ones… though maybe it shouldn’t.

    Sometimes people who have had the hardest past ever in the whole world have the best present (present, good word!) ever in the whole world, whether it’s “karma”, or how they’ve learned to deal with there past and present. You are a prime example of one of these people.

    On a slightly different note, you are the only blogger I like to read everyday. You inspire me to deal with my issues at home and the stress of the rest of my life. You remind me that you don’t have to be a robot to be a Christian, you can be a human Christian. I’m so grateful to have your Facebook statuses and blogs! Thank you for being awesome!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wow. Thank you, Grace. I appreciate this very much.

      • Lisa Salazar

        I totally agree with Grace.

        But, phew—sometimes I’m cursed with having a very vivd, visual/graphic imagination. Reading your post today was one of those times. I’m still trying to wash the video screen inside my forehead. Does anybody know if brain Febreze is available?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Which part are you wishing you could erase? Because whichever it is, I’m sure I could add details to it that would make it much more … palatable.

          • http://lisainbc.blogpost.com Lisa Salazar

            Don’t erase anything!

            I was just visualizing the green shag carpet and the exoskeleton finish on your ceiling. Though it may not be a palatable picture, it’s the real picture that should not be glossed over. Life is grimy and raw at the best of times. Rose colored glasses are for fairytales and should not be worn to navigate with.

            I just have one question, was the shade of the shag carpet avocado green?

        • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie
          • Kim

            Love the pic Shadsie. LOL! John, the post was sort of familiar. I guess that’s why I’ve ended up here and why I “get you.” Hugs Vampire Man!

          • Lisa

            Ha-ha! That’s good.

  • LVZ

    Dear John,

    I don’t understand. If you were a suicidal, pee-soaked, thumb-sucking alcoholic mini-vampire, how did you get elected student body vice-president?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Well, for one, because I didn’t want to be president: too much exposure. So I asked my best friend if he would run for student body president; he agreed; I got us elected. And then, later, we got IMPEACHED. Turned out we were actually supposed to DO stuff.

      • Mindy

        Bwwahahahahaaa!!! Yep, there’s always a catch, dang it. :)

        You brilliant human being, you. I wish I’d been brave enough to go out into the world and heal myself back then, instead of just being pathetic. Wow.

    • Diana A.

      Actually, there are a lot of people in the world living double-lives of near complete disfunction in private while publically appearing just fine. In fact, I think that’s the norm.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ Ric Booth

    Excellent post, Mr Vice President. I remember peeing into the sump pump drain outside my basement bedroom. And I used to curl up on the concrete floor next to the warm steel of the boiler in the next room. But only when I was wet from peeing my bed and scared of being caught. This was like a stroll down memory lane, John!

    It never occurred to me to leave the house though. What a great idea.

  • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie

    Okay, the pee-thing…. my first thought was “This is what distressed dogs do.” – bespeaks a very deep, very basic distress, reverting to an animal-like behavior.

    I used to like talking walks at night where I used to live in Southern Arizona. I lived in the middle of nowhere, small neighborhood in the summer. I did this as an adult, though (even after there was a murder next door – domestic dispute). I used to take drives, too – because, in the summer in that place, nighttime is the only time of day you can go outside without having the living flesh seared off your bones.

    When I was 11, 12, I’d think of killing myself, too – or, at the very least, walking off into the desert and just “dissapearing.” I used to fight with my parents then, but it was much less home-stress and much more not fitting in at school, I think. I was picked on ever since the first grade and being the class chew-toy just really got to me around then.

    I guess I’m saying that the “weirdo” things you described doing as a kid above do strike me as weird, but not too weird. I can actually understand a few of these behaviors.

  • Mary G

    I used to roam at night too. I’d climb out my bedroom window and leave my house so my brothers couldn’t get at me. Middle of the night is still my favorite time of day: Silent, still, peaceful. I love, love, LOVE being out with the fireflies in the spring especially, and on nights of a full moon (even in winter, when there’s snow on the ground).

    This has always made holding down a job rather challenging for me, given that my favorite hour of the day is 2-3am. There’s almost never anyone up and about at that time of night. ;-)

    And I wet the bed until age 9, and started stealing alcohol at 11, smoking at 12, harder drugs by 13, had two suicide attempts by age 15. Your life seems downright normal to me! My fave place to hide was in the bottom of the linen closet, with a pillow or blanket stuffed across the crack at the bottom to block the light of my flashlight. I’d read in there where my brothers wouldn’t find me. It’s a miracle I didn’t suffocate myself.

  • Joe

    I salute you John. I had a very easy childhood in comparison. Hugs and blessing on you and yours.

  • Jeannie

    I know this wasn’t your intention – but you have single handedly removed any of my self doubts about my parenting skills. Thank you.

    Seriously – wow. My life hasn’t been easy and I had very interesting coping skills as a young person too. I must say I seemed to carry more baggage and longer then you did. In any case, congrats on being a fantastic human being anyway.

  • Donald Rappe

    This makes me understand why I don’t care to talk about so many things i did as a kid.

  • Meg

    I also used to get out via the bedroom window and walk around my yard late at night. Loved full moon nights. Once or twice, I walked around the street, but I felt a little too vulnerable and exposed out there, it was just as much fun to explore the yard at night, play in the shed, the cubby house, the garage or even just sit on the swingset and sing to myself.

    There is much in this post that strikes familiar chords with me. The fascination with death, the bed wetting, falling out of bed, being afraid to leave my own room… yeah. I relate to most of that. I didn’t take to booze, because I couldn’t get any, but I did smoke, and steal money and various other things. Coping mechanisms are interesting things.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Oh, I forgot the whole smoking thing. I started smoking when I was ten. All that kind of stuff is just … stuff kids do, mainly, I guess. And life is long, you know. If you just sort of stick with it, and stick to what you know to be true and right, you win.

  • kim

    They don’t make Ripple anymore. I think this is a great loss to society and may write to the Gallo company soon. At least as soon as this hangover goes away.

  • Debbie

    When I was seven my bedroom was a closed in front porch with a deadlocked door. I used to pee on the floor behind my bed, one day my dad’s girlfriend discovered my night toilet and she made me lick the linoleum floor clean…dust and all.

  • Wise Fairy

    My parents always said, whether talking about the hell I endured from my abusive/substance abusing (ex) husband or the way he was blindly destroying his family and career, “You’ll live right through it” (or, “he’ll live right through it”) meaning no matter what happened for me, I had to live right through it, and for him, no matter how badly he was hurting those who loved him and those whom he supposedly loved, he just kept right on a-doin’ what he felt like.


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