My college major advisor was a Ph.D. social worker, a rare thing in the '80s, less so now. She was also a hippie: not an old hippie, nor a reformed hippie, woman was flat out hippie all the way and she was committed.
She was committed to many things: living simply, justice for all, equal rights and opportunities for everyone. She had foster kids, the absolute worst of the teenaged mentally ill and criminal populations; the true throwaway kids for whom there were no other treatment or housing options. She lived her beliefs, her values. She took six months a year off from buying anything, lived in the country, grew her own food.
She also analyzed handwriting. After I graduated, Lynn moved on to do training for the State of Oklahoma. Folks would gather in some hotel in a distant corner of the state, all of the state's professional treatment teams, dressed for success and discomfort. Always a bit tardy, Lynn would sweep into the room, an explosion of color in her layered batik and tie-dyed garments. She arrived with confidence and absolute self possession, filling the room with her magnetic presence and the richly mixed aromas of patchouli and human, the human emanating from a body showered weekly, because to do otherwise was a waste of water and she lived her values every single day.
She had us at social work academy for a week and as was her wont, she delved into alternative methods of arriving at the truth about the people we would be working with in our frontline child welfare efforts. From the room full of 40 shiny new social workers, Lynn chose me and five others to write a paragraph on the chalkboard. Not knowing what would come next, I quickly completed the assigned paragraph in my less-than-elegant hand and returned to my seat.
The topic of the hour was handwriting analysis and she began to analyze the various contributors' paragraphs, going around the room, visiting the three boards, eliciting nods of agreement from the writers. Five nodders, expressing awe in the accuracy of her descriptions of their personalities, their attitudes toward life, their character. Character.
She did not analyze my handwriting, and I have wondered ever since what she saw there, in my scratching on the board. What caused her to look at my paragraph for a few moments, then turn to the class and resume teaching, this time on the subject of neurolinguistic programming.
That I've lived a wild life is no secret. I don't pretend to be anything other than a recovering alcoholic, addict, thief, cheat. As my advisor throughout college, Lynn was well aware of my past. On the inside now, as a result of AA and the steps and a persistent effort to live a spiritual life, I feel clean and wholesome and healthy. I am profane, it's true, and I can get pretty wrought up over political matters, but those were the years of George H.W. Bush. I was not a fan, but the father's failings are laughable compared to those of the son.
So what did she see? What was it in my handwriting that made her turn away? I watched her thereafter to see if her behavior with me changed. Did she seem a little more distant? Was eye contact reduced? My paranoia influenced my interpretation of her behavior and I was convinced that, in my scratchings on the board, Lynn saw something dreadful, something that even I, living in my own skin, could not see.
In some tiny dark corner of my soul, I have always feared that there is something wrong with my character, that deep down, I am not a good person, not the decent, kind, compassionate, loving woman I want to be. In the frightening world of psychiatric diagnosis, I have, at various times in my drinking/drug using years, met the criteria for diagnosis as an antisocial personality. That's the new term for what used to be called a sociopath.
The DSM-IV, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders, says this about antisocials:Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of regard for the moral or legal standards in the local culture. There is a marked inability to get along with others or abide by societal rules. Individuals with this disorder are sometimes called psychopaths or sociopaths.
1. Since the age of fifteen there has been a disregard for and violation of the right's of others, those right's considered normal by the local culture, as indicated by at least three of the following:
A. Repeated acts that could lead to arrest.
B. Conning for pleasure or profit, repeated lying, or the use of aliases.
C. Failure to plan ahead or being impulsive.
D. Repeated assaults on others.
E. Reckless when it comes to their or others safety.
F. Poor work behavior or failure to honor financial obligations.
G. Rationalizing the pain they inflict on others.
2. At least eighteen years in age.
3. Evidence of a Conduct Disorder, with its onset before the age of fifteen.
4. Symptoms not due to another mental disorder.
The key word there is three
. If the individual meets three of the criteria, A-F, along with 2-4, well, there you are: antisocial personality. The general thinking on antisocials is that they cannot be cured; that it's a personality disorder, not a mental illness.
The only out I see for my not
having a character disorder is number 4, "symptoms not due to another mental disorder." My hope is that alcoholism counts. And then I wonder why I'm even questioning this with 24 years of sobriety, with a good 20+ years of living well, with more than 15 years of living happy. Is that even possible for someone with a true character disorder? And if it's not, what the hell did she see in my handwriting that caused her to turn away?
I sent a book to a friend the other day and included a note in the package. As I quickly scribbled on a series of stickies, I had an odd sense of being exposed. What if this person I admire is also
a handwriting analysis expert? I don't think so, but who knows these days? I felt the irresistible urge to close my note by saying "don't analyze my handwriting!" I was joking ~ sort of ~ when I wrote it, thinking of Lynn's reaction to my scratchings on the board. The experience with Lynn left me feeling oddly exposed and vulnerable. It's a strange sensation to think that someone else knows more about me than I do and I don't like it.
Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever wondered whether there's some unsavory thing within you that's in complete opposition to who you are or, at least, who you think you are? Have you always lived a wholesome, productive life, always in harmony with your personal values?
Labels: handwriting analysis, navel gazing, sociopath