I love comic books and graphic novels. From childhood on, comics have grown with me, from the teenagers of Riverdale High to superheroes like Peter David‘s Incredible Hulk to complex tales of myth and biography. But I’ve never seen a graphic novel like Dan Maurer’s semi-autobiographical Sobriety. I was so moved by its story and even existence that I wanted to share a deeper cut of his insights with you, here.
Dan, what inspired you to write Sobriety?
There’s a story behind this. When I was in treatment at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota, my father had given me a copy of another graphic novel. The topic (believe it or not) was Bertrand Russell’s attempt to prove the foundations of mathematics. (That book is actually a New York Times bestseller.) I was so taken by the format of comics to show such a powerful story, that I began to wonder if anything like it existed in recovery publications. There wasn’t.
There were a lot of different mediums and styles you could have chosen to talk about this journey – why on earth did you choose to do this as a graphic novel?
Now that the book is a reality, I’m convinced all the more of the potential groundswell of comics to enter into mainstream culture. Comics are simple without being simplistic. The medium itself is actually quite old, ancient really — look at the cave drawings in France or the walls inside the pyramids of Egypt. Artwork doesn’t dumb down the subject matter any; it only makes it more accessible and entertaining. Comics rock.
Ha! In another lifetime … I like that. Yes. I initially went into ministry probably out of some innate desire to please my mother. Maybe that’s too Freudian, though. I was good at what I did back then, but being a pastor is a very lonely life. Moreover, you have to be okay with being alone, especially so in rural ministry, which was where I served in western North Dakota. But let me be honest: I abused drugs and drank, because I like to get high. That’s all there is to it in the end. I thought all the others who we see nearly constantly in the news, or friends or relatives … they were just weak. I thought I could do both. I couldn’t. So how that plays into my faith life today is that I believe that all the sh*t I got myself into was ultimately the situation I needed in life to allow me to really live, to really understand how God genuinely loves us, despite our frailties and weaknesses. Today, I’m a believer, not because I published a book, but because I believe I’ve been given a purpose and meaning to share my story. My failings also gave me a great gift, you know. It’s the gift that no one’s story — my own included — is never really finished. God alone determines that and I remind myself of this fact daily.
Are the characters in Sobriety real people you know?
Short answer: no. But some people I’ve known (and know, present-tense) probably influenced characteristics each of the characters has. You know, everyone has mannerisms. Probably I swiped a few to give the characters more depth.
I was impressed by how your characters navigated their very different spiritual backgrounds, from devout Christian to atheist to several points in-between. Do you observe these kinds of conversations happening a lot these days in AA and NA circles?
Great question, Mike. Honestly, “in the rooms” a person sees the whole gamut. In the Midwest, where I live, the spectrum isn’t as wide, I believe. However, some of the people with the deepest spiritual lives I know wouldn’t proclaim themselves as Christians. For me, that used to be anxiety causing. Nowadays, I’m more relaxed. I guess I try to see a Christ-like existence working in others, even when they, themselves, don’t know it. It’s very freeing.
What’s one thing you wished non-addicts (or at least, non-identified addicts) understood about addicts and recovering addicts?
It’s not our fault. Really. And by that I don’t mean all the crazy crap we do. No … for that we’re culpable. That might seem contradictory, but what I’m saying is that we didn’t choose our brains. If we’re really going to embrace the illness/disease concept of addiction, we have to acknowledge that the craziness that goes with it is only expected. That doesn’t mean the legal system should give us a free ride. Not at all. In my case, the legal system was probably the “bottom” I needed to shake me into understanding who I was, and who I will always be: an addict. We’d definitely need more time to explore this topic fully, but I hope people understand that the brain, too, is an organ that can get sick. It becomes well when a spiritual conversion takes place. That’s all the Twelve Steps are about, after all, an orchestrated spiritual conversion. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you began your recovery journey?
That things can get better. I was a ball of nerves when I started. I had lost almost everything. It’s hard to look up to the sky when the well seems so deep, and the water you’re standing in seems to be rising. It does get better. Sometimes we need to experience a real death to know what rising again is about. That’s painful … but it gets better. Much better!
How can interested readers (whom I think will be many by now!) find out more about you and your work?
Thank you for asking! I keep a blog of transformational stories (more than only recovery-based stories) called Transformation is Real. It’s found on my website, Dan the Story Man. I hope you’ll visit!
Dan Maurer is a freelance writer and openly lives in recovery in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His current books include Sobriety: A Graphic Novel and Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking (co-written with R.K. Kline). Dan enjoys spending time with his two boys and wife, Carol. He plays the Great Highland Bagpipes and also makes a mean latté … although not at the same time. His non-fiction writing focuses on stories of transformation and how anyone’s story is never yet finished, even in times of great struggle.