Acts of Compulsion


Acts of Compulsion

Unmasking the Allure of the Illicit

By David Guy

March/April 2004


If I'd had to give one reason for going to a therapist, the three times I did that in my twenties and thirties, it would have been the same every time: my stomach hurt. The pain wasn't an ulcer: I had an X-ray to check. It wasn't gastritis, though one doctor diagnosed it, starting me on antacids and eventually suggesting that I follow a bland diet, the hapless suggestion doctors often made in those days. I was an established writer at that point, with two novels to my credit and another on the way. I was married and had a young son, though my marriage was starting to unravel. My wife complained that I wasn't really there with her, didn't understand her problems, tried to solve them with my head instead of feeling them with my heart. I was also increasingly tormented by sexual compulsions, the one way I was able to feel. But the event that sent me back into therapy was a friend's unexpected illness.

The novelist Reynolds Price had been my writing teacher in 1966, my first year at Duke University. Ever since then, he'd been my primary writing mentor. But in the early '80s, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his spine. Surgery removed half of it, but over time, Reynolds began to feel a numbness in his legs, then to lose feeling in them altogether. Paralysis seemed to be creeping up his body. I thought he was dying.

I'd met Reynolds just 18 months after my own father had died, and he'd fathered my writing career, one of the things in my life that was most…

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