In the wake of a very challenging year for her, radio talk show host and celebrated therapist Dr. Laura Schlessinger ended her long-running syndicated radio show and has recently launched a new program on XM/Sirius radio. Renowned for her frank style, Dr. Laura is back with a new book with a more personal approach than ever before. In “Surviving a Shark Attack (On Land),” Dr. Laura speaks candidly about overcoming betrayal and gives advice on how to grapple with the feelings of emotional hardship that accompany that experience. Here’s an excerpt.
There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it is senseless. —W. Somerset Maugham
I have written twelve adult books. The genesis of each and every one of them was the sense I got on my radio show of what was happening in our society that I felt a driving need to respond to. This is true from my first publication, “Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives,” almost a decade and a half ago, to the most recent, “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms,” with “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” somewhere after the middle.
This book is different. This book is about betrayal and its aftermath. The genesis of this book is my personal rage. This book was to be — when I conjured it up early in 2009 — an act of revenge. I have always said on my radio program that I absolutely adore the concept of revenge ... and I mean that with every fiber of my body. It is just nigh impossible to exact revenge without being immoral, illegal, or fattening. Damn.
I love the short story by Edgar Allan Poe entitled “The Cask of Amontillado.” Here’s a taste of my desire from his first paragraph: “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled — but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”
One of my betrayers is dead — and that makes me mad. I wish him alive and well so that he can experience the profound pain of knowing that his attempts at assassination ultimately failed, and I prevailed. Imagine ... being angry enough to wish someone alive versus dead! He was once a mentor and — I thought — a dear friend. I did realize his insecurities were a major part of his personality, but he’d been kind and supportive and was quite witty and interesting. I was in my twenties, with not much life experience to make me more wary. As he aged and his career waned, he turned mean. To jump-start renewed media awareness of him, he trotted around to radio programs and so-called journalists to say disgusting things about me and sold thirty-year-old pictures of me in the nude to Hustler. The photos with a sweet expression and bottom covered were indeed me, but disgusting pictures appropriate for Hustler, bottom uncovered, were manufactured. These pictures are all over the Internet and will be so for the rest of my life. That betrayal keeps on giving.
"Saturday Night Live" used a comedian to play my minor son discovering these photos.
In real life, my son had to deal with this in school.
This book is in part autobiographical, but as I will not “be betrayed and tell” by naming names. However, I intend to be reasonably open about my experiences and the pain they caused. While the motivation for this book was my own accumulated and finally exploded pain and fury, the ultimate goal of these writings is to commiserate with you all, as there is no one out there who hasn’t experienced betrayals that have resulted in humiliation, pain, and loss of reputation, employment, family, or friends, as well as physical illness resulting from the stress.
Betrayal seems to be a universal and eternal reality of the nature of human beings. We barely get into Genesis when one brother, in a fit of sibling rivalry over a perception of God’s favor, kills the other brother. Biblical human history starts with Eve betraying God and suckering Adam into a bite of forbidden fruit. Adam then betrays Eve by throwing her under the bus, making her take responsibility for his action in munching where he shouldn’t.
Whether or not you look at biblical writings as history or metaphor, we are left with the same conclusion: betrayal seems an inevitable, vicious, devastating, horrific part of the human condition.
I was sitting one summer day with my dear friend Sheridan Rosenberg while she was relating to me a gut-wrenching situation of betrayal by a girlfriend she was attempting to survive. She said, “There is a reason Dante made betrayal the deepest level of hell.”
I had completely forgotten that, and I quickly went to my library. The ninth (and deepest) circle of hell is where sins of betrayal are punished, in a sea of ice fanned frigid by the six wings of the huge, three-faced, fanged and weeping Lucifer! In Dante’s underworld, sinners face a descending vortex of horrendous consequences for all eternity depending on their sins. The lustful are perpetually blown about in a whirlwind; the violent boil in a torrent of blood. But betrayers alone are at the bottom, forever tormented by the angel who betrayed God: Lucifer.
At first, assuming there is such a postlife format, I was thrilled to imagine that the people who betrayed my trust, friendship, affection, and loyalty would have to wear thick mittens forever. Then I wondered why betrayers would be the most tortured ... even more than murderers.
I concluded that betrayals are frightening, destructive, painful, humiliating, demoralizing, and so very, very hard to repair. Betrayals undermine people, relationships (marriages and families), institutions (churches, schools, businesses, government, politics) — everything. The entire fabric of humanity depends upon people depending upon each other for their word, honesty, and loyalty.
Perhaps when a person is betrayed, it is worse than death. In death they no longer suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous antagonisms. While betrayed, they live to suffer the torturous consequences of the betraying. Think about most “scary movies” in which evil is shown resurging (unbeknownst to the protagonists who have struggled to conquer and destroy it). Evil has a lot of power and resilience.
Yes, evil has immense power — and betrayals are evil — because evil has no rules of engagement. Evil has no morals or values to monitor or measure its actions, evil enjoys recognizing the pain it has caused, evil feeds off confrontation, and evil persists ultimately because most people won’t stand up to it. Worried about being next in the crosshairs, they deny the existence, potency, or significance of a betrayal because it hasn’t touched them — yet.
So it is the fear, weakness, selfishness, and cowardice of onlookers that permits evil behavior to persist.
Both justice and vengeance are difficult to attain. We can’t count on “What goes around comes around,” or any such palliatives. Open any book on religion, psychology, and philosophy, and you will read sublimely mushy stuff about making friends out of enemies. I can’t for the life of me conjure up the desire to become intimate with and trust people capable of cold-blooded, calculated, destructive, hateful meanness. That just makes no sense to me — unless it is to beguile them into submission by imagining a friendship that is there only out of expediency or self-defense.
So what do we do with those who have crossed the line of disagreement or disapproval into blatant ugliness? That is a quandary that’s been debated since the beginning of human beings.
Life is what it is. If you venture into the world, there are those ready to attack—especially if you are or are doing something special. I absolutely hate that this is a truth of life. But that truth doesn’t care if you and I hate it — we still have to face it.
Venture into the ocean, and you might become victim to a shark who is hungry or feeling threatened by your presence or is just doing what it is genetically programmed to do: attack and consume. The shark may take a bite into you and remove a limb or reveal your innards, and then swim off, not thinking a thing about it. However, the smell of blood brings other sharks to feed in a frenzy of excitement — leaving nothing of you other than the memories of you cherished by your loved ones.
Sharks have no remorse, no morality, no sense of fairness, no concern about the consequences of their actions — as long as their instinctive needs are satisfied.
I find that there are a lot of human beings who are just like that — hence the title of this book.
So, then, what do we do to survive shark attacks ... on land?
Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins, from “Surviving a Shark Attack (On Land),” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Copyright © 2011 by Dr. Laura Schlessinger.