by Michael Gershe
I owe you an apology. I have written two blogs and never introduced myself to you, which I will do now with this blog. I think if you know me, what I will write in the future may make more sense if you knew my background. One of the first things I learned in my Speech class was to “know my audience” which I do for when I write or speak in front of a group, but how often does the audience know the author? I have a much different background than the other contributors on this great site, so without further ramblings, here I go.
My name is Michael Gershe and if you go by MADD, I am a victim and survivor of a drunk driving incident that killed my mother and nearly myself when I was barely eight weeks old. Just about every bone in my body was broken, my skull completely fractured and yet, here I am, a month short of my 42nd birthday. My mother was 28 when she died due to a drunk driver. She never got to know her son.
I purposely wrote MADD’s definition because all to often other people or groups like to define use. Let me be very clear on this issue, I HATE being defined by someone else. Even though I understand their rationale, I despise being called a victim, because to me a victim is weak and cannot overcome an adversity or an obstacle in their life. I cherish the word survivor though because that is what I have become over the years despite the injuries I suffered at the hands of a drunk driver. Survivors accept the challenge to overcome anything they are faced with and to me that is who I am.
I grew up to become a competitive swimmer, even earning a swimming scholarship to college. I never really applied myself to school, even though I was bright, I had a tendency to be lazy. I was blessed with a great sense of humor, which was evident as I could always make people laugh. When I was a teenager, I performed magic and then when I was 18, I did stand-up comedy for the first time. My sense of humor as I discovered was my defense mechanism and it controlled just about everything I did. Whether it was dealing racists people in college to daily life stressors, I felt my humor kept me alive.
In college, I had an internal battle with myself on why I was alive and my mother dead. I was 18 and finally thinking about my own mortality and thinking about life. Despite my happy go lucky outward appearance, I was angry with the man who killed my mother, I was angry with God, but swimming and my humor got me through it. I wasn’t an angry person, just conflicted internally. I read Og Mandino’s “The Choice” and I got a better perspective on life. I feel that if you are grasping for answers to your questions, something out there will eventually help you see the light.
It was shortly after reading the book I realized that anger takes up way too much energy. I didn’t think my mother would want me to be angry or vindictive against the drunk driver either. I became a Peer Educator in college and for the first time, shared my story with an audience. My friends knew my story, but never total strangers. . I believe that we all have a calling and now I was on the path to mine. I just didn’t know it at the time.
While I was in graduate school, one of my students in the student organization I advised asked me to put together a fun alcohol awareness program for her sorority. I called it “The Magic of Life” because back then I was still doing magic and used magic to symbolize some of the dangers associated with alcohol. I used magic, humor and my story for a program that I hoped could make a difference. That first show was in either fall 1994 or spring 1995 and it was the start of an amazing journey of impacting lives.
I no longer perform magic, but “The Magic of Life” combines comedy, audience participation and my personal story for an entertaining, but educational show about the dangers of alcohol. It is about a son who is not a victim, but a survivor who overcame a tragedy to make a difference in people’s lives. People laugh, cry and hopefully leave with a better sense of life as a whole, not just what alcohol can destroy in life. More importantly, it is about a mother’s child trying to be a son that she can be proud of.
So, how does this relate to you or this site? Easy, we are survivors and we live each day to make a difference. We should not allow others define us, but how we define ourselves. I cannot relate to you in terms of what you have to do to keep your sobriety, but I definitely understand what it is like to be a survivor and live life wholeheartedly. I understand what it is like to hit rock bottom where you want to end it all, but yet, we don’t because we are fighters.
To me, making someone laugh is a dream come true. Every day I hear someone’s laugh, it reminds me how precious life is and how awesome it is to hear it. To talk to an audience member after a show or get an email from them about how my life impacted them is an amazing experience. I never knew that when I developed the program all those years ago, it would be what it is today.
I always say that if I can make one person walk out of my show think differently about their life or view on alcohol or drunk driving, the my job is done. Whether I speak in front of 40 or 4,000 people, I just need one to hear the message. I am honored that I was asked to be a contributor for this site and I hope I can reach just one person so you understand just how precious your life is and that one day I can also hear your laugh.
So, that’s enough about me…….