Addiction, Masculinity, Suicide, and Recovery: An Interview With ‘Before I Leave You’ Author, Robert Imbeault
Rob Imbeault is an entrepreneur, survivor of childhood sexual assault, recovering addict, survivor of multiple suicide attempts, and the author of his memoir in which he shares the intersection of these experiences. The book is titled Before I Leave You a Memoir on Suicide Addiction and Healing published by Houndstooth Press March 3rd, 2020, available from all major resellers. As the book [title] indicates, we will be discussing some aspects of suicidal thoughts. If you, listener [reader], are at risk of suicidal tendencies, please call a suicide prevention helpline and don’t listen to this interview alone.
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Listen to the recorded interview here.
Lisa M. Blacker (00:40):
Rob, thank you for joining me.
Robert Imbeault (00:43):
Thank you for having me.
Yeah, my pleasure. The story you share in your book includes topics that can be emotionally difficult to revisit. Do you have a way to prepare yourself emotionally before we begin today?
Yeah, I like to start from the now essentially kind of go backwards where I just establish that I’m at the best part of my life with a life of gratitude for every moment of joy, you know, I have two beautiful daughters and a wonderful life and a wonderful wife, just so you know that it’s a happy ending before we delve into a little bit of the darkness, which can indeed be triggering for, for many people.
Excellent. Wonderful. Thank you. As a book publisher, I advise my authors to fully understand their target audience before writing a book. You approached writing your book from a much different angle for a unique reason. Why did you write your book?
So I didn’t originally set out to write a book. I was writing a secret goodbye to the people that I love. I had decided to end my life, so I just wanted to explain to people why, because nobody, nobody knew. But once I started doing that, healing starts to creep in. I think I was able to be a bit vulnerable in writing vulnerable to the page, not to another person. So I think that that helped it turned into a form of therapy and it wasn’t. So I shared it with someone who responded with the best kind of love and support, but also said, I should share this story because she thought that it could help people. And that’s when it became about to hopefully inspire and help people.
Wonderful. It’s my understanding that addiction can develop following an emotional trigger. Tell us about your experience related.
So I think the, the major addiction happens when this memory flooded back and I mean, it wasn’t completely lost. There was a fragment of a memory I had in my entire life and that informs from some other addictions, but it wasn’t until I was met with the entire experience and memory and the smells and sounds and feelings. It all hit me at once was when it triggered everything that I was on the ground catatonic for days, with my wife at the time who helped. I didn’t want to live anymore. I just, I didn’t want to seek therapy. I didn’t want any help. I just started by left that marriage. I turned to just being as distracted as I could be. And it happened to be in clubs, started with alcohol and got quickly into ecstasy and then a bunch of complementary drugs that went with it from the outside, looking in, it looked like I’m living my best life, but really I was sort of planning to die, kind of Leaving Las Vegas style, just spending the rest of my money and just trying to overdose that time.
Are you comfortable talking about what that emotional trigger was? We haven’t said so far and I know you cover it in your book, but is that something you . . . ?
Yeah, no, I’m, I’m comfortable. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m also part of a really amazing men’s group. That’s helped tremendously. Um, and you know, the feedback from the book, you know, people have been sharing, so definitely open to being candid. I had a fragment of a memory. I had a memory where I woke up in the middle of the night and I saw what I thought was the bogeyman and it scared me and he said to shut up and go back to sleep. So I shut up and go back to sleep, although that’s not what happens. I was eight years old at the time. What did happen, I realized, well, I was just reading a book from other, um, awful story. It just all came to me. It was a man who was in that room and violently raped me.
Uh, and you know, I responded just by turning around and didn’t saying a word and the awful subsequent I, mom, mom was an alcoholic at the time. So I hid everything from her, including the bloody sheets that I took out the next morning and I remember getting in trouble for that. But I had no recollection of the memory until, you know, uh, I think it’s been six years now. I couldn’t unsee it and I couldn’t stop seeing it. So it was every time I closed my eyes, every time I interacted with someone, I was in the midst of building what has become a very large company. And I was trying to manage, you know, an 80 hour week work week with wanting to die. So partying the rest of the time and just sort of avoiding a long time and avoiding looking within, uh, avoiding, just facing what, uh, what was presented to me.
And how old were you the first time, as far as you know,
I was eight, I was 8 years old.
Eight years old. As an adult, you were a successful entrepreneur when you first had the conscious recollection of being raped as a child. Once your use of drugs and alcohol became more than recreational, how did you maintain business as usual?
You know, I hit it for as long as I thought I could. Um, my partners definitely noticed, but I thought they didn’t. But, uh, my, my partners were also—although they were the sharp, they’re work-hard-play-hard guys—they were partying as well on weekend. Um, the difference being that, you know, when they, the night it was over and they went their way. I kind of just sort of continued for days at a time. I threw myself into my work when I was sober. So that was another form of its own addiction and distraction. Over the course of months, it was definitely clear that I was becoming less effective, in my role. We hired a seasoned CEO who, you know, we went out to dinner, I described this in the book and just sort of, you know, laid it all out. You know, you’re losing trust in your partners. You know, we need to get you back on track. That was one of the many flops in the face I’m not doing right here. So I need to figure this out, but I just sunk lower
In reading your book. It seemed clear that remembering the rape experience led you to feel unlovable. To compensate you later saw multiple superficial sexual or romantic relationships. Yet you said you didn’t want to develop a committed relationship. Through all of your self-work, your therapy at all, what have you learned about why survivors of childhood sexual assault often have, consecutive unhealthy relationships, and how did you break that trend in your own life?
Definitely a lot of, a lot of keys, and a lot of puzzle pieces. You definitely feel unlovable and you sabotage your own relationship, or you seek out, you know, to repeat what you really don’t deserve. You seek out negative experiences and relationships. I chose or happens upon, um, MDMA, ecstasy was my drug of choice. And it changed things for me, I guess it’s even used now, or, you know, being experimented with therapy for PTSD. I think in doing that, A) it helped me envelop what I was going through and, and those memories and B) I mean, it withdrew those limitations, you know, I never had any luck in a good, solid love relationships or any, any sort of good, you know, positive sexual relationships, but the drugs opened you up to you don’t feel limited. You can be yourself and I didn’t care as well.
So I said, you know, I’m just going to kill myself anyway, so I can do what I wanted to do that way. I found an amazing therapist who helped guide me. She was like a dual PhD, just incredibly, proudly brilliant woman who just called me out on my own bullshit. And then I decided to be raw and honest, and she was able to really disseminate what I was going through and organize it. And she wasn’t prescriptive. She was okay with me taking MDMA. And she’s like, you know what, just you do it if you need to just down why you’re doing it, which is, I think part of her genius at the time, I didn’t realize it. Cause I sort of carte blanche energy. It says, I’m now, okay, I’m sad or I need to go out and I want to do something.
Why do I want to do this? And more often than not, I just, I stopped, you know what, I guess I don’t really need to do this. You know, I, I feel like shit, I want to go out. I don’t want to be myself. And I take, you have to look within at those moments. When, so I, I ended up asking myself why I wanted to take drugs that night. And I decided not to, after asking myself, well, just so you know, you don’t really need to this time. . .
Ah, so you didn’t use, okay.
RI (09:35) I mean, it’s no fun when you’re allowed, for one thing, I’m asking myself here, I’m like, why am I doing this? Because I’m trying to capture the catastrophic thoughts, how she always put it, um, before, and in the same way, if I felt like I’m attempting suicide, it’s like, okay, I need to end my life right now. When you get those thoughts, try to, you know, what your body feels like physically feeling and what thoughts have led to this, what series of thoughts. So let’s go and just, yeah, I, I didn’t realize that at the time, but it was a way of slowing me down. It was a way of, you know, self-examination.
Was that the beginning of recovery?
Yes, yes. It definitely was. I could, I was toying with it, but I know that, you know, after having written for a few months and then like interviewing a bunch of therapists and finally finding someone that I could confide in, that I trusted, um, I knew I didn’t, I acknowledged it, but I was just sort of like, I guess I’m trying to heal, although I still was going out on those benders, you know, uh, I think maybe, maybe the chemical part played, you know, played a role.
Yeah. Can we talk about fear? If I read right, you had such a close relationship with fear that you named it and gave it a persona. And when did you recognize that fear was such an important character in your life?
When I was writing, when I was writing the book, looking back and, you know, I described going to bed as a kid and I was terrified to go to bed, you know, looking back now I know why, but I was, I thought I was going to die. I was terrified that my mom left me alone in that room that something was going to happen and I was going to die. And, um, every single night I’d stay up for as long as I could, until finally I realized I’m falling asleep and I had to accept it, accept that, you know what I’m, I’m just, I’m just going to die. So, um, goodbye world, I was just sort of like, that’s an every night thing, which is terrible to look back at. And that fear informed who I was in school. Um, you know, definitely wearing it as a sign almost. And, you know, “please kick me” and the bullies certainly did in elementary school and in high school, it was even was very, it was pretty vicious in fact, the cycle, right? So putting out there that I’m afraid for this, you know, the, the strong kid beat me down and I’m more afraid and they’ll beat me down more and I hate myself because I’m being afraid. So I, it’s just not a great cycle to be in.
Did you experience that before the rape, was the bogeyman present before the rape or was that just as a result of the actual experience?
I feel that I was a much different kid back then. I have like positive memories of both parents. I remember singing, just walking and singing. I, I mentioned in like the end of the book that I have all of my report cards and they just drop off, you know, at that age, you know, it goes from being, you know, bright, engaging, always participating in class to daydreaming has no interest, not doing work, not, showing up sometimes. So it was like, all classes had the same remarks. Mom was struggling. She expressed a lot every night, you know, she kept, she kept me close. We were poor, but I think we had a decent connection. After that, I think it just, I just turned as it turned into a completely different kid.
Yeah. Your parents were, um, separated or divorced when you were quite young, you lived with your mom and visited dad on summers and Christmas. Is that right?
RI (13:25) Yeah.
LMB (13:26) Yeah. Tell us about your relationship with your father
On father’s day, no, less! I remember being excited to go visit him. We were pretty poor and a small steel town and my father lives in the big city and I got to go see him and his big house, you know, and that’s at least I thought it was a big house back then, you know, I’d say he’s probably middle class, but it was fancy for me. And he was, I think I’m excited to see my dad after not seeing him for six months. So actually being there, you know, he was very much a workaholic he’s very, you know, driven executive and in very competitive space, it was like military. There was very, very, very strict. And when I moved there, you know, mom couldn’t handle me. I was getting a little out of hand and I ended up living with him when I was 15.
And he was going from being able to do anything to being able to do nothing. It was just permanently grounded until I got my grades up somehow, but not, not showing me how. Our relationship was kind of tough. And then I got into more trouble as a teen, and I stole a car, and I left home and I got into some more trouble, I got arrested. I can feel his disappointment and it didn’t seem like he wanted to participate in our relationship anymore. And it’s been up and down, even, even now, it’s kind of up and down.
I’m thinking about in terms of expressing masculinity, your father was rather traditional as far as rules of manhood. It’s my understanding. Um, can you talk a little bit about that and how you felt as far as, uh, whether or not you were able to express yourself into, especially after the rape?
RI 3 (15:19):
Never really put those two together, but I guess when, when I was there, it was very much, he was very alpha male in the sense that he was successful. He had nice things. He was always with like his current wife was generally, always younger than him and I actually in my early teens would, I was into break dancing. So I’d want to wear a handkerchief on my knees and, you know, dance on some cardboard. And he came home and just, he just looked at me and said—and come over and like slap me in the back of the head and—”take that fucking thing off your, your knee. You look like a faggot.” Um, and I know that there was definitely homophobia from, you know, the time when he was dating my mom, um, uh, with a story that she told me about.
Speaker 3 (16:11):
She only me about recently, I didn’t know, back then, but there was a lot of homophobic remarks back then. And then he ended up cheating on his wife. So this is the male role model for me in my life. Right. And I revered him, right. I’m at home and child. And I see this, you know, strong, successful, very decided confident, you know, man, quote unquote man. And, but he was also verbally abusive, sometimes physically abusive with both myself and his wife. So that, for me, that, that was the role model and that having delved into masculinity and just, you know, come to the history of masculinity, it’s just, that’s the toxic part I find right now. So that’s, and I’m learning more every day in terms of masculinity, how to be a man would be those things right: Successful, earn the things, earn the young wife, dominate aggressively.
Well, and then you became successful in business and you had lots of women. So you accomplished those aspects of masculinity that were demonstrated to you.
Yeah. It didn’t bring happiness, shockingly. That is, I think when the memory came back, um, I had all the things I did all the work, you know, I had a beautiful life, the cars, all the stuff. And I was a little bit comfortable that I knew, but I was incredibly unhappy. And, and I think that my body just ready to show me why.
Wow. So you talked about your therapist telling you to basically giving you permission to use, but, you know, Hey, understand why you’re using and, and, and write about it. What other components do you think were helpful in your recovery?
Well, I mean, I started dating one woman during my downfall and, you know, she was struggling with challenges of her own. We were together and we got high and we traveled and we got high and she was trying to get us to stop. And I eventually broke it off with her and she was very adamant. She just texted me. I’m not. And I cheated on her before I broke up with her. And she said, you know what? I’m not, I’m not angry. Um, I can’t just turn love off. I still love you, but you have to know that you’re — and you need help. She just really responded with compassion, you know, more than anger or being vicious. And I decided to go for a drive essentially. And, um, she wanted to come with me and, uh, so I let her come with me and we weren’t, you know, together, but I ended up driving.
We ended up driving for six days and we went down to Walden pond ’cause I was a huge, you know, a Thoreau fan. And during that drive in the pond—I describe it in the book—and I decided, you know, I don’t really want to die sort of changing things around. Um, I asked her to marry me and she says, okay, but you’re getting rid of, you know, the condo downtown, we’re going to move to the suburbs. We’re gonna stop. And I said, okay. She introduced meditation into our lives, which I went in kicking and screaming, which is funny, now. I just, you know, my, according to my app, I just had finished a thousand sessions and I know I didn’t record them all. So I’ve done quite a few. The reason I bring my wife up is because I didn’t do a 12 step program.
Um, but I had a sponsor. I know I had someone who, you know, we went from each other’s enabler to each other’s cheerleader. I had a sponsor and through meditation, I found spirituality. I really fell deeply in love with, with Buddhist practice and learning, you know, the tradition. You’re really starting to love myself. That was a big thing. You know, I’ve got this passage by Sharon Salzberg who says, people say, you should love yourself, but don’t show you how. And I just sort of realized, I need to learn how, and I was about 70 pounds overweight. So you got back to the gym, lost. It, just got into good shape, just really respecting my body. So yeah, like I didn’t do a 12 step program, but I think I check off all the boxes. I tried to make amends to friends that I definitely ostracized and treated poorly. I’ve rekindled some friendships, actually the book rekindled two friendships, very, very clear, which was wonderful. I just was vulnerable. And I that out and said, listen, you know where I was, um, when this happened. So yeah. So there, there was a lot, ’cause there’s no secret to healing or there’s just so many, it’s all of it. There’s so many, so many aspects to it.
And how did you begin to forgive yourself so that you could get to that self love?
I, again, I bring in my wife because, and recently I asked her, I’m like, “why the hell did you stay?” And she just says, “’cause that’s what you do. You stay.” Um, when you love someone, you stay, I’m getting teared up just thinking about it too. We wanted her life, her family—both her parents—take care of mentally disabled adults. And there are some challenges there in group homes and stuff. And you know, once, once they, once they have them, they have to show them that they’re going to stay no matter what, cause that helps their healing. Right. They’re going to act out that’s okay, we’re going to stay. I think that was instilled upon her. And so she just had that, um, you know, that moral courage and, uh, and state and definitely grateful she did cause we have two beautiful daughters now.
Wonderful. Okay. So I know that you didn’t set out to write a book, but once you wrote your book, how did you figure out that it would be helpful for others to read? How did you come to decide, okay, now I’m going to actually have somebody edit this and actually publish it?
Funny story. My, my wife gifted me a memoir writing course I, um, that was being taught by an award winning author here in our city who actually lives about an hour North. She drove in and I took this course and there about my book and just decided I’ve just read chapters. You know, everyone took turns reading their work and I would just read chapters of the book and she absolutely loved it. She said, this is a beautiful, publishable book. Would you like to work on it together? And she edited it. She helped me the editing process as a youngster, you know, it can be completely revealing. She would read it that my first draft kind of poor Laurie. She would just be like, ah, I’m going to scream. If I have to read you how you described women in your book. And that was a wake-up call because I often joke.
I’m like she made me a better writer, but she made me a much better person. Because if I’m writing that, if I’m describing, describing women like that, am I thinking about women like that? And of course, a part of it is being a novice writer and not knowing how to write characters at that point. So she helped with that with all that. But it definitely is a, is a wake up call to how am I thinking about people? You know, if I’m describing them that way, writing about them and writing about characters helped me look at how I look at people and it’s, it’s been, uh, an evolution for sure.
Wonderful. I would like to know your perspective on who should read this book.
Anyone who is dealing with these thoughts. I mean, anyone who’s gone through any sort of trauma and is struggling. I think because when I decided to write a book, I decided to read as much as I could and reading other people’s stories helped me so much. I think also people who fear their loved one are going through this or any sort of, you know, suicidal ideation, um, cause you can help learn how to, to give a safe space, maybe help direct, you know, and talk. And yeah, I think also those who just want to hear a good story, um, you know, sort a messed up story, you know, but the happy ending.
I’d like to tell you another group of people, this book can help. Um, I read it. I really, I had a difficult time reading it because it was so real. And because I’ve experienced some of the things that you’ve described in this book, one of the ways I saw myself in the book was as one of the women at the clubs. What I learned from your book about myself is the men who were doing things like you were, were not doing them because of me. The way that you treated the women then was not about the women. And, um, it was because of the position that you were in, in your head and your experience, in your emotions and uh, you know, on your journey in general. What I gleaned from that for myself is those experiences where I was one of the women in that scenario had nothing to do with me. It also, it also then encouraged me to, Hey, maybe it’s time to write a memoir.
Yeah. I think we all should. Okay. We definitely all should. It sounds like, it sounds like it would be a good one as well. Yeah. I think everyone should definitely write that memoir. Um, it’s amazing. I talk about, well, you’ve tried that, but how almost everybody in those clubs, you know, has something going on. There’s a reason why they were there. (LMB – Right) Like every single person, I think it’s, it’s deeper than we play it out to be in those positions. For sure. And everyone has showed that too. Like there’s the one that actually the ___ on the book and I showed it to the party friends and they’re just like, yeah, yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s just, it’s just kind of shocking.
So what’s next for you? You’ve come a long way in your healing and you are happily married and you have two daughters. What’s next for you with your writing.
Well, I took on the columnist job at Good Men Project. You know, I’m really enjoying that. I want to keep myself honest, just like keeping myself writing. Um, I’m also I’m at, um, uh, Harvard extension school just, I never got a degree. So, um, going back to do slowly, get a degree, hopefully really like to chase journalism. It’s something that I wanted to be a part of. You know, some of the best writers are journalists. Then I want to learn what you’re doing. I wanna learn how to interview and tell the truth in so many ways. I’m really interested, uh, as you know, masculinity typically in gender and sexual orientation. And, but right now everything has kind of taken a back seat to Black Lives Matter movement. I just, I just feel it’s different or maybe I’m just treating it differently. Um, and I just want to explore that as much as possible and support that as much as possible. So I think it’s the right time.
What is your involvement with black lives matter?
I mean, other than supporting, um, black lives, like, uh, supporting my friends and I want to give platform to as many people as I can to, to, to work some things out. Um, there’s a YouTube show that just started. I think Matthew McConaughey was one of the guests, uh, called uncomfortable conversations with a black man. Um, when I shared my black lives matter article with you, I got a response on my social media from a black woman friend of mine, you know, at the end of it, it said, you know, how can you help? And she said, “can we also add, become uncomfortable, look at yourself, warm and, and truly uncomfortable and have those difficult conversations with yourself and with others.” And I love, I love that. I just sort of stared at it and, uh, that’s what I started to do. So I started, you know, recording, doing conversations with friends that know me and friends that don’t know. I think I’ll have a mutual friend of ours, a PhD. I’m going to ask him to have a conversation, fairly prominent CEO. Who’s gone through something and give them platform and ask them awkward questions and try to educate myself and try to educate everyone else that either reads or sees it.
Excellent. And just for clarification, in case somebody is listening and hasn’t seen a photo of you, you are a white man, correct?
Oh yeah. Middle-aged white man wants to be a part of the solution.
All right. Excellent. Excellent. Thank you. Okay. I’ll look forward to reading more about your conversations with black people and supporting them in black lives matter. I just want to say, I think it’s interesting. You talking in your book about how you hate the cold and the last column that you wrote was about the ice man and your experience doing that program. How did you get involved in that?
With Wim Hof? I got up with self-improvement and I, yeah, I heard it. Yeah. Well, like I saw, I had heard about Tim Ferriss podcast and I’m saying, I’m gonna try this cause I know I hate this so much. So if you can make your strength, your weakness or your, um, you know, you, and like one of the, one of the elements was it changes your mood, right? Uh, when you go through the cold and you force yourself to go through cold, you know, I would, you’ve definitely have to read it cause you probably had a copy editor, but I was like convulsing. Um, I was so cold because Hey, we’re in Canada and in the winter, you know, the water goes through the permafrost. It gets really, really cold. And then you get out of the shower and it’s still cold because it’s winter, but you get through it cause you know, your body responds. So yeah, I ended up loving it. I’d love it. My wife does it every day. You can hear her scream house. It’s hilarious.
Oh my, okay. Is there anything else you would like to tell the listeners, whether about your book or about what else, whatever else is going on with you? What’s your, what’s your primary website?
Oh, uh, BeforeILeaveYou.com.
Okay. Is that your preference for selling the book, uh, to, to go to that site first or directly to Amazon?
Well, yeah. Cause some people don’t like Amazon I’m discovering. Yeah. That gives options and all the online retailers have access to it now.
Okay. Wonderful. Yeah. Rob, thank you very much for talking with us today about your book and your life and recovery. I wish you great success with this book and also with, with life,
Thank you so much for having me, it’s a great conversation.
This content is sponsored by Robert Imbeault.
This interview was recorded on Father’s Day 2020. The audio has been edited lightly to remove non-words (um, uh), long pauses, and stammers; the full conversation remains intact. The transcription was rendered digitally by Rev and edited by Lisa M. Blacker.
Photos courtesy of the author