I spent my 20s becoming a different person. How could I like the person I was when no one else did? I tried to become someone that others would accept. In many ways, I adopted a new persona. The cataclysmic event was losing my first love. Up to that point, I endured a hostile father and hostile peers. I felt validated by my girlfriend. I poured into her all my love, all my emotion. I was bare. She was my existence. Losing her was my greatest loss, and a loss that affected every relationship afterwards.
First, I went into a deep depression. It was so deep that had it lasted any longer, I would never have escaped it. One day, I realized that I was at my lowest and had to claw my way out of the pit. Shortly thereafter, I enlisted in the Navy.
In the Navy, I had the same problems with peers that I had growing up. The term “Asperger’s Syndrome” had not yet been coined. But I was on my own, with a chance for a fresh start.
Two significant things came out of my time in the service. First, I learned that 99.999% of all male aggression is bluff. Second, I got a new name. My little digression was to speak about the latter. I associated all the pain from the peer and parental bullying to my name. In school, my name drew derision. At home, I was punished for using a nickname form of my given name, as were my sisters. I hated my name. It symbolized my victimhood.
I was working as a mess cook on the USS Nimitz. Mess cooks slop the food on people’s trays, swab the decks, and do all the dirty work of the ship’s galley. It was three months of 6-day weeks of 12-hour days. At the time, I wore Navy issued black-rimmed eye glasses. I was serving food, so the steam from the trays made my hair frizzy. Someone commented, “Hey, you look like Woody Allen!” I responded with, “Don’t call me Woody!”
Of course, this picked up by my fellow mess cooks, who called me Woody. After a few days of telling everyone not to call me by that name, everyone called me Woody. This was done with intent. I liked the name, and everyone played into my hands. I’ve been Woody ever since, and even have had my name legally changed.
With a new name, it was even easier to become a different person. It also enabled me to bury the pain of my past. I wanted to put as much distance between the person I was and the person I wanted to become. In doing so, I also buried most memories of my past. But I could never escape the pain that was always with me because my wounds seeped into every relationship.