Mike Henneberger – Climbing Up From Rock Bottom

Rock bottom. It’s a scary concept – feeling as though you’re at the lowest point possible in life.

Mike Henneberger knows this feeling all too well.

A music industry veteran who has played in multiple bands, and has contributed to a litany of publications and websites, he’s also an Army veteran, who like many of his peers, suffers from depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder.

Even with pop punk and emo constantly playing in his headphones, Henneberger has always believed in, and sought out, the kind of big movie love sold to us in John Cusack films.

All of these sides of himself are on full display in his first book, Rock Bottom at the Renaissance – An Emo Kid’s Journey Through Falling In and Out of Love In and With New York City.

Set in a hotel room Henneberger won a stay in back in 2011, the book is a telling of unrequited loves, loves lost, and extreme bouts of depression, and overconsumption, with some of his favorite songs serving as the accompaniment for each chapter.

I caught up with Henneberger to talk about the book, including why he waited until now to release it, the fears he had regarding some of the biggest revelations inside its pages, and the unexpected undercurrent of hope some readers have found in it.

After you completed Rock Bottom at the Renaissance, and read it over, what were your initial thoughts on what you were about to put out into the world?

The first time I re-read it was years before it came out. I probably finished writing it in early 2014. It was started in 2011. The weekend in the hotel room was 2011, and most of it got written in there.

I put it aside for a long time because I didn’t decide to go into that headspace that weekend in the hotel, it just happened, and there was no way anybody with even the little bit of sanity I had at that time in my life would consciously decide to go into that headspace, and that was the only way I could finish that book, by getting back into that dark headspace, and that scared me. I didn’t want to go back to that, so the book didn’t get finished for a while. It didn’t even look at again for probably a year, at least.

After I finished it I wasn’t in a much better place in my life – I was still a single guy in New York looking for that missing piece.

I didn’t really think I was putting (the book) out. I was too scared to put it out, to let people know who I was, because that was still who I was when I finished it. I was still dealing with that stuff. I was still dealing with my depression and anxiety. I mean, I still do today, but (I’d been) treating it in unhealthy ways, and I was afraid to let people know that.

Then I met my wife later in 2014. We started dating, and I was scared of what she would think of it, and I was scared of what her family would think of it, because her family is so great, and they’ve all always supported me and the things that I’ve done.

The reason it’s coming out now is because maybe in like 2015 I read it again, and for the first time I saw the person in the book as someone else. I had gotten healthier enough that I was disconnected enough from that person in the book.

So it almost felt more like you were reading a novel versus reading your own memoir.

Yeah, and I remember this so clearly – I used to live in Bushwick, and I was reading it on the rooftop of our apartment, and I remember it hitting me, because I was so disconnected from it I could view it as just a guy who has depression and anxiety reading this book about some other guy with depression and anxiety. It was the first time I’d looked at it that way, and I thought holy shit, this is really good. I’m taking it in, and I’m seeing this other person who’s dealt with this, and I think it’ll really help other people who deal with this.

It doesn’t matter what this does to me, there are people this could help, and that’s more important. Even if it helps two people, that’s one more than it might hurt, which is just me.

That’s not entirely true.

I hope it doesn’t hurt anybody that’s in the book. I don’t think it will.

Is there concern about people who are in the book picking it up and reading it?

The biggest fear for me was the prostitute chapter, because of my wife, and there’s a chapter in there about a girl named Megan, and my wife’s name is Megan, and it’s not about my wife.

(My wife) told me early in our relationship that she wasn’t concerned with pasts, and didn’t want to talk about it. That’s the whole thing with the book for her, she just didn’t want to know about it.

That was the biggest fear for me, that I’m gonna have to talk to my wife about a prostitute chapter, and I’m gonna have to tell my wife there’s a Megan chapter that’s not about her. Those were the biggest issues for me.

You never thought of changing the name?

I couldn’t because of the song.

Oh, that’s right, the song you have associated with it in the chapter title.

The girl’s name, she’s the only name I didn’t change of all the girls in there, but she did spell her name weirdly, she doesn’t spell it Megan.

But I think the girls in the book don’t come off bad, and the one that does, kinda, in the Alkaline Trio chapter …

The work relationship where she ended up dating someone else at the same time.

Yeah. I even excuse her behavior towards the end of the chapter and say I don’t hold it against her because when I was her age – because she was 24, and I was 28 or 29 – I did a lot of stupid things, and hurt people I cared about.

I did call my dad before it came out.

After the first podcast I did talking about the book, I called him, because my wife listened to the podcast, and that’s actually how she found out about the prostitute chapter.

That’s a fun conversation to have.

I don’t know what I was thinking. It didn’t click with me until she texted me on her way to work and was like, “Prostitute chapter, huh.” She was obviously not very happy about it, but that made me realize oh shit, some other people might listen to this and I need to get ahead of it, so I called my dad because I say some things about him in the book, about how he wasn’t around when I was a kid, but I also mention how now he and I have such a better relationship than we ever had.

You know, actually, my ex-girlfriend that I mentioned in the book emailed me a couple days ago, and we hadn’t talked in four or five years.

I hope it was a good email, and not a “how dare you” email.

It was surprisingly a really great email.

I was afraid to let her know about (the book) because I knew she would be curious and get it, or be supportive and get it, and I was afraid of hurting her feelings, because she was a great person to me, and a good friend. So I was really happy that she emailed me, because I was really worried about that.

She apologized that she didn’t realize how fucked up I was back then, which scared me because I didn’t even realize how fucked up I was back then, and she told me that when she looks back at our conversations she sees the signals that she missed. That really scared me because I wasn’t aware I was fucked up back then, and had no idea that I was giving off signals to anybody. I’m not super worried about it now, because I’ve been pretty healthy, but it’s a little scary to wonder who else I was giving off signals to, and who actually caught them.

With your ever-present desire for a movie-like NYC romance, and knowing what that did to you, do you wish you’d never seen those movies, or are you glad they became a part of who you are?

I’m putting it out there, I do believe that it happens. I met my wife, and she is exactly what I believed was out there. We have an awesome marriage. We’re coming up on five years, and we can’t get enough of hanging out with each other. That’s beautiful to me.

I still believe in it. I started to fear if I’m perpetuating that whole thing, but I think it’s also OK, because you should believe in that kind of stuff. I think if you don’t believe in it then it makes it harder to find, or maybe even impossible to find.

So Epilogue: The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”

{laughs} Yeah. That’s another thing that scares me, though. It’s something that my wife and I talk about. She hasn’t read the whole book, but she knows it’s not a very hopeful book, and she and a couple other people have told me other books that are similar to it come around in the end, or are hopeful.

I think what people might expect from this book is to see a guy who goes through a hard time, and then comes out great. Some people even suggested I keep the book going to include that I’m in a much better place right now. I met my wife not long after that book, but it was long enough after … it was five years after I started the book.

It doesn’t happen fast. Life doesn’t get better in 300 pages, or in an hour and a half movie, or in a 30 minute TV show. Life doesn’t always work that way, and it didn’t for me. Every day of my life for a good five years in New York was life or death to me. These little things that seem so ridiculous now were, to me, life threatening to my messed up head.

So there’s no epilogue to that book, because the epilogue that’s positive didn’t come for years later, so going back and putting more hopeful things in it would just be a lie, and would give people a false hope that oh OK, that was shitty and scary, but it worked out.

It doesn’t work out fast enough most of the time, and I think it would mess you up even more to think like, “That guy’s life worked out right away, and mine’s not, so I’m even more fucked up.” No. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, man.

I actually feel there’s an undercurrent of hope throughout the book with the whole dream of finding The Girl. You never give up on that.

Yeah. I keep telling people that I love that I get the opportunity to do these interviews, and do podcasts, because I learn new things about the book every time I talk about it with someone. That’s one of them.

People have told me they’ve seen these undertones of hope in it, and I ask them to explain it to me, and then it makes sense.

I didn’t see it that way, (but) when you say it, or when someone tells me that, I see it, that’s true.

I didn’t know I wrote undertones of hope in it. {laughs}

You just happened to be hopeful and not even know it.

Yeah, and that’s the point, right? That’s what kept me alive – being hopeful.

I’ve told a lot of people in my life, your life can only get better if you’re alive. Don’t kill yourself. I’m fortunate enough that I didn’t die in the multiple times in my life that I could have, and I eventually made it to a point where things got better.

To check out excerpts from Rock Bottom at the Renaissance, and to order a copy, go to abergerjoint.com/rockbottombook.


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