“Self-Immolation” by Joe Kamm
(First publication: 2015 / This edition: Create Space Independent Publishing 2015)
Taken during my morning trip to Starbucks before work. I actually find myself not dreading my 45-minute commute to/from work each day anymore because I get to spend time reading.
I want to be strong. I want to be a fighter. I want to be the hero of my story instead of the victim.
It’s easy to say. (pg.178)
The author, Joe Kamm, sent me this book about two weeks ago. I finished it a while back but my mind’s just been taking some time to process it all. It took me by surprise.
I didn’t really know what to expect. I did not know which book Joe was going to send me, when he contacted me asking if I’d be interested. I didn’t even know what the definition of “self-immolation” was until I saw it on the back cover (noun. the offering of oneself as a sacrifice, especially by burning; such suicidal action in the name of a cause or strongly held belief). Reading the back, I learned that I’d be reading a memoir about the events that would explain the front cover: a van on fire.
After the first 2-3 chapters, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it—I thought I might not enjoy it that much, to be frank. But, honestly, I ended up getting so absorbed in it and found the read so compelling. I even read
parts paragraphs of it to my boyfriend and gushed to him about how inspiring I found the story.
It’s about Joe Kamm’s story of living in a van for a year and all the events that led up to the van burning to the ground in Mexico. He goes on this wild road trip in the States—side note, it’s kind of a quirky coincidence that the last book I read was Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley in Search of America”, which is also a memoir about a road trip across the States in a van, though the story has a completely different vibe. I won’t go into tooooo much detail and spoil everything, but there are a lot of dark and gritty incidents involved—drugs, alcohol, people, etc. As I read, I just felt like he kept getting into trouble over and over again, and I kept asking, “….Why??? Why did you have to do that???” That’s why I thought I wouldn’t enjoy the story when I read the first 2-3 chapters—because I thought I’d be reading about a man who’s just recollecting his “party days” and showing off how “wild” he was—and to me, that would be “pointless” to read 200+ pages about.
I was wrong. It’s not like that at all.
He opened up this “new” issue to me: “self-destructive nature”. He kept getting himself into trouble, all the while knowing it and knowing the consequences, yet he still does it. And all of this becomes a vicious cycle, and he ended up just drifting around, trying to find a place, but knowing beforehand the the same problems are bound to happen and it’d be because of his behaviors. This “self-destructive nature” then leads to a “self-victimizing” train of thought/behavior.
I was just thinking… Lately, it feels like I’ve been seeing a lot more posts on Facebook and other social media pages about “depression” and how we should be more open and understanding about people going through that. There are also many books about it, like Matt Haig’s “Reasons to Stay Alive” (which I highly recommend) or the infamous Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, and it just feels like more and more people are aware of how “real” depression now. However, after reading Joe Kamm’s “Self-Immolation”, I now feel that “self-victimizing” is also be an issue that more people should become aware of—it’s real, it’s harmful, and it’s self-destructive. Like Haig and Plath, Kamm was also seconds away from committing suicide—but I wouldn’t really file his case under the “depression” umbrella. I think it’s an issue that probably lots of people (more than we think) suffer from, and the sooner they can talk about it and realize it, the sooner they can climb out of that quicksand and become more confident in whatever they wish to do.
I will never understand why people who have so much going for them, like you. can be so intent on ending their own life. It’s a sickness. Sometimes I feel like people who grow up without any major obstacles to overcome end up becoming their own obstacle. Everyone needs a mountain to climb. You are definitely your own mountain, Mr. Kamm. (pg.161)
That’s why I think Joe’s story is very inspiring. He was able to change his life around, by realizing that things have to change for his own sake. For this reason, I would highly recommend this book to everyone—it’s an emotional and inspiring read. It moved me, and I applaud Joe Kamm for being strong enough to change and for writing this book to get his message out to others.
Also, I enjoyed the way the story is told too. There are two big “events”, and they’re interwoven, kind of like flashbacks. I find his story so moving and thrilling—I was at the edge of my seat, curious to find out what kind of crazy incident/place/community he’d end up in.
Looking forward to reading more works by him and to seeing his works in stores here in Thailand!
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
Don’t give me that bullshit. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You don’t have it so bad. There are people born with so much worse than you who have gone to do great things. You like to play the victim, Mr. Kamm, that’s your problem. You have many things to hide behind. My brain isn’t right. I have the addiction disease. I know your type. You want to be a victim, then go ahead, but it’s not going to take you very far. And most people don’t give a shit. (pg.117-118)
Things only make sense and the pieces only fit together when you look back at them. At the time it all seems random. (pg.132)
Sometimes I wonder what is the at the root of all my self-destructive behavior. I wonder if things had gone smoothly in my life when I was young if I would still be the way that I am. In other words, am I a product of my environment, or was all this an inevitable part of my genetic make up? All of my issues stem from obsession and I think that obsession stems from anxiety and my anxiety stems from uncertainty. Not having a solid home base growing up was like walking a tight rope without a net. Like if things got bad I had no assurance that anyone was going to be there to catch me. So I obsessed over things. […] My uncertain life made me anxious, my anxiety made me obsessive, and then my obsessive behavior turned me into an addict. (pg.177)
If I don’t respect myself and try to life myself up there’s no guarantee that anyone else will. There’s no team of people waiting to catch me when I fall or ready to go out of their way to lift me up to where I want to be in life. I have to do it on my own. I have to fight for myself. I can be a victim all I want but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. (pg.191)
I think that everyone in the world was given a great burden to overcome. For some people it’s poverty, for some it’s a disability, for some it’s addition, some people are too ugly, too short, too fat, whatever it is, everyone has a burden that they were handed. And I believe that there is a person that we were meant to be. And extraordinary person. Our true potential. And it’s the process of meeting our burdens head on and overcoming them that changes us from the people we are to the people that we are meant to be. Most people accept their burden and that becomes who they are. They decide to be victims to that burden. But some people decide to conquer them. My burden is a mental one. I could get on meds to kill the fire inside of me and accept my place in the world at the victim of a mental illness, or I can keep on fighting. Risk everything for the chance to be the person that I was destined to be. (pg.211)
That’s not really fair, Mr. Kamm, to put all that on someone. No girl wants a man who needs to be saved. Not any girl that you want to end up with. A girl who knows her worth looks for a man that can take care of himself. A partner. If one of you is the victim and the other is the caregiver it will never work. The only relationships that last are the ones where you are both the heroes in your story and you work side by side and life each other up. I appreciate the romance of being a broken person looking for someone to save you, but that’s not reality. You need to get your shit together and stop waiting around for some girl to do that for you. (pg.46)
It’s hard to believe that there are so many kids roaming around in this country with no place to go and no direction in life. I don’t know what I would have done if my daughter did something like that. (pg.101)