Freeing the Imprisoned Self: A memoir
List Price: 16.45
Available: May 2014
Dr. Eastman offers himself as a case study, returning to the sudden loss of his mother at just twenty-two months, and his upbringing as the last of six children parented by a hardworking but rigid and emotionally vacant father. In the context of depression-era poverty and emotional deprivation, he developed what is called a schizoid personality disorder. He sought safety and refuge in a self-made prison of both grandiose and painfully lonely imaginings. Obsessively intellectual, he developed his mental processes to avoid feeling and any true intimacy. The preoccupation with abstract technical and philosophical issues shut him away from people. He became addicted to risk and to sex; professional rules that interfered did not apply to him. He repeatedly reconfigured his life — careers and relationships — to protect his schizoid “cylinder” of isolation. Others suffered; so did Eastman. Yet buried deep within lay an unquenchable thirst for connection and a heroic determination to understand and to heal. Eastman’s relentlessly honest story unfolds with commentary at the end of each chapter to clarify the clinical picture of the schizoid personality, which is still not well understood. Unlike schizophrenia, in which the split exists between the real world and a distorted inner world, the schizoid protects a private inner self that is experienced as rich and special. The stilted outer self is often mistaken for disinterest, detachment, or even hostility. Unlike the psychopath who presents a convincingly normal outer persona, the schizoid may appear socially awkward, tightly controlled, eccentric, and often intellectually superior. The schizoid’s pathological focus on self is a recognizable human quality — writ very large, indeed. George Eastman’s memoir and his meticulous analysis of the disorder is a gift, and proof that that although we may be our own jailers and prisoners, we have the power to set both free.
Eastman soldiered on with his little family in tow. He received his first doctoral degree from Harvard in 1963, and launched into college teaching and administration, moving from Iowa to Vancouver, then Boston to Buffalo, and finally to New York City. But external geography is incidental to George Eastman’s more significant internal journey. When he began working toward a second Ph.D. in clinical psychology at NYU, the breakups — of his first marriage and of his psyche — began in earnest. As a newly licensed therapist, he underwent the first long stint of psychoanalysis while leading a double life as a practicing lothario. Sex became an addiction. A subsequent self-reinvention led him to organize a hippie commune in Maine, a critical experience for him in unraveling the mystery of his condition and its eventual diagnosis as schizoid personality disorder. Eastman fiercely pursued several careers, two marriages, and waged a lifelong struggle to emerge from a self-imposed solitary confinement. Complex and often misdiagnosed, the schizoid dynamic has not been fully explored in psychoanalytic literature. Eastman’s determination to understand it by force of intellect (a defining feature) and his unflinching efforts to come to grips with it personally have supported his work with patients over the years. Dr. Eastman continues in the private clinical practice he established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1982. He teaches at the Berklee College of Music, and shares a rich and rewarding life with friends, family, and his life partner. As in adolescence when a passion for singing in a choir offered respite from isolation, Eastman still lends his mellow voice to informal gatherings. As painting and poetry once provided him a therapeutic outlet and the beginnings of clarity, Eastman has used the process of writing this memoir to embrace recovery, new wisdom and joy.