Publisher's Note: A hybrid memoir, Regan Burke’s In That Number chronicles one struggle to find grace and peace amidst the chaos of politics and alcoholism. It’s an important public book from a longtime Democratic party activist, one whose beliefs led her from protesting the Vietnam War at the Lincoln Memorial to working inside the White House—a woman with fascinating firsthand reminisces about everything and everyone from Woodstock to Vladimir Putin, from The Exorcist to Bill Clinton, from Roger Ebert to Donald Rumsfeld. It’s also an intimate and revealing private memoir from a woman who spent a harrowing childhood being raised by shockingly dysfunctional parents—a roguish naval-aviator-turned-lawyer-turned-con-man father and a racist socialite mother—and bouncing from house to house to luxury hotel, trying to stay one step ahead of the creditors. (And not always succeeding.) It’s an entertaining and ultimately heartwarming journey, from private schools to the psych ward, from hippie communal living to the corridors of power to the pews of church, and through the rooms of twelve-step recovery to the serenity of long-term sobriety.
I could not put down this memoir. It is a tale of redemption and rebirth. Regan Burke writes of all the pain of growing up the daughter of two alcoholics and well-dressed grifters “who didn’t pay their bills, lied, and cheated, but still had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres every night before dinner.” Her story is that of the Baby Boomer generation from sex, drugs, and rock and roll to various political campaigns in Illinois and finally to the Clinton White House and beyond. In That Number is a touching narrative of survival, loyalty, and compassion from a woman who has seen it all.
--- Dominic A. Pacyga
Author of Chicago: A Biography
In my fifties I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and a mysterious pain condition, fibromyalgia. Joint replacement cured the arthritis in my knees and shoulder, but the surging episodic pain of fibromyalgia, arthritis in my back, and attendant insomnia remained. Since I have a history of drug addiction I couldn’t risk prescription painkillers. Mindfulness meditation and feldenkrais (moving meditation) added enough of a reprieve from daily back pain to give me hope.
Hope also led me to Dr. John Stracks at Northwestern’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. At my first visit Dr. Stracks pried my mind open enough for me to accept that emotions were a factor in painful physical symptoms like mine. His remedy? Writing. Writing? Yes, writing.
He recommended Dr. Howard Schubiner’s workbook, Unlearn Your Pain. The barbed-wire suffering I experienced while writing down emotionally charged memories, evoked by the book’s writing exercises, made me a believer. There’s no doubt the connection between the mind and the body is real. At the completion of each writing exercise, I experienced a whoosh of pain relief.
I kept that whoosh going by enrolling in memoir writing classes. Initially, I hesitated to expose embarrassing episodes from my life to strangers. But this was my therapy, my bibliotherapy, and I had to tell deep truths for it to work. Beth Finke and Linda Miller, the best writing teachers I could ever have hoped for, have been extraordinarily helpful in keeping me on the road that leads to the truth.
Along the way, I ran into Kevin Coval, author of A People’s History of Chicago and creative director at Young Chicago Authors. How could I write in prose the kind of truth he tells in his poetry? He invited me to the poetry writing workshops at YCA. I thought I’d be an observer but found myself participating. Kevin’s work with young poets (who recite hard truths from the stages of Louder Than a Bombpoetry slams) made me realize I wouldn’t die if I wrote my story out loud, in a book.
I’m an unabashed American. I have a curious and insatiable need to indulge in the freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution—to not only assemble publicly, but also express myself openly. Sometimes it’s in the streets. Sometimes it’s in Alcoholics Anonymous. Whenever and wherever the saints go marching, I want to be in that number.