They Can't Hold My Hand: A Mike Henneberger Book Review

by - August 06, 2020

In the early 2000s, Mike Henneberger booked the band Bayside at his small, South Texas college. No one came except for Henneberger’s bandmates, who were opening the show, and their significant others. Near the end of that decade, he watched Bayside play the main stage at Vans Warped Tour. He went up to lead vocalist, Anthony Raneri, after their set and told him that while he wasn’t any type of fatherly or authoritative figure to him, he was nonetheless proud of everything he had accomplished. That is the exact feeling while reading Henneberger’s book, Rock Bottom at the Renaissance: An Emo Kid’s Journey Through Falling In and Out of Love In and With New York City.

The book consists of journal entries ranging from 2011-2013 with flashbacks going as far back as 2007. It’s what, looking back on, Henneberger sees as the darkest period of his life and details his unconscious effort of abusing prescription drugs and alcohol. The reader finds him struggling to find himself when he had no guidance or direction, and going down several difficult paths in hopes to come out on the other side.

The book also details his search for love and wanting a partner to share all his experiences with. Just when he thought he found The Girl, it would turn out that the T and G were lowercase. While the book ends, spoiler alert, without a happy ending, it’s what came after it that makes its pages all the more gratifying.

“Most of it was written in 2011 and I just put it away for at least a year because if somebody reads this, you can tell how dark of a headspace I was in when I wrote it,” Henneberger said. “I didn’t want to go back to that. I was really scared to put myself back in that so I didn’t touch it for a while and then when I finally did I was still going through the same things. I wasn’t on a bender like I am in the book but I was still really depressed and really lost and really alone and that’s how this book became about this period in my life.”

Once he had finished, then there was a whole new fear of letting people know what he had been going through. It took Henneberger reading it back one day a few years later to not recognize the person that wrote it. While both those people are former Army, struggle with anxiety and depression, and have tried every aide and therapist to find a solution, the mindsets of these two are now completely different. Despite all that, it still wasn’t the right time to release it.

It took another handful of years to know not to be ashamed of what he went through and to see that it didn’t defeat him. It was also important to recognize that while he no longer related to those words, depression and anxiety has no cure. It is something that he still struggles with and has found that talking about it helps him and could potentially help someone else.

Another major detail of the book, and his road to recovery, is music. From Jimmy Eat World’s “23” playing as he walked home in the first chapter to seeing Two Door Cinema Club play “What You Know” live, finding a song to relate back to that moment in time was simple. It goes beyond a song playing at a specific moment and taps into the concept of music saving lives. These bands and the others referenced in each chapter were songs that Henneberger listened to while in that headspace.

“I am still here because bands like Bayside and The Dangerous Summer wrote songs that were just as dark, and wrote about cutting their wrists or killing themselves. But they didn’t kill themselves, they didn’t cut their wrists; they wrote these songs and those songs kept me alive.”

Fast forward to 2020, and Henneberger knew it was time to share this memoir for a few reasons. For one, he’s an empath. He cares about others struggling with anxiety and depression and hates the idea that people feel like there is no way out of that struggle. That being said, he doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s glorifying the topic. Reading his words and only beginning to understand his mental state is heartbreaking enough, but he hopes that what he risked comes across as what not to do.

Second, he’s been a writer as long as he can remember. For him, releasing this was only a matter of when because he knew he wouldn’t be able to release anything else until this was out for the world to read. He struggled with the consequences of publishing it - Would his family and friends understand? Would his wife and her family understand? - but there was never a part of him that thought he wouldn’t publish it.

Rock Bottom at the Renaissance is a bleak, lonely account of one man’s struggle through dark days and even darker nights. Mike Henneberger knows that there will never be a sequel promoting a healed, happy man, but he also knows that these real journal entries turned chapters are only a part of his story.

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