The Gifts of Writing a Memoir, Happy 3rd Birthday Untangled!

Three years ago today, I anxiously waited for my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph to go live on Amazon. What a wonderful, unexpected and humbling three years this has been.

I took a huge risk by writing and publishing my memoir. My entire life was focused on keeping quiet, not telling, protecting those I loved, or who loved me. It took me a long time to understand that by keeping quiet, I was actually protecting the people who hurt me in my life. Writing Untangled was a way to announce in a really big way, that I will not keep quiet any longer.

I literally went from telling no one but my therapist about my past to throwing my arms up, and saying, okay….what the heck, let’s go for it, and tell everyone at once. My husband and children read the book before it was released to the public, but close friends, acquaintances, and long-lost friends learned the truth of my past when they read the book.  Were there big reactions? You bet there were! Of course, they reacted. The biggest reaction was sadness that they didn’t know what was happening at the time, and that helpless feeling that if they knew, they could have helped. I understand that reaction, I would probably have felt the same way upon hearing of a friend’s brutal past. But, they couldn’t have helped me, and it was imperative to my safety that I kept quiet. I used to feel guilty that I somehow hurt my friend’s feelings that I didn’t share my past, but I’ve learned to let go of that.

In the book, I talk about my life and some of the trauma I experienced.  I write about how I repressed my memories and how I managed to raise a family and live a life where I mistakenly convinced myself, that my hidden past had no effect or impact on my life. The last part of the book is what my healing journey looked like at the time. Untangled isn’t about naming names or the horrific specifics of what happened to me. I don’t feel people, especially those of us who have been through trauma need to read and be triggered by another’s specific tales of horror.

I do, however, explain in detail the feelings that went along with being hurt, traumatized, abandoned, neglected. I don’t shy away from feeling words such as fear, emptiness, loneliness, embarrassment, shame, etc.  One of the most humbling gifts I experience from Untangled is when people read the book, and they find it is relatable. The events that happened to me may not be relatable, but the effects, the feelings, the sense of no-self is something that a lot of people experience, or they know and love someone who has experienced those things.

We all have feelings, but we may not all be able to articulate them, we may doubt or judge our feelings, or experience that lonely feeling that no one else could possibly understand this kind of emotional pain. I lived with that terrible alone feeling until three years ago. Now, from the feedback from the readers of Untangled, I know that I am not alone. Admittedly, the validation is a bit of a paradox..I’m so relieved to be validated by relatability and so sad to be validated by relatability.

One of the questions I get asked the most is why did I write my memoir?  At first, I was writing as a way to incorporate another healing tool. For me, using the keyboard as a way to write, instead of using paper and pencil, provided a way to get down my feelings, thoughts, and emotions without becoming overwhelmed. I was taught that for some people, using the keyboard was a way to incorporate bi-lateral stimulation. This method provided a way to create a bit of distance from the subject matter I was writing about. The first gift was while writing, I began to discern the difference between the truth vs my truth. For some, they are the same, but for me, being able to say My truth had a profound and healing impact on me.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. I began to notice that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice. What I discovered was that writing actually gave me a voice.  When I still couldn’t speak a truth, I found, if I read what I wrote out loud to my therapist, that I WAS speaking the truth. The bonus for me as that He didn’t freak out or go away. The gift of Untangled is that people also don’t freak out and run away. The book has been a tool for conversation.

I am frequently asked if I was afraid for my safety when I released the book?  To be honest, I felt a lot of fear for my safety and took as many precautions as I could, but in the end, I just really wanted to share my story. I wanted to share what it looks like to live through unimaginable circumstances for twenty-plus years, with continued threats to stay silent, and still, be determined to be live not just survive.  I knew that this was my truth, and by publishing my story and continue to talk about the effects of trauma and the resulting PTSD that no one could ever take my past, my truth away from me again.

There are so many gifts from Untangled. The gift of writing, the gift of remembering, the gift of a congruent past, the gift of trying to remove the stigma of living with an illness. I wouldn’t have started writing a blog if I hadn’t written my memoir. I was told that I had to start a blog in order to market a book. I never, in my wildest dreams knew the world of connection that awaited me when I wrote my first post. Not only have I connected with survivors and mental health professionals, but I also have connected with poets, authors, thinkers, travelers, photographers, fun-loving lets blog for the heck of it people all over the world. I’m a better person because of all these connections. There are some people I’ve met that have changed my life. I’m grateful every day for my blog.

Even though I released another book last January, I’m not ready to leave Untangled behind. I’m excited every time someone purchases the book, I wish I could personally thank every person. I don’t ever take it for granted. I love getting good reviews on Amazon, I love hearing the feedback. I hope that the readership continues to grow each month.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I know what my goals are…to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. I didn’t realize that sharing my story with so many people would propel the trajectory of my healing in such a profound and sometimes ineffable way. Never does a day go by that I’m not grateful for the experice.

Happy 3rd birthday, and thank you for reading, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

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Thank You to the Never Give Up Institute

A Huge Thank You to NEVERGIVEUPINSTITUTE.ORG for including both Untangled, and If I Could Tell You How It Feels on their resources page.

Never Give Up Institute is a fabulous organization, founded by Alexis Acker-Halbur that helps people understand how unresolved stress and trauma can cause illness, increase financial difficulty, and keep you from living a meaningful life.

Alexis Acker-Halbur’s book titled Never Give Up is incredibly powerful and validating for anyone who has faced devastating physical illness, trauma, and loss. More than a self-help book, Alexis brings her own experiences and vulnerability into each chapter. Never Give Up is both relatable and validating for people who have been through trauma and/or serious illness. Part spiritual, part self-help, part memoir, Never Give Up is very inspiring.

Check out and give a follow to the nevergiveupinstitute.org blog at http://nevergiveupinstitute.org/my-blog/

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If I Could Paint a Picture

I’ve decided to promote my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph one more time, before my next book releases in January. Thank You to everyone who has read Untangled. I’m so grateful for the feedback and the positive reviews on Amazon. An appreciative pre-Thank You to those who may decide to read it after seeing this post and reading the introduction to Untangled below titled: If I Could Paint a Picture.

From the introduction of, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

My body is streaked with sweat and dirt from my desperate search to find safe shelter. I’m barefoot, in a grimy torn t-shirt and shorts; my hands and feet caked with dirt. My hair is filthy and matted. My mouth is dry; I can smell and taste the gritty dust that hangs in the air. I sit down on a curb at the side of the road, and I know it’s over.

I’m unbelievably weary, all my energy spent in the act of sitting down. I’m devastated…emotionally, mentally, and physically, and the worst of my wounds are invisible. My eyes fill up, but no tears fall. I can only sit amid the rubble, trying to trust the safety of the gray, silent sky.

Six years later, the scene has changed. I’m no longer living in fear of the tangled web of sadistic people who use threats to keep their victims terrified and questioning their sanity. I feel grateful. The therapist that I call my Sherpa is sitting next to me. He’s listened to and witnessed my entire story, and never deserted me. He understands my journey and sometimes shares my grief. He’s helped me honor my resilience; taught me the value of telling my story and the importance of just sitting with my truth. So we sit here together, quietly resting in that truth.

I’ve fully remembered and told the story of my first twenty years, of surviving the abuse, neglect, abandonment, and fear. I’ve left behind those who terrorized me. I’ve untangled myself. My courage has set me free, and now nothing can keep me tied to the past. I can truly live today with blinders off and eyes wide open.

 

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Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

Why I Write

I’m in the (almost)  final steps of getting my next book ready for release. My final edits should be here this weekend. After making those edits, sending the last pages to my beta readers, having my proofreaders take a go at it, and meeting with my artistic collaborator I believe I will be ready to release it out into the world this January.

My movie-writing partner and I are in the pitching phase of selling our screenplay. We are getting little nibbles from production companies and receiving lots of support, to keep going. That continues to be a wonderful experience. We have learned to grow very thick skin while trying to stay in a beginners mind and keeping our sense of humor.

As I sit at my desk and reflect over the whirlwind of the past two years. Releasing Untangled, emerging from the shadows of silence, blogging, speaking to groups,  pitching a movie project, and now preparing to release another book, I ask myself, Why do I write?

When I speak to groups and open it up for questions, I’m almost always asked, what made you write a book, or have you always been a writer? The answer to both is, “no!” I never wrote anything beyond copy for ads or random newsletter articles for my jobs before 2011. I didn’t keep a journal, never was a huge letter writer, I really never gave writing a thought.

When I began therapy my therapist suggested that I journal. Most of us have been told by our therapist’s to journal our thoughts and feelings. I despised journaling. I would become so emotional because often, the pages looked like one big opus for wanting to end my life. I would literally tear up the pages after I wrote them, despondent because I couldn’t separate my feelings from what I wanted to write about. It was all emotion and no substance, no thoughts, no depth and it felt destructive. So I refused to continue to journal.

But, I found myself writing emails to my therapist and we would talk about them at our next session. It was becoming evident that I was looking for a way to write down my thoughts. My therapist went to a conference on PTSD. At the conference, he learned that when clients journaled on a keyboard, (not pen and paper) that it was easier for them to keep journaling. The act of using a keyboard was incorporating bilateral stimulation which helped put some distance between the terrible trauma and intense feelings and they were able to keep writing longer. That made perfect sense to me, so I began to use writing as a healing tool.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. At first, I strictly used it for bilateral stimulation. I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  At first, I think it provided distance from having to use my voice, but then I found it actually gave me a voice.  When I still couldn’t speak a truth, I found if I read it out loud to my therapist, that I was speaking the truth.

Eight years after that first assignment to journal on a keyboard, I have written four books, have a number of published articles and enjoy engaging on my blog. I reflect on writing from a different perspective. Now, I write because I love to share what I’m thinking, feeling or musing over. I write because I’ve had feedback from others, to help give them a voice, to put feelings into words that they may be unable to describe. Writing is a way to be seen and heard, especially by a group who suffers from mental illness and are often marginalized.

I write because I will no longer be shamed into silence. But, I also control the volume of my voice. I want to be effective in destigmatizing mental illness, invisible illness, for me, PTSD. I know that I’m a quiet word of mouth writer. It fits my personality. I love the writers who are more vocal and speak with confidence and often, they know the volume of their voice and can reach a much wider audience.

I write because it fills my cup, it satisfies my creativity and it keeps me connected to the world. I care deeply about what I write and share, hoping that the connection between us continues to grow. Sometimes that starts with a simple written word.

Why do you write?

 

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Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

 

 

 

2nd Draft Jitters

Yesterday, I completed the second draft of my new book and I have the, “what-if-NO-one-reads-it jitters.” I get this way every time I write a book. I was like this, with the poetry books I collaborated on, and I was convinced no one, except my close friends and husband, would read Untangled.  Gratefully, I was wrong! Untangled, has grown some beautiful little toddler legs and is selling nicely each month.

I belong to a writers group, and I know the angst of releasing a book is a mixture of excitement, fear, and hope. The excitement of sending your work out for the world to read, the fear of rejection and the hope that your words will touch someone, and perhaps, that moves them to recommend the book to another, and the chain reaction of selling your book begins to unfold.

I play a lot of mental gymnastics with my book sales and what I deem successful.  With the poetry book, I set a goal of selling 250 copies. If I sold that many then I would feel okay. That many sold and more, and I did feel okay, then I allowed myself the luxury of getting my beautiful lotus tattoo. I continue to set goals for Untangled. I have reached all of them and more. I’m blown out of the water by the response.

So why is it so hard for me to call myself a writer and author? Is it because I do not see my books on the best seller list? Is it because I haven’t entered it into book award contests and therefore don’t have stickers to put on the front cover of my book? Or is because I’m a self-published author and don’t have a big publishing house logo on my cover? No, none of those are true.

I have many, many friends who are artists. Many are painters, photographers,  writers, or awesome crafters. Many of them, like myself, are their own worst critics.   Perhaps that keeps our egos at bay and keeps our creativity flowing.

I have no answers as to why I have the 2nd draft jitters. Well, I have a little bit of an inkling. The 2nd draft now goes to my very competent editor. She is red-penned ready and so am I! Of course, the thought of having to do a 3rd and 4th draft is not enticing. The dread of the editing process is what has stopped me from moving forward the past few months.

I’m ready to shake off the jitters, go to my aerobics class and sweat for an hour and know that I’m one draft closer to releasing my next book.

Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

What’s a house got to do with it?

Most of us remember the nuances of the houses we grew up in. We know the nooks and crannies, and the sounds the house makes when it settles and groans. We know the clicking noise of the furnace kicking in, the whistling sound of the wind blowing through the windows, and how the gate slams as someone makes their way to the door. We can trust our way in the dark during power outages or to sneak food from the refrigerator at midnight because we know where the furniture is and where the stairs begin and end.

I lived in three different houses growing up, the first two in Michigan and the third in Minnesota. Each move brought more carpeting.  I lost the early warning system that wooden floors and creaky steps gave me as the carpet grew wall-to-wall.

The first nine years of my life I lived in Grant. I remember everything about that house. I could draw it in great detail; actually, I could draw all three houses in great detail. I liked this house the best, not only because the floors and stairs were wooden and creaky, but because I shared it with all my siblings at the same time. My parent’s attention was divided between the four of us children. When I was nine and we moved to the suburbs, the attention shifted away from my siblings and the spotlight fell directly on me.

Inside that first house, my bedroom was my refuge because of the windows. My sister and I had beds beneath the two windows looking out towards the front of the house. There was another window with a window-seat on the side of the room that faced the neighbor’s house. During the day, I would sit on the window-seat and read. Most nights as I lay in bed, I would turn my head towards that same window and imagine fire consuming the side of the neighbor’s house; intense bright orange flames licking high into the air. I was young but I was already finding ways to externalize the pain that was coursing through my body.

The living room was large and filled with gray furniture covered in thick plastic that you stuck to in the summer and froze on in the winter. The dining room had a fireplace along one wall, double glass doors leading to a porch, and a swinging door leading into the kitchen. That swinging door would make an earsplitting banging sound when an angry parent would smack it open when coming into or going out of the dining room. The kitchen had ugly dark green linoleum and two steps leading from it that either led you outside or if you turned right, led you down a steep set of stairs into the basement. The basement had a large room where the boys would use their wood burning sets and a corner where my father had his easel set up, a place where he would draw charcoal portraits of the family and neighbors.

Aside from the linoleum in the kitchen and the concrete of the basement, the rest of the house had hardwood floors and stairs. A few area rugs covered the center of the rooms but they did nothing to mask the sound of people walking or climbing the stairs.

The backyard seemed huge to me as a little girl.  We had a few apple trees, cattails growing behind the garage, and a round swimming pool. I remember the wild raspberries that grew against the chain link fence.

I played alone in that backyard for long periods of time. My refuge was behind the garage in a corner along the neighbor’s fence. There I stayed hidden, out of sight from all the windows on the back of the house and the porch. Standing behind the garage, hearing my heart beat like a hummingbird, I petted the cattails that grew by the fence. I picked the tiny purple violets to make bouquets that I would grip as tightly if they were my last friends in the world. I didn’t care that they wilted with the heat of my hands; I just wanted to look at the delicate petals and drink in their color. It was a solitary existence but solitary was far better than any kind of attention that I received inside of that house.

The energy inside our house was super-charged. Tension crackled in the air like electricity, no matter how many of us were inside. If there wasn’t some kind of abuse going on, there was a silence that hung so thick and heavy that I would find myself looking down at the floor, or fidgeting, not knowing what to do with your hands. Opera or classical music sometimes blared from the stereo, a macabre contrast to the silence. At other times the volume of the music would alert us to what was going to happen next; the rising crescendo seemed to egg my parents on and steel us for explosive abuse.

excerpt from chapter 1, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

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Thank you for reading Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

Hope from a Children’s Book

I am a first generation American. Both my father and mother immigrated after World War II and brought with them, layer upon layer of secrets from their past.

My mother emigrated from Germany to Boston; my father emigrated from Hungary by way of Calgary, to Boston. Both came from complicated upbringings and the horrors of war. My mother’s strong European bloodline and my father’s tragic life story helped me eventually understand, but not excuse, their willingness to betray their own daughter for the good of a country.

By the time I was five years old, I already had hopes and dreams of being able to live alone. I had a book called Miss Suzy, about a squirrel who lived alone high atop an oak tree. Miss Suzy cooked, cleaned, and sang all day. At night, she was lulled to sleep by the gentle wind and the stars. One day a band of red squirrels sneaked into her house, broke all her things, ate up all her food and chased her away. Homeless and rain-soaked, she climbed a tree and found another home in the attic of an old house.  She lived in a doll house where she found a box of toy soldiers who came to life. When Miss Suzy told them about what happened to her in the oak tree, the soldiers marched up the tree, kicked out the red squirrels and Miss Suzy moved back home.

In my five-year-old mind, this tale had many relatable metaphors. I compared myself to the story’s heroine. It gave me hope that I could also live alone in a tree, and I began dreaming up ways to escape my family. But I knew, even then, that unlike Miss Suzy I wasn’t going to be rescued by a group of chivalrous soldiers.  I knew that all the adults in my life were the same. They kept secrets.

Like most abuse victims I ached for someone to rescue me, but I also knew that I wasn’t living in anything like a storybook. I loved the Miss Suzy book because she was so happy living on her own after the toy soldiers saved her home. She didn’t need anyone else in her life, she was safe and happy.

By a very early age, I had stopped hoping that my family would be vanquished by a company of toy soldiers. I knew the only way out of my situation was if I left and found my own place to live. Instead of an oak tree, I began to fantasize about living beside a deep blue lake surrounded by soft sand and white cliffs.  As I look back, that fantasy of taking control, leaving my family and finding a peaceful existence, nourished my amazing ability to survive.

An excerpt  from my memoir,  Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph