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

An Amazing Interview Opportunity 

I have never broken from using my pen name on my blog until this post. I was honored to be interviewed by this fabulous show a few months ago and I noticed it’s on youtube so I thought I would share it with you.

One of the reasons I agreed to be interviewed is that one of the hosts is a teenager who asked some wonderful, poignant questions about what to do if a friend is being abused.

There are two parts (both really short). Please Take a listen. I hope you enjoy it.

Behind the Voices – w/ Alexis Rose (part one).  https://youtu.be/SPzLnyNkJyQ

Behind the Voices – w/ Alexis Rose (part two). https://youtu.be/M_z75TW7SWE

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 

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The Gifts of a Memoir, Untangled’s First Birthday!

A year 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 year it 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 f**k, 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 feeling that if they knew, they could have helped. I get that reaction, I probably would have felt the same way upon hearing of a friend’s brutal past. But, they couldn’t have helped 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 my healing journey. 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 of Untangled is that when people read the book, 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 that terrible feeling that no one else could possibly understand this kind of emotional pain. I lived with that terrible alone feeling until a year ago. Now from the feedback of 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.

It took me about ten months after I wrote the first real draft to publish Untangled. I was terrified going through the editing process, and finding people I trusted to be beta readers. I was purposeful of who I chose to do the initial reading. I asked one person who had known me since I was a teenager, so she could help me with some historical life information. I chose one person because she would be able to give me feedback on the tolerability of reading the book, and a third person was someone who did not really know me at all. A person with no vested interest in whether or not my feelings were hurt from her feedback. Then there were the meetings with the editor, As most authors know, I had to develop a really thick skin going through this whole process.

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 20 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 last October 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.

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 reviews on Amazon, I love hearing the feedback. I hope that the readership grows 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 my sharing my story with so many people would propel the trajectory of my healing in such a profound and sometimes ineffable way.

Happy birthday Untangled. And by the way, Happy Birthday to me, because I published my memoir on my birthday last year. A day that I always felt sad because I was born, became the day that I told my truth, I day that I was re-born.

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