Educated. Tara Westover (Random House, 2018).

To read a memoir is to immerse oneself in the life, and trauma, of another person. If doing so also triggers flashbacks of my own trauma, it can take me weeks to recover. I generally take care to avoid or prepare for such experiences.

As happened with The Glass Castle, this story surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it. I joined a group of women in my town who all agreed to read it. We were given a timeframe and planned to hold a discussion once we were all done. It sounded like a fun way to maybe meet some new friends. I hadn’t read the blurb. I agreed to read it, knowing nothing about the subject matter. Despite the surprise at how triggering the content could be, I am so glad I did.

Tara Westover was raised by parents who ascribed to some of the more radical beliefs I knew to be part of the LDS faith. I met some people like them growing up in the Utah/Idaho area. I even share some of their desire to be self-sufficient and to be prepared for ‘the worst.” It was strange to read her story and identify with both the author and her family at times, given the divide between them today.

Like mine, her story is one of leaving all she knew and held dear as a child to reprogram herself: to decide for herself what was right, good, and valuable. We also both lost many of the family relationships we valued in our process of becoming who we are now. I honestly hope to meet Ms. Westover one day, share a glass of wine and talk over who she is today. Her story is inspiring and stays with me. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Breakfast (It’s the little things)

One of the many ways I work to heal the trauma from my childhood is through providing for my children what my brothers and I did not have.

Today is a Sunday and with everyone home, my husband and I made a big breakfast. As we sat around the table with our children, passing pancakes and sausages, orange slices, and yogurt, I felt the weight of grief that bubbles up sometimes. It begins with a lump in my throat and a sob that lingers in my chest, stubbornly refusing to move.

The grief is obviously connected to years of hunger and food insecurity, but it’s more than that.

I carry around, in my heart, the image of the little girl I was. She is thin, with short hair and clothes that are too big or too small and totally out of fashion.

The hardest part of carrying her around is not her sadness, but the look on her face. In these visions, at these moments when the grief bubbles up, I see her looking not sad but confused. Confused about why she can see a world that is full of food and other riches, but she has to go hungry.

She can see a world full of people that experience joy and love every day, yet she is alone and scared of the people that are closest to her. She just doesn’t understand and I have never found the words to explain it to her.

The best I can do is to ensure that it stops with me.

Getting Serious About the Memoir Project.

For those that don’t know, I am writing a memoir. I made the decision to write it when I was 8 years old and have even begun the writing process twice. Both attempts ended with the destruction of the computers the drafts were saved on. This time, I am saving it in a cloud, and on several devices. It will be completed.

The story will follow my first 18 years. It will not be easy for some people to read and will be a long and thoughtful process for me as well. Though those closest to me will not be surprised by the story arc, there will be details and pieces that surprise everyone.

Though I am open about my experience of abuse and neglect at the hands of my birth-mother and her sister with anyone who will listen, there are still many details I have yet to share with anyone. There are pieces of my story, details of my response to the events of my past, and aspects of the healing process that I have kept away. I have been waiting for this project. I plan to pour those things into my memoir with the intent of inspiring those who are seeking to heal themselves.

For accountability’s sake, I want to share that my goal is to continue to work steadily towards completion. I hope to have a first draft completed by my birthday in December. From there I fully intend to seek a traditional publishing contract until I am successful. I expect I will continue to revise, revision and review endlessly.

I have completed a prologue and 3 chapters so far. It’s getting real. I hope you’ll follow along with me on my journey as I work through the process of finally completing this project. I have carried it in my heart for 30 years. It is now time to bring it forth.

Because I have this website, I will share useful resources and other helpful material I have found and collected. I am an avid reader of memoirs and will review my favorites as well.

Thank you for reading, and Welcome!

Finding yourself: some practical tools and advice.

So much of my growth and healing has been part of the process of learning about myself.

As a child, my life and choices were controlled. Fear and circumstance were used to keep me from wearing clothes that fit, from feeling safe or secure anywhere, and from making even the simplest decisions for myself. When I was able to leave and control my environment, I was ill-suited to make good decisions. I remember watching a movie in a theater and someone in the film asked “how do you like your eggs?”

It was an epiphany moment for me because I could not answer the question. I decided that I needed to learn more about what I liked: food, clothing, hair, and any number of other desires I had never been allowed to choose needed to be something I explored and began making with intention.

I went wild with clothing, cut my hair short (I hated it), and began to cook foods in different ways to determine what I actually liked. As it turns out, poached eggs are my preference, followed by soft boiled.

There are many tools that have helped me to learn about myself and begin to honor who I am and what I want.

For those of us with remembered trauma, the ACES quiz can help you understand your experience and maintain awareness of adverse effects from our experiences. Once you have your score, this article can help you understand the study behind it, and how the results can inform your future. Did you know that people with scores above 4 are more likely to suffer from lung disease? Healthcare providers should know your score and keep an eye on issues that could be affected by your experiences.

The Myers-Briggs personality type identifier first taught me that there are types. The 16 unique combinations of Introvert/Extrovert, Sensing/iNtuiting, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving are guides to teach us about how we take in information, and how we process it. It helps to learn that each of your type letters can be understood as being on a scale: It’s not E or I, but where on that spectrum you primarily function. It’s also important to realize that we are not always functioning at our best. Our inferior functions (the opposite of our primary functioning) helps us understand how we are likely to react in stressful or traumatic situations.

The Five Love Languages quizzes have helped me to understand how I try to show love to others, how I want to receive love, and how others do the same. The results also helped me to understand the disconnect I have experienced in some past relationships that failed, and what characteristics might be more compatible with future partners. There are quizzes you can help your children take, too. Those results gave us all a framework for discussing what we each want and need, and how to best show each other how much we care. I love hugs, but one of my children really prefers words of affirmation to physical touch. This knowledge has helped our family grow in understanding and grace for one another.

The revelation in the movie theater started me on a path of self-discovery I still walk today. I learned to give myself permission to let go of clothing, food, behaviors, and other choices I did not like. I also learned to advocate for myself in situations where I was not getting what I wanted. It was OK to ask a waitress to correct something if I didn’t like what was served. It is actually important to tell others, with words, if they are doing something I don’t like. I have learned to be firm while continuing to display compassion for myself and others through my self-affirming words. I have also learned that it is kinder to be honest, even if it might change outcomes or cause others to have feelings.

“I don’t want to eat this.”

“I don’t like the way I look in this.”

“I want something warmer” “…softer,” “…cleaner.”

These changes have given me the confidence I lacked as a child. These insights have led me to deeper relationships with those I love and helped me to heal some of the trauma I will always carry.

What do you do to learn about yourself? What moments have left you with a new perspective on yourself or others? Comment below and let me know.