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Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category

Here’s a very interesting book I just found out about. The author candidly shares her story, to help break the cycle of abuse and the damaging effects that result from that abuse. Kindle-Wounds-of-the-Father-High-Resolution-188x300

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In the bestselling tradition of Smashed and Glass Castle, this raw, eye-opening memoir tells the powerful story of Elizabeth Garrison’s fractured childhood, descent into teenage drug addiction, and struggle to overcome nearly insurmountable odds. Elizabeth invites the reader behind the closed doors of a picture-perfect Christian family to reveal a dark, hidden world of child abuse, domestic violence, and chilling family secrets all performed in the name of God under the tyrannical rule of her father. Like countless teenage girls, Elizabeth turns to drugs and alcohol to escape. With smack-you-in-the-face honesty, Elizabeth chronicles the dark realities and real-life horrors of teenage drug abuse, living on the streets, foster homes, and treatment centers. She paints an unsparing portrait of scratching and clawing her way out of the grips of child abuse, addiction, and betrayal to find the strength within herself to save her own life.

 

Elizabeth Garrison has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and works as a researcher for the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. Her research focuses on the effects of childhood abuse and developing interventions to help children recover. She also is a well-known celebrity ghost-writer. Given her talent in helping others to tell their stories, Garrison decided it was time to tell her own story. Visit her at www.elizabethgarrison.info.

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I have been working on final edits for Healing The Writer – A Personal Account of Overcoming PTSD for the last month. An editor gave me tremendous feedback to help tighten the manuscript, and I’ve been making great progress on making those changes.

I have known that it would be a big deal to finish and publish this book, because it would directly expose the lies of my grandmother to the light of day, thereby robbing much of their power. It would also contradict her messages about being a writer. I will reclaim a lot of power by publishing this particular book, because of the subject. Even my doctor said “this book is a big deal.”

When I was 8 years old, my grandmother told me if I ever became a writer, they would “call me crazy and lock me up.” She reinforced the message in pretty hideous ways, which included saying the doctor she worked for could have me committed to an asylum, and then showing me what it would be like.

In one section, the editor suggested I might need to dig further down to get in touch with my experience of the worst abuse. I thought I already had, but as I worked on editing that section, I wrote additional content that was the how that little boy felt, at a deeper level than I had ever gotten to it. Later I had a “feeling memory” where I got in touch with what happened to me on a very visceral level.

I feel different about it now. A therapist I worked with for many years emphasized that we had to expose the lies. He used an analogy several times – he said it was like the old movies where Dracula could never face the light of day. If he did, he would wither up and die. I have experienced that effect a number of times, where facing an abuse will suck a lot of power out of it.

I’m in an interesting place. I feel lighter. I am more ready to publish this book. I’m astonished by how healing this process has been.

It feels like a huge victory, and I’m letting it sink in.

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I’ve known for years that I don’t write on a daily basis. It’s better for me if I let thoughts and ideas percolate, and they fall onto paper when they are ready. That is especially true with the next memoir I’m writing, Healing The Writer. I recently posted that I had sent the manuscript to an editor in New York City for a critique. She came back with two major areas I needed to refine. I saw what she was saying, and just leaned back.

I didn’t try to force ideas to the surface for how to handle these manuscript issues. I let them percolate, and didn’t see anything for about a month. Then in a short time, how to handle both issues came to light – and it was easy.

Issue 1 – This book contains several inner child exercises. I write from the adult perspective, and answer from the viewpoint of the 8 year old child who got so badly damaged by my grandmother. The editor pointed out that I needed to make greater distinction between the adult and the child when they were speaking. The child sounded very adult in the ways he responded. I needed to hear the voice of the child more clearly.

Solution – I have been writing freelance articles for the last 2 and a half years, and a while back the client said they wanted some of them written from the perspective of a woman. I found a way to make that mental transition. I wrote a little more from an emotional construct and not as linear, and had a warmer perspective to how I constructed sentences. Suddenly I realized – if I can write from the perspective or a woman, I can sure hear the voice of that 8 year old. “Cool! That’s really neat!” I’ve already rewritten the first inner child passage, and know how to hear the rest to make sure it’s the child speaking.

Issue 2 – The editor said there were a LOT of characters in the book. She said it was hard to keep track of everyone. Part of that is because the book covers 30 years, and there were just a lot of people who came through my life and had an impact – enough that they needed to be in the book. I cut down on the number of people where I could, and then leaned back.

Solution – I decided to differentiate the more important characters by describing them more vividly. It would bring those people to the front in people’s minds, and make them more memorable. The who only had a brief part would be described less.

Instead of: My friend Barry

It became: Barry was one of the most multi-faceted people I’d ever been around. Though he was big, bearded and looked like a mountain man, he was very well read and extremely intelligent – he could speak knowledgeably about a wide range of subjects. He filled his time with a variety of interesting pursuits, like working as a river rafting guide on the weekends. He had just told me about his latest trip down the Guadalupe River, which sounded like a wild adventure. One raft tipped over and they had to rescue the occupants.

I still have a some polishing to do in other areas of the manuscript, but the major issues brought up by the editor have been resolved.

I’m closer to the finish line!

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I haven’t posted a status update on the next memoir I’m working on in far too long. A lot of very powerful things have happened.

A friend nudged me to go ahead with the book, because I could “be editing forever.” I needed the prompt, because this is deep stuff, and it has really forced me to dig deep in my healing journey.

I finally said “enough” with the 4th rough draft, and sent it to an editor for a critique. She did a fantastic job, and gave me some great feedback. She said the book was very far along in terms of being a polished draft, and the voice and storyline were very strong.

She pointed out a couple of areas that needed some smoothing, and I have been working on those for the past month. Just today I had an “aha” moment where I saw how to handle a very pivotal scene. I continue to have the experience that I’ll have some old fears and feelings release, then I can move forward on the book.

I had originally considered self publishing this book. Then I realized I wouldn’t give the book the shot it deserves if I didn’t at least check out traditional publishing. I let go of some feelings around that, and then realized I knew the literary agent I wanted to start with. I had read an interview with her in 2010 in Poets and Writers magazine, and said “that’s who I want to have representing my book!”

Now, her liking and accepting my manuscript is the part which is not in my control. But to submit Healing the Writer to this agent is the part I can control. If she’s not interested, I have a list of other agents I’d like to query.

Things are moving forward. I think I’ll look back in 10 years and realize that this book was healing me on many levels.

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For the last few weeks, I have been developing an outline for the next book I plan to write. At this point, it will tentatively be titled “Healing My Anger – Defusing A Time Bomb.” It is about my journey to unearth and resolve a terrible well of anger and rage I discovered. One of the pivotal points of that book will be about a bizarre event that happened to me – a group of people came over to my apartment late at night, and performed a bogus group encounter with me.

I used to call it an intervention, but I realized that gave the misimpression that what happened was somehow legitimate. It was not – it was an exercise in the power of a group in dysfunction, incited by a strong and charismatic leader. I’ve written about that evening before, in a post called “The Betrayal.” That event led to a whole series of events which propelled my growth in astonishing ways, because it forced me to deal with anger that I hadn’t been able to access previously.

This will be a powerful book – I can tell that already. But for the past several weeks, I’ve had the feeling that I was missing something. I just couldn’t think of what it might be. Then yesterday I realized – I had left out one major event. Then I realized that this would have to be the end of the book. I needed to get it on paper, so I wrote it all down.

It’s the first time I’ve ever written the ending of a book before I wrote the beginning. But it was absolutely the way the book had to end. For a number of years, I had not been around the individual who stirred up the event that night, who I renamed Rob for purposes of the book. We happened to end up at a party together.

******

So here is what I wrote:

In 1996, I decided to move to Austin. I went by a party that was being held by one of the people in the recovery program. It had been a fun party for a number of years, and a source of fond memories for me. Rob and Nancy were there. It was the first time I had been around either of them for quite a while, and naturally there was some awkwardness.

After a few minutes Rob came up to me and said “Dan, can we go outside and talk for a minute?”

“Sure, Rob.”

We stepped outside, and I wasn’t sure what he wanted to talk about. I had gut checked my anger before agreeing to go, and there just wasn’t much steam in those old issues. At most, I felt a little edgy – because of the unknown.

We sat down on a bench outside the party, and Rob lit a cigarette. He sat for a moment, and it looked like he was gathering his thoughts, so I didn’t say anything.

“Dan, I want to apologize for my part in what happened the night we came over to your apartment. That was totally wrong, and nobody deserved to go through what happened to you that night. I am sorry. Genuinely sorry.” He looked me directly in the eyes as he spoke, and I could hear the genuineness and sincerity in the way he said the words. His words were simple, elegant and direct. I was so deeply touched I didn’t know what to say. I was quiet for a moment.

“Thank you for saying that, Rob. I do appreciate it – probably more than I can express right now.”

“Can I give you a hug?”

“Sure, Rob.”

We hugged, and then walked back inside the party.

I lost touch with Rob when I moved, but after that night, for the two of us – we were at peace.

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When I began to explore the topic of my writer’s block, I published chapters as I wrote them in Life As A Human magazine. I did that to help me stay focused on the real story in what was a complex and intricate topic, and keep me moving forward with the writing project.  I published 29 chapters that way, and then I was able to see the best way to finish the book.

My friend Karen told me several years ago that she thought Healing The Writer might be the most powerful book I would ever write. Back in April, I read the polished first draft, then set it aside. I think it has taken me six months to fully appreciate the magnitude of the healing journey I chronicled.

Late last night I watched the end of Mr. Holland’s Opus, where he gets to conduct the symphony he spent years writing, played by former students. The final shot in the movie is a closeup of him with a powerful look of serenity on his face – like he accepted what he had created. I think I saw it that way because I had felt myself coming to that same point.

I picked up the Healing The Writer manuscript today and began reading it once more, with an eye to editing needed. I’m ready, and it’s time.

 

Below is the Table of Contents, along with links to the first 29 chapters. (The chapters are in reverse order by publication date in the magazine, and this will give a better idea of how to follow the flow of the book).

Healing The Writer

The desire to express, I was taught to repress,

 Has caused me a block, I wish to unlock.

I pick up the pen, I start writing again.

 I feel the flow –

        And then I stop.

   – Dan Hays October 1986

Part One – Search For Peace

One: Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?

Two: What To Put On Paper?

Three: I Find My Writing Voice

Four: I Hide Out To Write A Book

Five: Scared To Put It In The Mail

Six: I Walk Away From Publication

Part Two – Nothing Left to Lose

Seven: Ghosts Of The Wheat Harvest

Eight: The Query Letter and The Question

Nine: I Abandon A Book – Again!

Part Three – What Mamaw Said

Ten: They’ll Call You Crazy – And Lock You Up!

Eleven: I Capture The Writing Vision

Twelve: The Creative River Flows Once More

Thirteen: The Writer’s Conference and the Fear

Fourteen: What Is It About That Particular Park?

Fifteen: I Can Have You Committed

Sixteen: The Fear And The Light!

Seventeen: Breaking Through – Moving Beyond Writer’s Block

Part Four – Down To The Roots

Eighteen: Red Rocks and Remembering: A Writer’s Road Trip

Nineteen: A Writer’s Journey of Inspiration

Twenty: The Landscape of a Writer

Twenty One: Publishing a Book: Getting One Step Closer

Twenty Two: A Disappointed Writer and a Backup Plan

Twenty Three: The Fearful Writer – Monsters in the Closet

Twenty Four: How My Writing Got Locked Up

Part Five – Freedom’s Just Another Word

Twenty Five: Insomnia – A Writer’s Night Journey

Twenty Six: Confronting the Fear – A Writer Prepares to Publish

Twenty Seven: “I’d Like To Read Your Manuscript.”

Twenty Eight A: A Writer Revisits High School – Part One

Twenty Eight B: A Writer Revisits High School – Part Two

Twenty Nine: I Am A Published Author

Thirty: A Hopeful Omen

Thirty One: Publicity Can Be Rewarding – Or Maybe Not!

Thirty Two: The Origin of Minute To Freedom

Part Six – Moving To The Light

Thirty Three: I Combine Publicity And Therapy

Thirty Four: Healing The Wounded Child

Thirty Five: Preparing To Leave The Dark Closet

Thirty Six: Independence Day

Thirty Seven: Little Danny Set Free

Thirty Eight: The “Don’t” Messages – Deep Damage Healed

Thirty Nine: Deep Healing and Destiny Arising

Forty: The Terror of the Dark Death

Part Seven – Free To Write

Forty One: Writing For Publication as a Healing Tool

Forty Two: Killing The Octopus

Forty Three: A Sign of Healing – The Poetry Returns

Forty Four: Am I Able To Work – As A Writer?

Forty Five: A Sign of Healing – I Become a Freelance Writer

Forty Six: Epilogue

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In the fall of 1990, I had a vision – I wanted to write novels of hope. I had taken a 19th Century American literature course, and the teacher had said, “in 19th century American novels, you expected a happy outcome.  In 20th century novels, you typically expect a negative or unhappy outcome.”  I didn’t like that trend, and wanted to do something different.

The movie Dances With Wolves had just come out, and it really sparked something in me.  I realized that I wanted to explore a time in my Dad’s life I knew little about.

In 1967, when I was 17, we were living in Oklahoma City when my Dad’s drinking hit bottom. My aunt and uncle came and picked up my Mom, my 3 sisters and myself, taking us back to Fort Worth to live with my maternal grandmother. Dad disappeared for a while, then later returned to Fort Worth, somehow changed.  He sobered up and got into recovery, and reclaimed the world he had lost.  I never knew what had happened to him during the time he was gone, other than a vague comment my Mom made about him going and working on the wheat harvest, which he had done in high school.  I never thought I would see him again, and later wondered what his life had been like during the time while he was gone.

He died before it ever occurred to me to ask him about it.  I began working on how to tell that story, and after I wrote the first two chapters, I suddenly realized – if I explored this thread fully, I had – a novel of hope!  It was a tremendously empowering moment.

In the spring of 1991, I quit my job, went up to Oklahoma and worked on the wheat harvest, to try and imagine what my Dad’s life was like after we left, and what might have happened to him.  How I got there is a story of its own: Dances With Wolves Filmsite.

The book I wrote in 1993 was my best guess as to what happened.  It was entitled Nothing Left To Lose.  It was a novel,  written from a very loving and generative perspective.  But how did I get to that loving place in describing a man who had been violent toward me when I was a teenager?  I later realized that I needed to flesh out the back story.  I will do so in several books, beginning with my first published memoir, Freedom’s Just Another Word, about the time around his death and my healing process.  The reason I never published this novel will be the topic of the second book I will publish – Healing The Writer; writing that book freed my creativity!

I now plan to publish Nothing Left To Lose, the novel about my Dad written from a loving and healed perspective.

The novel begins like this:

Chapter 1
Eyes downcast, he trudged along, conscious of the uneven surface along the shoulder of the highway, stumbling occasionally on chunks of gravel or small pebbles. He looked up periodically at the cars speeding past, as if to keep his bearings. His face was lined and weary and his entire body ached. He was wearing a worn brown corduroy jacket, a wrinkled plaid flannel shirt, dark blue polyester pants, white socks and cordovan loafers.

It was about 5 pm and the sun had just set. Night was approaching rapidly and the chill of February in 1967 was harshened by a brisk wind which picked up in gusts as he walked. He tried to walk faster, his hands deep in his pockets, but had to step carefully so not to turn an ankle on the uneven surface beside the roadbed. His vision was limited by the flash of oncoming headlights.

He had been told there was a boarding house in town where he could get a room for the night, and he plodded on, the directions vaguely held in a corner of his consciousness.

“We’re sorry,” they’d said at the detox center, “but all we can do is provide you a place for 5 days. We just help people dry out. Then we have to give the bed to someone else.” They had directed him to the boarding house, wished him well, given him back his clothes and money, and sent him on his way.

His feet hurt, his whole body ached, he craved a drink but knew that he must make the most of this chance. There was another pain, too, an emotional void when he thought of all he had left behind, all he had lost. He wondered where they were now, but he knew he could do nothing for them. Yet he longed for their voices, for any source of warmth and comfort to relieve this coldness, and the blackness in his soul.
——————————–

Sitting and looking out the big picture window at the front of Miss White’s Boarding House, Peter Sanders watched the occasional car pass, and a few blocks away he could see the busier traffic on the main street. Busy, he thought, for our town. Cornell, Oklahoma wasn’t exactly New York, he chuckled to himself, but it was rush hour here, with cars heading home to supper.

At the corner of the main road where it intersected his street, he saw a figure hesitate, look at street signs, and uncertainly begin to walk toward him. Another drunk out of the center, he thought to himself, betting that the man was headed here. This was where they mostly came when they had nowhere else to go.

Peter got up, stepped to the door of the kitchen, cracked it open. “Miss Vera,” he called.

“Yes, Peter?” she replied.

“I think we got a visitor coming in.”

“Alright. Send him through to me.” Miss Vera stepped wearily into the living room. She had seen so many come through her doors that the novelty of it had long since worn off.

Peter sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room, extending his feet toward the large space heater in the corner. Miss Vera went back into the kitchen. The man opened the door.

Ben Hays, my Dad, in 1971.

“Step in and warm up, stranger,” Peter called. He stepped quickly and gratefully over in front of the space heater, holding his hands out over it, shivering slightly. Peter studied him. He was about six feet tall, slender yet sturdy, with dark circles under the eyes, sunken cheeks. He had dark brown hair, cut short, rumpled and uncombed, and his clothes weren’t heavy enough for February. The clothes looked of good quality, but were tired from overuse. His hands looked soft. There were no calluses or marks, so he was probably not a laborer. His shoulders slumped wearily, hands twitched, and he had an almost nauseous look on his face. Peter imagined him to be a businessman gone to seed – gone down far and fast, too. Peter knew the look – he’d had it himself recently enough.

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