Why I Had to Write My Memoir — Even if it Makes Some People Mad

A memoir is conceived when the truth can no longer be ignored. The erasure of truth started decades ago in my childhood — one little lie at a time. I’ve always been aware of these lies, but the price of admittance to the family circle was to keep my mouth shut and not rock the boat.

As I grew older, I began to feel more and more uncomfortable with the stories I’d been repeating to keep my parents happy. Some of these lies seemed practical like lying to the bill collectors. One of the biggest lies was telling people that I was being homeschooled when my parents never bought one book.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

It started when I was thirteen and it was against the law for kids my age to not be in school. I was told God would rather have me tell this “white” lie than have my parents put in jail for not giving me an education. Church people thought it was wonderful that my parents were homeschooling me — and the reason they believed this was because I was becoming a good liar. Lying to church people was one thing, but I was also taught to lie to my grandparents. Whenever telling the truth was inconvenient, I was coached to tell a lie in a convincing way by my parents.

As you can imagine these lies felt suffocating at first — but after lying for several years it got easier. If it was an issue I didn’t care much about I said whatever I was told to say and forgot about it. But when it came to things that mattered to my teenaged soul, I grew more and more frustrated.

I hated pretending I had books to study from when they never bought one textbook. I resented lying to my grandparents that I didn’t have church clothes because my parents didn’t want me to go to church with them. And worst of all, it felt creepy to tell people I was fine while I was dying inside for lack of friends and an education.

You would think I would have stopped lying as soon as I left home. I wanted to tell my truth to the world, but in order to keep my welcome at the family circle, I had to continue lying about some things as if I was still living at home. Keeping up appearances is a priority in narcissistic families and this often means lots of unethical behavior.

When we left home and reached our twenties, my siblings and I rarely spoke about the abuses we suffered in our childhood — even when my parents weren’t in the room. This was in part because we were still young and trying to understand what happened in our family — why were we so different from other families? The second reason is that our parents triangulated with us against each other. This left us not trusting each other when we could have been allies and shown more support for each other.

As in most narcissistic families with several children, our roles changed according to our parents’ needs. When we were kids, my brother was the golden child (the one who could do nothing wrong in the eyes of the parents) but when he became an adult and decided he was an atheist, he became the scapegoat. He didn’t deserve either of these roles. Another sister was often the scapegoat as a child — this was terribly unfair to her, but back then I had no understanding to help my siblings — I couldn’t even help myself.

All of these strained family dynamics had me repeating my parents’ lies for far into my adulthood. The worst part was I rarely thought of some statements as lies even as I continued to repeat them. I didn’t actively make up new lies — I just didn’t replace the ones I’d been told to use as a teenager.

My husband once said he married me because I was the scariest, honest person he’d ever met. But my parents’ lies were so embedded into my psyche that I continued to repeat them without thinking. My desire to be authentic had always been there, but the older I got, the more I woke up to the discrepancies between the stories I’d been told to tell and the truth as I saw it.

Then one day I met a new friend who asked where I went to high school and I repeated the same lie my parents had given me thirty years before. It was the age-old lie that I’d been homeschooled. I can’t begin to tell you how many people seemed to get warm fuzzies whenever I told that lie. Some of them even said, “Well, if our kids turn out like you, then we must be doing the right thing.” To justify telling this lie, I’d added one line to fill out the truth. I’d end by saying, “But my parents forgot to buy the books.” People usually laughed when I said it, but I wasn’t joking.

That’s how the conversation went that day and when I got home I felt this sickening feeling like I was fake. It was like I’d awakened out of deep sleep from some dreaded nightmare. I’d recently learned about natural laws like karma or sowing and reaping as the Bible calls it and I didn’t want to reap lies anymore.

At home, I stared at myself in the mirror, then yelled. “Why can’t you just be yourself?” The answer was that I would lose my parents’ approval if I began to tell the truth. At the same time, I’d begin to realize that lying hurts the liar — sometimes more than those who are being lied to.

The next day, when another friend invited me out to lunch, I decided to tell her the unvarnished truth — how I wasn’t homeschooled — but I’d been taught to tell people this lie. It felt good to be straight up honest about my family for once in my life.

She told me about The Glass Castle a memoir written by Jeannette Walls. When I read the book I was blown away by Walls’ ability to write the truth in love. That’s when I decided to tell my own story.

After this encounter, I think I went through a phase of telling too many people way too much. Nobody got mad at me, but I think a few wondered about me. I had hidden so much for so long that whenever I met someone new, I gave them more of an information dump than they needed to know. It took me some time to temper telling the necessary truth without verbally swamping people with my stories. Every time I told my stories, I was reminding myself that I was free to tell the truth and I didn’t have to hide anymore. In time, I realized not everyone I meet needs to hear my story.

It took seven years to write my memoir. I’m not embarrassed about how long it took. Jeannette Walls said it took her five years to write hers. Dealing with complex family histories requires time to decipher the patterns and understand what happened.

At the same time, there’s rarely a good excuse for lying. Adam and Eve were created to be naked and unashamed in the Garden. It was only after they stopped being honest with themselves and God that they became ashamed and hid. Lies bring shame. Telling the truth heals us and restores our freedom.

My book is finally finished! Most people who have read it feel it is a beautiful story and it has even been compared to Educated by Tara Westover. The best part of this for me is that I can truly say my life is like an open book. I don’t need to apologize or explain my idiosyncrasies any more — and I don’t need to tell all my stories in person. Sometimes I just tell people to read the book.

Peace and freedom!

Cherilyn

P.S. If you haven’t read Chasing Eden yet, you can get your copy by clicking on this picture

One comment

  1. Hi Kat,

    Thank you for your comment. I hear you and understand where you are coming from. Every one of us has to ask for ourselves what is the price of silence? What is the price of speaking out loud? It’s like a highwire act sometimes. For me, I wrote–not to hurt anyone, but to set myself free from their expectations of which I have been a slave for much of my life.

    In my memoir I wrote about events that happened 30 years ago, but that we rarely spoke about in my family of origin. Those events affected not only my life, but my siblings’ lives and even those in the next two generations.

    If you are familiar with the ACE study, you can see how Adverse Childhood Experiences affect our health for years to come. They also affect our education levels and who we marry and how we raise our own children. The result is often alcoholism and drug addiction and irresponsible behavior passed down to the third and fourth generations. This is not to shame anyone, but to set the record straight about what happened and how and why so many people in my family have had to fight addictions whether it is to food, pain pills, alcohol, and street drugs. When both of my grand nieces were born addicted to drugs, I felt very sad to realize these patterns of hopelessness started long ago and far away and we need to remember that honesty and clean living is our only hope.

    That said, i didn’t write my story for my immediate family members who barely speak to me. I wrote it for struggling survivors to remind them we always, always have a choice!

    Peace and freedom to you!

    Cherilyn

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