STORY

Our Stories Are Light And We Need to Tell Them

It doesn’t matter as much what Maria’s family thinks, but the fact that despite what her uncle did to her when she was twelve, she found the guts to tell her story.

It wasn’t easy. She told me how her father accused her of being a liar and her mother called her trouble-maker. Her abuser flat out denied what he had done. Her sisters accused her of thinking she was special. “Why didn’t he do anything to us, why are you so special?”

Photo by Toni Oprea on Unsplash

Maria stuck with her story even though no one else wanted to listen. She felt very lonely as she grew older and distanced herself from her family as soon as she became an adult. The pain of not being supported and believed affected her marriage and even her ability to find a career. When she became pregnant, she even questioned her ability to love her child. This is what sometimes happens when someone grows up in a family lacking respect and honesty.

When her baby girl was three months old, Maria had an epiphany. She looked at her daughter sleeping peacefully, trusting her as the mother to care for her. Maria realized she was the one to lead the way and protect her daughter. That’s when she decided to tell her story to someone who might listen. She stared with her husband. Then she found a counselor. Next, she found a woman’s support group where she told her story.

That day, the first time Maria told her story to a group of women, was the day she knew she was finally healing. Other women came up to her and told her how brave she was and how they had suffered a similar situation. One woman even thanked her for telling her story so she could find the courage to tell hers. This is what happens when we tell our stories, we illuminate the path for someone else.

The narcissist will say you’re telling your story to get attention or revenge. This is because that’s how an abuser thinks. Most empaths don’t think like the narcissist and that’s how they were able to use us in the first place—because we care about people and have real hearts that can be broken.

I’ve even had to deal with this in my own life. Long before my memoir was published, family members accused me of lying and embellishing. One said all I wanted was attention. Someone else said, “She just wants to be popular.” The truth is I have always had a few true friends. I don’t need attention and I have no dreams of being popular. What I wanted was to stop hiding the truth of my life. I wanted to live free and stop feeling ashamed for my father’s choices.

So if you are like Maria and me, and someone made fun of you for telling the truth of what happened to you, take a moment and think about those crazy accusations. Listen hard! Each of these accusations is a form of gaslighting. They say it to make you feel you are somehow flawed for wanting to be whole. For wanting to share what happened to you. They want you to think you don’t deserve to use your voice.

When my book was finally published, the first thing I thought was no one can take away my voice now!

We tell our stories to let our voices be heard.

We tell our stories to refute the lies the narcissist used to silence us.

We tell our stories because we had good times as well as bad times and they all formed the person we are today.

We tell our stories to light the way for others who are struggling to give them hope.

We tell our stories because every time we tell it, every time we share a book, every time we sign our names, we are reminded that this is our story and we are free!

If you’re working on your memoir, keep in mind, that writing and publishing will change your life—it might not make you rich, it might never be read by the narcissist, it might never make you famous—but you don’t need all these things to be free. Freedom comes with living authentically.

This change I’m talking about is an internal change. Since I published my book Chasing Eden a Memoir, I not only sleep better but I lost 45 lbs! This was due to an internal change—I stopped eating my pain. I finally spoke my truth and became free! And it’s just as true for you!

Peace and freedom!

PS I’ve been signing copies of my book all week for readers. If you’d like an autographed copy, I still have a few left at $20 per book or 2 books for $30 with free shipping. This is a good time to order if you want it before Christmas. Just send me a message and we can work it out.

And you can always order online here.

STORY

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

STORY

Candy Communion

Hi Friends,
 
Here is an excerpt from my newly released Memoir Chasing Eden:

Momma hated going to the laundromat, but I loved it. Dirty clothes gave us an excuse to get out of the motel room and talk by ourselves for a couple of hours with no Daddy to interrupt, no younger kids to discipline, and no household tasks to distract her. Helping Momma with the laundry gave me a weekly opportunity to have her undivided attention and talk about my teenage dreams while she seemed willing to listen.

Laundromats were also a great place to go people-watching. I liked to analyze everything from their style of clothing to the kind of cars people drove. It might’ve been the stories I told myself, but it seemed like most people were living more exciting lives than I was. Momma wasn’t beyond people watching herself, but whenever my staring distracted me from doing my chores, she’d accuse me of “spacing out,” and threaten to bring my sister next time.

One spring day in 1982 began like every other laundry day. Daddy drove us through the Seattle fog and parked our yellow Ford van in front of the glass doors so we could haul our nine garbage bags of dirty laundry inside. He gave Momma a twenty-dollar bill for the quarter machine before buying a newspaper and going back to the car to read it.

Momma went to make quarters, while I rushed to spread the laundry across an entire row of washers to claim our territory. I dreaded opening the bags, knowing at least one of them would include the rotten stench of dirty socks–so I held my breath and started filling washers as fast as I could. When I paused to catch my breath, my eyes traveled around the room, checking out the stories of the day.

A bearded man read a hunting magazine while his wife pushed a cart full of clothes to the dryers. A little girl in pigtails was throwing a tantrum and begging her mother for candy. Then I saw her–a teenage girl about my age, stacking t-shirts into a laundry basket. I didn’t mean to stare, but I couldn’t help it. It’d been months since I’d spoken to a girl my age.

She wore a short, feathered haircut, designer jeans, and a red peasant blouse. Hanging from her neck swung a gold heart on a chain. Next to her purse sat a small transistor radio. I could faintly hear the voice of Juice Newton singing, “Angel of the Morning.” On top of her jeans sat an oval key-chain. I squinted to read the words, “Green River Community College.” It wasn’t her clothes or tousled hairstyle, and it wasn’t the radio—although I could only dream of rocking out freely. The truth was this girl had everything I’d ever wanted and probably a boyfriend too, but the thing I envied the most was her key-chain. It symbolized freedom to drive, go to school, and make friends.

It wasn’t her fault she was living a charmed life, and I didn’t wish to steal anything from her. I would’ve flashed her a smile if she’d looked my way, but she never even glanced toward my ragged skirt and faded blouse. It was apparent she had friends to see and places to go. She set her radio on the top of her clean laundry and strategically balanced the basket on her hip. As she passed through the glass doors, I went to the window to see what kind of car she drove. She set the basket down next to a gold Trans Am and unlocked the driver’s door.

A thud distracted me when a small, brown bird crashed into the glass window on the other side and fell to the sidewalk below. I decided to step outside and see if I could help it, but I looked back when I heard the girl shut her door and start the engine. She adjusted the rearview mirror and paused for a second. I wondered whether she noticed me staring. Without signaling, she pulled out into the traffic, while I watched her golden form fade into the Seattle mist.

The sparrow looked so out of place lying on the concrete. I hoped she wasn’t dead. When I touched her, she opened her eyes, fluttered her wings, and flew straight up, disappearing into the clouds. I went back inside to the flickering fluorescent light, hoping Momma hadn’t noticed I was gone. But it was too late. I found her shaking her head.

“Cherie, where have you been? Maybe I should bring Mara next time.”

Momma spoke in staccato-like tones as though we were dealing with an emergency. She gave me a handful of quarters. I went back to loading the machines until I felt a sharp stab at my waist. I reached inside my skirt to re-hook the safety pin holding my underwear together. Then ignoring the musty odor of mildewed towels, I became a machine myself—one washer filled, soap dispensed, quarters fed, and on to the next–until all nine began to vibrate and hum while they shook the dirt out of our clothes.

After I slid the quarters into the last machine, my feet seemed glued to the avocado-colored carpet. For a moment, I thought it was sticky. I could see where someone had spilled their soda, but as I forced myself to move past the stain, I realized it was something more. I’d been vaguely aware that I’d been old enough to leave home since my last birthday–but I couldn’t figure out how to separate from my family. For over a year, my parents had been telling me they’d help me as soon as we got settled, but we’d been living in a motel for months.

The girl my age had slapped my face with the brutal truth that it was too late to catch up to my peers. As my brain strained to accept this reality, I sat down in an orange melamine chair and forced myself to breathe. I imagined her dancing and laughing with her friends, while I was stuck in another universe, sorting my siblings’ dirty laundry. I wondered how I could get from my planet to hers.

When the washers quit spinning, Momma washed her hands and began to load the wet clothes into the dryers. My job was to drop quarters into each machine and turn the dial. Our task complete, we counted the extra coins to see how much we had left for the candy machine.
Every Friday afternoon, Momma and I savored chocolate while we meditated on the colorful clothes swirling in the dryers like a row of kaleidoscopes. In this noisy place, without upsetting Daddy, we discussed our dream to live in a house like normal people. This ritual was our liturgy, the candy our sacrament–and our hopes ascended like prayers, fulfilling this weekly communion between mother and daughter.

As I munched on the candy, I made small talk with Momma. I told her about the bird so she wouldn’t wonder what I was doing outside the building. I never mentioned the girl until I realized it was time to unload the dryers. I felt a rising panic when I realized we might not talk alone for another week. I couched my words carefully knowing any discussion about my lack of education or loneliness got on her nerves.

“I wish I had a friend my age.” Even before the words left my mouth, I realized I’d made a mistake, and I knew what she’d say. Momma had been lonely with only one sister, so she’d planned a family of four kids to give me more siblings. I rephrased my words, “I’m grateful for my siblings, but I want to go to school and have friends like the kids on TV. I feel so far behind all the people my age that I’m afraid I’ll never catch up.” I tried to keep my throat from cracking to sound as calm as possible, but speaking the truth out loud caused my voice to shake against my will.

Momma rolled her eyes. “I hope you’re not complaining about not going to school again. We’ve discussed this before. For one thing, TV isn’t real life. And for another, I went to an academy, and believe me; school is not all it’s cracked up to be. If watching TV gives you a bad attitude, maybe you should stop watching it.”

I started to say it wasn’t the TV, but before I could finish, Momma gathered up the detergent and bleach and headed for the door. She waved for Daddy to come and help us carry out the clean clothes. Once we’d loaded the laundry into the back seat, I slumped against a clean garbage bag full of warm towels and inhaled the scent of hot plastic.

Daddy, sensing I was upset about something, looked at me through the rearview mirror.
“What’s going on?”

I was afraid I’d blurt out what was on my mind, so I turned toward the window to avoid eye contact. “Nothing. I’m just depressed about not going to school.”

Daddy drove the few blocks to the motel in silence, then blew through his lips as he turned onto the asphalt parking lot. “Cherie, when are you going to stop living in the past? We can’t do anything about last year. Give me a break. I’m trying to get us back to Montana as soon as the next car sells.”

He’d been saying this for months. I knew complaining about it wouldn’t solve my problem. As soon as the car stopped, I grabbed a bag of laundry and hauled it across the threshold of the motel door, past the tiny kitchenette, and into the crowded bedroom I shared with my three younger siblings. Sorting through the bag, I pulled out my blouses and tossed them into the worn cardboard box I used as a dresser.

The younger kids were watching the Brady Bunch–the one where Marcia broke her nose on a football. With the bluish light from the TV flashing on the wall, I wadded up a faded gold bedspread and placed two flat, lumpy pillows in front of it on the bed. Crossing my legs, I positioned myself against the headboard, with the bedding supporting my back. My parents had tried everything to stop me from rocking, but this was one of those days I couldn’t help myself. The girl at the laundromat had stirred my deepest dreams, and I was trying to remember what made me forget them.

Shutting my eyes to escape the flicker of the TV, the faint smell of dead mouse, and the sounds of Marcia and Greg yelling at each other, I started to rock back and forth. But just as I entered an altered, dream-like state and began to escape my body, Abby’s voice sucked me back into the room.

“Cherie, can you play Monopoly with me?”

I opened my eyes to see my twelve-year-old sister standing in front of me with a fist full of colored bills. I usually loved playing with her, but at the moment, I was sick of watching fake families on TV and playing games with counterfeit money. Abby still had the luxury of childhood for a few more years and had no clue how far we’d drifted off course.

I shook my head, “No, I’m tired.” The tone of my voice warned her to leave me alone.

For years, faces and places had spun around me like a revolving door, while my own life seemed to be standing still. I was caught up in some nebulous land between childhood and adulthood where birthdays stacked up but the years never seemed to make a difference or bring any new accomplishments. My peers were celebrating life with their friends, while my father’s choices had sequestered me inside a motel prison, with little to do but laundry and watching reruns on TV.

Daddy often said, “Don’t worry about an education–Jesus will come before you grow up.” But either he or Jesus had screwed up because time was running out and I was stuck in limbo–somewhere between reality and the end of the world. Was life meant to be this way, or was our family an exception because Daddy couldn’t figure out where to settle and make a living? And if Daddy couldn’t make his dreams come true, how could I?

Any discussion about my dreams and fears exasperated my parents. Daddy got angry when I remembered the things he hoped I’d forget, and Momma got frustrated when I spoke the truth about things she chose to ignore. I needed to understand how I had ended up in this predicament, but since they wouldn’t talk about it, I had no choice but to escape my body through rocking. So I closed my eyes, resumed my rhythm, and conjured up my elephant memory. I soon forgot I was sitting on a sagging mattress in a dark motel room and my mind fled the stale air, while I traveled back in time to find the truth.

Like what you just read?

This is the first chapter of my memoir Chasing Eden. It’s an indie book published by myself and it’s one month old this week. I call it “the little book that could” because it stayed #1 on the Amazon Teen and Young Adult Bestseller for New Releases for 3-1/2 weeks. And even though it’s dropped down, it has at least fifty reviews–many with five stars. I get emails every day from people telling me what a joy it’s been for them to read it.

Here’s what people are saying about Chasing Eden A Memoir:

“Spellbinding and inspiring. I couldn’t put it down.”-Kathleen Clem, MD, FACEP

“Clough’s story has the tension and energy to motivate staying up late to repeatedly promise oneself, “I will read just one more chapter.” -Cynthia Rempel Zirkwitz

“As someone who is obsessed with memoir, I can say this one stands with the best. Readers will see similarities to the narcissistic fathers in both Educated and The Glass Castle but this in no way makes Cherilyn’s story predictable. I was glued to my seat, fingernails dug in, going from tears of frustration and gasps of shock to being so angry that I wanted to throw my iPad across the room. However, and delightfully so, there were also enough laughs and beautiful moments to get me through the saga of neglect and abuse.” –Jeannie Robinson

About finding your voice and speaking your truth, despite the potentially eternal consequences of doing so. –Sharon Esteves

“This is a book about the power of hope. While trapped in its pages, I laughed, cried, and dreamt too. I loved its genuine plot, rich descriptions, and lovable characters…Chasing Eden will captivate you and inspire you all the way through! -Karina Bresla

“It is a story that is both heartbreaking and inspiring; told in such a kind and gracious manner that it stays with you long after the final page. Highly recommended!”Barbara Womack

Clough unrolls a tapestry of survival, not a rose-tinted triumph, and it is finally this fidelity to what we all experience in the mixed bag of our own family dynamics that lends Clough’s account its impact. For readers who’ve appreciated the introspection of Educated, Clough adds another voice for those listening and trying to understand the way in which extremist beliefs are lived out in family life. –Shelley Weaver

Chasing Eden, a sensitively written memoir set in the cage of religious fundamentalism, captures the confusing nuances of childhood abuse. You can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste one little girl’s gradual awakening, but Clough creates space for her family members’ complexities and motivations as well. In the pages of this story, readers will discover insights for their own awakenings and be led a step further into the light of healing.  -Natalie Hoffman, Author of Is It Just Me?

*****

Many common threads run through our childhood stories–especially those of us raised by controlling parents, and yet, each story, yours and mine are unique–so unique they are different from the stories of our siblings. And each one is just as important as the other.

I’ve set the ebook so anyone can afford it because I believe stories teach us about hope and healing. If you’re writing a memoir, I wish you blessings as you write. Your story matters just as much as mine. We need all of our messy stories to heal the world.

Peace and freedom!

Cherilyn

STORY

How My Childhood Fear of Fire Empowered Me to Write My Memoir

One of the first stories my mom ever told me was of her waking up to discover that our clothes hanging over the woodstove had caught fire, blocking our exit from the Alaska cabin we lived in when I was two. If she hadn’t awakened, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Thus began my early childhood fear of fire. A year later, when my mom burned some cardboard angels in the backyard trash barrel, my fears increased. If angels could burn, so could I. My little heart raced in terror whenever I saw a flame. With such a powerful foe as fire, I wondered how could I ever stay safe?

My night terrors included dreams of fire and when the gas furnace glowed with its blue flame in the next house we lived in, I woke my parents every time the furnace flickered on.

As I grew older and we moved from place to place, I began to see fire as my friend. When I lived without electricity, fire kept me warm. When I was hungry, fire cooked my food. When it was dark, fire gave me light. When I was afraid of wild animals, fire provided me with security.

Despite my initial dread of flames, I learned to build a hot fire with lots of kindling and tell stories around it as my father and grandmother did. Fire, which was once the reason for my nightmares, became a soothing friend which warmed me, nourished me, entertained me and protected me.

It’s often this way when we experience fear. At first, fear often keeps us from exploring our options. But once we’ve been thrown into the fire, we learn to live with the consequences of our choices and sometimes the choices of others. We might be afraid we can’t take the heat, but the secret to sanity is finding a way to survive the fire and use it as a resource without allowing it to consume us.

I’ve been told writing a childhood memoir is a lot like playing with fire. They warned my parents probably won’t enjoy reading it and my siblings will have seen things differently due to age and personality differences. I believe this is true, but the question is who am I writing this memoir for? I was warned that I might get burned. In my case, dealing with narcissistic family members had burned me anyway, and most of my family hasn’t had a relationship with me for nearly ten years.

And when it came down to who I am writing for, I realized it is first for my inner child — the little girl who endured the abuse and moving and lack of friends and education. I wrote to let her know everything will be all right in the end. Then I realized I am not the only one who has had a childhood of moving, neglect, and abuse. There are thousands of people who have suffered even more than I have. They need to know they can be okay too.

So I took a chance and decided to walk across hot coals to take the journey of remembering my own life events. It’s been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I’ve been able to enter the flames of the past and endure the burns of family members’ accusations for writing my story and now I’ve been able to rise up out of the ashes. You’ve heard of a victory march, well writing memoir is a victory write!

A beta reader who read my book just sent me this note:

“I just finished your book. It was so hard to stop reading it! I love love love your story! Your guts! Your superpowers! Your heart! Your desire to speak the truth! To get freedom! You are an inspiration! I laughed and cried and dreamt with you! I hadn’t read such a captivating story for very long!”

Then she went on to say,

“Your family can’t take this away from you, no one can. It’s your truth and yours alone to tell!”

This is the truth for me and for you too — if you are thinking of writing your own story. The hardest thing I ever did was face my fears and realize these painful events could also bring healing to me and others who have lived through an abusive childhood. And it is just as true for you!

I’m so glad I faced the fire and wrote about it!

Chasing Eden A Memoir will be out on Amazon next month!

You can also check it out on Goodreads.

I’m so excited to share it with you!

STORY

What if Your Family Doesn’t Want You to Tell Your Story?

You survived a hard childhood or a crazy marriage or got kidnapped by Oompa Loompas, and now you want to write a memoir about it. Some of your biggest obstacles are family members. Aunt Tilly accuses you of not honoring your parents and your kid sister is calling you a liar. What to do?

Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash
Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

Let’s start with honor. The fifth commandment says to “honor your father and mother so your days will be long upon the land the Lord gives you.” Even non-religious people use the word honor. The big buzz phrase in the blockbuster movie Gladiator was, “Strength and honor.” I think it’s fair to say if you’re thinking of writing a memoir, you’ll definitely need strength and honor to finish the task.

You’ll need clarity and emotional strength so you can focus on why you want to tell this story. No one else gets to call this shot. Only you can decide the why of what you write. Your task is to remain curious and honest to facilitate your understanding of events.

Once you begin writing your story, you can tell it with honor because honor shares the same root word with honesty and there can be no honor without honesty. Allow me to repeat this very vital truth — there can be NO honor without honesty. It doesn’t matter if your father hid under the porch drunk as a skunk and made you lie to the bill collectors. To tell your story, you will have to utilize honesty to give honor to it, and that honesty includes what it was like for you as a child lying to the authorities and giving at least some honor to your father’s story which most likely involves his struggle with alcohol.

Relatives often accuse writers of trying to hurt everyone by “making up stories to get even.” It’s a lame argument. First of all, you didn’t make up the events of your childhood — your parents’ choices and other factors did. Plus, if you really wanted to make up a story, it would be soooo much easier to write a novel. You’d have a lot more fun with no one complaining about your manuscript. The third reason this accusation is bogus is it would be insane to write a book just to get even–despite what the spiteful sisters say. If you were a vindictive person, you might try suing people instead; it involves a lot less personal bleeding on the page, and you can hide behind a lawyer.

People write a memoir because they want to understand what happened in their own lives or they’ve got secrets they need to get off their chest. It takes strength to break open the secret vault of stories that nobody wants to talk about. If your life intersects with these stories, they are public domain as long as you are sharing from your perspective.

Perspective is an import factor in honor. If four people standing on different corners witness the same traffic accident, they will each give a unique report because they saw it through their lens. It’s the same with family stories. Perspectives can be due to birth order, age, time and place.

While each person in the family has the rights to their version of the story, some people wish to shut others up, and that’s not fair. As I told my sister, you have the right to tell your story, and I won’t put you down for it. Will this give her permission to write about what an awful monster I am? Even if she decides to lie? Or if she becomes mentally unglued in the telling and veers from the path of honesty and honor? She’s still free to tell her side of the story. It will be up to the readers to decide if she is engaging with honesty. Credibility is a factor for all of us who tell our stories.

There’s also a certain dishonor you’ll find when you’ve grown up in a narcissistic family. This is where the narcissist recruits flying monkeys and scapegoats you for telling the truth. It’s a game you can never win because you will never get the approval of the narcissist or the flying monkeys if they want to cover up their behavior. Being scapegoated is like a permanent shunning, so if that happens then, it just makes you all the more free to tell your messy, crazy family stories. Just keep in mind narcissistic people are the most litigious people in the world so do yourself a favor and use pseudonyms and make it clear you are only sharing your experience and not claiming to assign motives to someone else’s story.

When it comes to honoring, it’s import to tell the best version of the truth we can find. It’s honorable to acknowledge your alcoholic father was also a loving dad when he was sober who taught you many good things. This is also why it’s honorable to allow your little sister who can’t remember this incident to tell her side of the story about her wonderful sober father because he began to go to AA before she was old enough to know about the secret benders he went on while she was still in diapers.

So let’s get this straight. When you tell your story, you aren’t telling your sister’s story or your father’s story or the gospel truth in any way. As a matter of fact, even the gospels don’t agree on everything; this has been stated as proof of their credibility because four witnesses saw four versions of what happened.

When your relatives fight over the family stories, it simply means their arguing over which version they believe is the best and since everyone has their own script, they might call yours a lie. Your job, should you accept it, is to tell your own story and engage it with curiosity, strength, and honor and ignore the critics. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It’s not the critics who count.”

STORY

Cookie Angel

When my teacher asked what I could bring for the Christmas party,
I remembered Momma and Daddy arguing over grocery money,
so I whispered that we didn’t have much money for food.

Image by Cherilyn Clough

He patted my shoulder, winked at me and said, “Then you just bring ketchup.” He probably assumed we had ketchup in our refrigerator and was doing me a favor by telling me to bring something we already had. He didn’t know the three foods Momma never brought into our house were meat, eggs, and ketchup.

When Momma went to the store later that week, I went along and checked out the price of ketchup. I was relieved to discover it cost 19 cents. I waited until Momma got to the pickle aisle to say, “I’m supposed to bring ketchup to the school Christmas party.”

Momma’s nose wrinkled up like she smelled something sour. I got the feeling she couldn’t be more disgusted if I were responsible for bringing a roasted pig.

“Ketchup is made from rotten tomatoes and vinegar. Why would you sign up for something so unhealthy?”

“I don’t know. Everyone has to bring something.”

“Well, that’s ridiculous. You’re not taking ketchup. We don’t even eat ketchup. If the school wants ketchup, let someone else bring it.”

“But Momma, I have to bring something.”

“Well, it’s not going to be ketchup. Maybe you should just skip the party. It’s not an actual school day anyway.”

“But I have to go to the party! All my friends will be there!”

I tried to hold back the tears because I knew Momma didn’t like public scenes, but my eyes watered anyway.

Momma grabbed my arm and spoke sternly, “Look, if you can’t be mature about this maybe you need to wait in the car with Daddy.”

When I got back to the car, Daddy listened to my side of the story and said, “We’ll discuss when Momma gets back.” Then he went back to reading his newspaper.

And that’s how my entire family sat in the dark parking lot of the grocery store debating whether we should use our last dollar to buy ketchup. If this had happened in Sequim, I wouldn’t have cared, but I finally had friends, and I was determined to go to the party. I made my case by describing the humiliation of going to the party empty-handed. It was bad enough to tell the teacher we didn’t have much food, but if the other kids saw me coming to the party with nothing, then everyone would know I was poor.

Momma had only one dollar and fifteen cents left in her purse. If I bought the ketchup, she’d be down to less than a dollar. Daddy was more sympathetic than Momma, and after some negotiation, they agreed I could go in the store and buy the ketchup. It was a hollow victory because I felt terrible for robbing Momma of her last grocery dollar. At the same time, I had to attend the party, or never be seen at school again.

My hand shook as I handed the dollar bill to the cashier. It was a relief to hide the bottle of ketchup inside a brown paper bag, but even then, I was afraid every person I passed on the way to the car, could see how selfish I was for buying it.

As I lay on my bunk that night, I remembered how Momma once bought an entire box of Peppermint Patties for me to hand out on my birthday. A case of candy cost a lot more than a bottle of ketchup, so why was Momma so resentful about me spending nineteen cents to attend a party? I felt like I was worth less than a bottle of ketchup. Had she stopped loving me?

When Mara turned out the light, I smothered my face in my pillow so she couldn’t hear me cry and asked God why he sent me to a poor family. As I lay there crying, our cat, Cubby came to me and gently put her paw on my face as if she was trying to comfort me. Grandma told me how Jesus loves us through our kitties. It felt like a sign. I reached out and cradled her soft body in my arms. She touched her nose to mine and soothed me with her purr until I fell asleep.

The next morning, I took the bottle of ketchup to school, placed it on the table and never saw it again. I was looking around for my friends when something else on the table caught my eye. In the center of the table, arranged on a fancy platter, was an entire choir of cookie angels. Their golden forms were exquisitely decorated with jewel-toned royal icing, and their colored robes glowed like lights on a Christmas tree. They reminded me of a picture from a children’s fantasy book.

Momma had trained me to recognize foods containing eggs at every potluck or party. I knew most cookies–unless we made them, had eggs in them. I was pretty sure these cookies had both eggs and butter—two taboos, but I was mesmerized by their beauty. I couldn’t stop staring at one purple robed angel. I wondered what it would be like to taste her dainty foot. I must’ve licked my lips because a kind-faced older woman came up to me and said, “Go ahead and taste one–I made them for a girl just like you.”

I looked behind me to see if she was speaking to someone else, but no one was there. Then I quickly scanned the room to make sure Mara wasn’t watching before reaching out my hand. The angel was too beautiful to eat, so I held her up to my nose and took a whiff of her vanilla scented yellow curls. The idea of eating such a lovely cookie felt like a crime. I was afraid to taste her because of the eggs, but I couldn’t take her home because I knew if Momma saw her, she would end up in the garbage.

The nice lady was staring me as if she was waiting for me to taste the angel. To be polite, I cautiously bit off one shoe. The texture was flaky and slightly salty, but my tongue danced at the mouth-watering sweetness. I decided to eat the other foot too. Before I knew it, I’d swallowed the angel up to her waist. I thought of the song, “I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor,” only, in this case, I was doing the swallowing. Her purple robe felt soft to my lips and sweet on my tongue. I wondered if this was what manna tastes like–if so, I could eat it every day and never complain.

The cookie angel was more than a snack. She transformed me from feeling like a girl who was less than a bottle of ketchup, into someone worthy of eating the most beautiful angel I’d ever seen. When I went home, I kept my secret. Like Momma said, “What people don’t know, won’t hurt them.” I took stock in my eleven-year-old wisdom and decided one bottle of ketchup is worth the entrance to a party. One kind friend is worth more than a school of unfriendly faces. One warm cat is worth more than a thousand blankets, and one beautiful cookie is worth more than a whole table full of food that doesn’t shine.

PS If you would like to make your own cookies here is the recipe.

 

STORY

The Worst Thanksgiving Ever

If anyone ever tries to tell you Thanksgiving
is all about the food,

don’t you dare believe them.

roya-ann-miller-200123-unsplash
Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

It’s been twenty years this month, but I’ll never forget my worst Thanksgiving dinner ever and the lessons learned. After living in another state for several years, my husband and I had moved back to the Northwest and were excited to host Thanksgiving dinner for my family. We eagerly decorated our house with Christmas lights, planned the menu, made place cards and invited everyone. I was still young and naïve and dreamed of a perfect family dinner.

My parents raised us to be oscillating vegetarians; we were vegan for six months, then we went back to eating sour cream and ice cream, before switching back to vegan again. Even though my childhood diet changed, two things were consistent; my parents never had an egg in the house, and we always broke the vegan rule during the holidays because our favorite recipes all contained dairy.

While I was planning my family’s favorite dishes, I discovered two of my siblings wouldn’t make it. I’d remained a vegetarian, but two of my siblings had started their own traditions with turkey and decided not to join us that year. I understood their absence because in our family it’s essential not to break the rules. There was shame surrounding the eating of a turkey. My brother was the first to break with all our family traditions, and when certain family members ate dinner at his house one year, they complained about the smell of baking turkey making them sick. I think the holidays should be more about sharing time with family, than what we eat, but I didn’t make the rules in this family as I was about to be reminded.

So despite missing two of my siblings, it still looked like we were going to have a good ol’ vegetarian Thanksgiving. We were renting an old farmhouse with a leaky oven and no dishwasher, but my heart soared in anticipation of creating a delicious dinner for my parents and my remaining sister.

I got up at five in the morning on Wednesday to begin the long process of making seitan or gluten steaks. For those who’ve never made this fake meat substitute, let me just say it’s an arduous process. First, you make a thick dough out of gluten flour, then you slice it into strips and boil them. After they cool, you bread and fry the “steaks.” Then you sauté lots of onions and mushrooms and add with sour cream to make a thick gravy and bake all of it in the oven until it browns. No, it’s not that healthy, and it’s certainly not vegan or gluten-free, but this was my mom’s signature dish for holiday meals while I was growing up. I’m pretty skilled at making gluten, but the process takes hours–especially if you’re cooking for a crowd.

Next, I rolled out two crusts for the pumpkin pies and made the filling–just like Mom always did, using the recipe from Libby’s pumpkin label. Then I made ambrosia—a fruit salad with marshmallows, sour cream, pineapple bits, and maraschino cherries. To keep my husband happy, I made his favorite vegetarian stuffing, then I baked the sweet potatoes, cutting them up and spreading butter and brown sugar on them. The last thing I did was peel and cut up a large pot of potatoes. I covered them with water and struggled to find a place for them in the fridge. Finally, everything was prepped for the morning when I planned to make some homemade dinner rolls.

I was on my feet all day, first with cooking, then washing dishes for hours without a dishwasher. After mopping the floor and putting away all the dishes, I sat down to rest my painful feet and aching back and noticed it was eight o’clock at night. That’s when I picked up the phone to call my mom.

She told me she and my dad had been thinking about their diet and had decided to go vegan that year. I didn’t know what to say, what I wanted to say was, “After all these years of oscillating back and forth, can’t you just wait one more day?” It wasn’t like the concept of being a vegan was new to any of us. She went on to explain how she had “experimented” and she and my dad planned to eat her non-dairy gluten steaks. Exhausted from all my hard work, I felt like crying. I’d slaved away all day making food for her that she wasn’t going to eat. I felt like she’d kicked me in the stomach. It seemed she was more interested in controlling what we ate, than seeing each other. No matter how hard I worked, my offerings were never good enough.

After my mom hung up, I didn’t have any time to tell my husband what she said, because I got a call from my sister. She too had decided to go vegan, and she was bringing a vegan pumpkin pie and vegan potatoes. Her voice faded in and out, while I silently screamed in my psyche. Apparently, she and my mom had been in communication with each other long enough to coordinate their vegan food, but neither had the consideration to inform me as the hostess to tell me the menu had changed.

When I hung up, I burst into tears. All my intentions of having a wonderful dinner with my family had evaporated. All of my hard work was unappreciated by them. I knew it wasn’t my cooking, because no one in my family has ever called me a bad cook–besides I was using my mom’s recipes. And if they told me they wanted to go vegan, I could have found a way to adjust my cooking.

Love and empathy from my husband along with a good night’s rest revived me. I got up the next morning, determined to make something my family might enjoy and made homemade dinner rolls from scratch. If only I could go back in time to talk with my younger self, I’d ask her WHY her self-esteem was so caught up in cooking food to get her family’s approval.

The guests arrived while my dinner rolls were still baking. Without asking, someone moved my rolls to the top shelf to fit their casserole in the oven. When my rolls burned, I couldn’t hide my feelings; tears streamed down my face while I vulnerably told my family how much it hurt that no one informed me of their secret agenda. There was silence for about a minute; then my dad told me to stop being so sensitive before he asked someone to pass him the vegan casserole.

I have no idea how I got through that meal. After everyone left, my husband and I went for a walk. He was angry at my parents’ lack of respect. He said he was through having them over to our house and he wouldn’t put up with them again. I started to cry. I had no other parents to compare them with, and I wanted to have a relationship with them. He said they didn’t know what a relationship was. I cried harder, while he yelled louder. He said, “No one but your family can make you so miserable. Why do you even want to spend time with them?”

For years I’d been in the habit of defending my parents for everything from their beating me with a belt to not teaching me how to drive and not allowing me a high school education. I told him it was because I loved them and maybe he didn’t know what love was. He said, “Yeah? Well, I love you, but your family has put a noose around our necks. It’s like they’re pulling us into the undertow of the river.”

We both stared at the Columbia River flowing next to us. Then he said, “I won’t stand by and watch while they abuse you, so you’ll just have to choose between your family or me.”

I screamed back, “I can’t do that. How can you ask me to do that?”

To emphasize he was serious, he threw his keys into the river.

There was a moment of silence as we both realized we were locked out of our house and car. Too sad to talk on the way home, we trudged back to the house in silence, where we sat down on the front porch. We lived in a tiny town with no locksmith, so we decided to break down the back door to get inside the house–where, thank goodness, I had an extra set of keys.

We stared at our messy kitchen filled with extra food. Then we each cut a huge slice of pumpkin pie and loaded it up with vanilla bean ice cream and cool whip and sat down in peace with each other to eat it. It was the most decadent and delicious pie I’ve ever tasted because that was the day I chose my husband, my best friend, the one who loves me.

So if anyone ever tries to tell you Thanksgiving is all about the food, don’t you dare believe them; sure, some people will try to make it about the food, but it’s really about love, respect, and gratitude. Without these ingredients, you might as well be serving cardboard.

STORY

Journey From the Cave

Once upon a time, a girl grew up in the darkness.
She had no clue how other people lived

until one day she discovered the light.

story, narcissism, narcissistic abuse, narcissist, littleredsurvivor.com
pexels-photo-573298 on Unsplash

As she followed the light, she found herself outside of the cave where she had been raised. For the first time in her life, she caught a glimpse of what she’d been missing. She was both elated at the discovery and saddened by the life her family had been living. Thus she began to search for her happiness.

Despite her relief at finding the light, the world outside the cave was almost too bright, for one thing, it seemed unpredictable and scary at times. In such moments, she found herself longing to go back into the darkness where life seemed safe and predictable. At the same time she knew such safety would also take away her freedom for she had been used as a slave by her family and now that her eyes were accustomed to the light, she’d struggle to see in the dark.

Sometimes she wished she’d been born a princess and had never known the darkness. Sad memories were lurking everywhere, and they often darkened her path adding anxiety. Even the smell of leather brought on panic attacks because it reminded her of the times she’d been beaten with a strap to appease someone else’s anger. Wherever the darkness fell, she heard the angry voices of her abusers and wondered if she’d ever find a good life.

As she stumbled over roots and rocks in her journey to get as far away from the cave as possible, she came around a bend and met an ancient woman who pulled back her shawl and offered her a leather book. She plugged her nose at the smell of the leather and noticed the old sage was bent over and her hands were gnarled. For a second, she held her crooked finger to her lips. Then she spoke in a low whisper, “Here’s a gift. It holds the secret to a happy life.”

The young girl was curious and wondered why the old woman would offer it to her, a stranger, but she accepted the book. The old woman continued in the opposite direction as the young girl opened up the book in impatience–only to discover it was full of blank pages. She turned and called out to the woman. “You tricked me! There’s nothing in this book!”

The old woman slowly turned around and with a face full of kindness replied, “Write in it, and you will find the key to happiness.”

The girl young rolled her eyes and continued her journey. That night, she lay under the stars and wondered about the mysterious meeting. In the early morning light, she sat up and began to write about it the woman and the book. She marveled at how far she had come and how much she had seen in such a short time. From then on writing became her habit and she even began to enjoy the scent of leather.

One day feeling lonely and discouraged, she thought she had nothing good to write about, but that was the day she began to write down her dreams. Each night when she sensed her day was a waste and failure, she thought up a new vision for the next day and recorded it in the book.

Like a winding river—ever changing and always moving, her journey continued for many miles and years. At first, she refused all suitors–until she found the prince of her dreams.

Her children began to grow up, and as she built a life worth living, she often looked back through her book. It was full of broken dreams, but other ideas had merged into real life. The things she wrote about were no longer a fantasy. They’d become facts. By the time she realized the value of the gift the old woman had given her, she was no longer a young girl but was becoming wiser and long in years herself. As she pondered the reality of her words, she noticed the wisdom in her halting and tired hand, written years before and faded with time; she read the question, “What do you love so much, that it’s worth doing even if you fail?”

One day she met a young girl full of energy, yet longing for stability. She recognized the expression of pain and confusion just as she’d worn on her own face so many years before. She reached into her bag and offered a handmade leather book much like the one given to her so long ago. As she held it out, she was surprised to notice her own hands had begun to grow wrinkled. The young girl almost snubbed the gift, but accepted it out of politeness as she whispered, “The things you write down will change your life.”

She continued on her way, glancing back to watch the younger women stumbled on her journey. By now she realized we each get to decide how our story ends.

 

NARCISSISTIC ABUSE, STORY

If My Wounds Were Visible

For narcissistic abuse awareness,
survivors have been asked to use the words,
“If my wounds were visible…”
to tell how our lives might have been different.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When I was seven years old and all the letters had finally come together, I was reading my paper in church when my father took my stories away. He told me to be quiet, but since I had a short attention span, I forgot and whispered to my younger sister. Strong arms pulled me to the other end of the church.

In the children’s room where I got the stories, in the very place I met with Jesus, he took off his belt and holding it by the middle, he belted my legs, hitting me with the buckle end as well as the other. I cried out in pain, but no one came to my rescue–not even Jesus. He told me to be quiet or he would give me something more to cry about. Then we went back to the sanctuary while my white fuzzy tights hid the 27 bruises forming on my legs that I would later count in my bedroom.

No one saw those bruises but my mom and me. If her wounds had been visible, I might have seen the sadness on her face when she brought my lunch to my room and allowed me to eat my dessert first. If my father’s wounds were visible, perhaps someone would have offered him some help. Maybe they would have told him. “Your kids don’t have to have perfectly quiet in church for you to be a good dad.” I know he loved me back then and I don’t think he planned to harm me. He thought he was doing his religious duty to be a good father and discipline his children to be quiet in church.

My physical wounds faded like bruises often do, but the hidden wounds on my heart in relation to God and using power-over me would fester for another thirty years. And that was in part because I hid my spiritual wounds.

Oh, how many wounds have been hidden in church? How many people hide their pain, addictions, envy, lust, and revenge behind the façade of being a good Christian? At the heart of the most damage often lies a term that is loosely used and often misunderstood–narcissism.

Have you ever heard someone jokingly say, “My work is so secret, I don’t even know what I’m doing?” Well, the narcissist’s pain is so obscure they don’t always know what they are feeling. Sure, some do, but for many, their wounds have been hidden so long they can’t even access the ability to clean them out. Many narcissistic people have buried their own shame so deep that they try to diffuse it by shaming and harming others. This is why invisible wounds are so damaging. Those once damaged often hide their wounds and inflict more pain on others.

For narcissistic abuse awareness, survivors have been asked to use the words, “If my wounds were visible…” to tell how our lives might have been different.

If my wounds were visible, I wouldn’t have had to lie to cover up for my abuser.

If my wounds were visible, relatives, teachers and church members might’ve noticed my pain and stood up for me.

If my wounds were visible, someone might have told me it’s OK to say no and that I don’t have to people please or apologize until I feel sick.

If my wounds were visible, someone might’ve taken me away and allowed me to go to high school.

If my wounds were visible, my advisers in college might’ve realized that I only had a sixth-grade education, was sheltered and naive and had no clue how to act around other people.

If my wounds were visible, someone might’ve helped me figure out how to use food for strength instead of medicating with it like a drug to numb the pain.

If my wounds were visible, people probably wouldn’t ask me why it’s taken so long for me to find healing.

If my wounds were visible, I might’ve remembered every time I looked in the mirror instead of going back for more abuse.

If my wounds were visible, the teller at the bank might have put a hold on my account, so I would stop giving all my money away to buy self-worth from my abuser.

If my wounds were visible, I might have been sent to a counselor years ago instead of waiting until I felt no hope for my life.

If my wounds were visible, people wouldn’t mistake me for a victim; they would recognize that I am a survivor and they would admire my wounds because they reveal the strength it took to get through the battles I’ve endured to learn to thrive and enjoy life today.

If my wounds were visible, I would open up and show you my worst scar because it would reveal just how strong I had to be to get this far.

If my wounds were visible, you would see them and know that I am safe for you to show your own wounds to me. Kindred spirits, we would be.

If your wounds were visible, I’d gently caress them and tell you to remember that you are stronger than you think, then I’d whisper, “Be strong and carry on warrior. You are worthy of revealing and healing your wounds.”

SCAPEGOAT, STORY

Book Review– Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

She had a sociopathic brother,
a flying monkey sister,

a bipolar or borderline father,
and a subversive narcissistic mother.
What’s a girl to do?
Rise up, get educated
and get the hell out of town.

In Educated, Tara Westover shares her inspirational story of surviving narcissistic abuse.

Educated: A Memoir
Author: Tara Westover
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
Length: 337 pages

I highly recommend this book about a girl whose childhood began on a beautiful mountain in a narrow world created by her father’s anti-establishment mindset of fear, insanity, and control and ended when she decided to venture out into the wider world and research the facts for herself. Will she come home? Can she come home? Or will home be more damaging to her spirit than the broader dangerous world her father fears? I will try not to give spoilers, but most of the information in this review was provided by the book’s author in interviews. It’s not the bare facts, but the story itself and how it plays out which is so fascinating. If you’ve ever been gaslighted, scapegoated or lied about by your own family, you will find in Tara Westover a true kindred spirit.

The title of this book might give the impression it’s merely about going to school. While the author’s lack of primary education is offset by her future ability to earn a doctorate at Cambridge, her education about society and the world outside her family is just as important as her rise academically.

You might say Tara Westover’s education started while she was very young. Her life began on an Idaho mountain with survivalist parents. A father who distrusts the government and runs an ever-spreading scrap yard. A mother who is practically coerced by her husband to become a midwife. Born the youngest in a family of seven, her mother must’ve burned out on homeschooling by the time Tara came along because she didn’t get much book learning. Her first level of education included prepping with her family for the time of desolation, dodging her father’s carelessly flung scrap metal while she does child labor in his junkyard and accompanying her mother to home births. Tara’s early survivalist education includes learning how to survive her parents’ ignorant choices and a bullying older brother—all of which are much greater threats than her father’s perceived threats of the government taking over their lives.

Her parents rarely leave the mountain. They are home-birthers, home-schoolers, anti-vaxxers, anti-establishment and anti-medical care. In a nutshell, her father seems nutso—more like a deranged lunatic with a massive stockpile of weapons than a father.

Tara’s mother appears to be her husband’s enabler as she meekly follows suit and rationalizes his unhealthy choices even when they threaten her safety and the health of her children. As a matter of fact, for a woman who will eventually create a lucrative business by claiming to be a healer and designing her own line of essential oils, her mother’s only safety instinct seems to be to protect the family secrets.

As Tara watched the insanity and chaos of her parents’ poor choices, she had one example of life beyond the mountain–an older brother who left home and went to college. He encouraged Tara to do the same. This book is about her quest to get out from under her father’s control—first physically, then emotionally and eventually spiritually. Anyone who has grown up under a narcissistic parent knows it’s not going to be easy. This process didn’t happen overnight.

This is the story of a girl who was thirsty for knowledge, got a sip of real truth and refused to drink the kool-aid any longer. It’s the story about being scapegoated and gaslighted until she questions her sanity. It’s sad, but this book is also about the loss of siblings who would prefer to vote the family line than treat their sister as a friend. It’s also a story of triumph about the girl who escaped the box she was expected to stay in and become the one who got away from all the drama and insanity of her family of origin.

It’s incredible that Tara Westover succeeded in getting a doctorate from Cambridge, but even more amazing is her social education and how she eventually transformed like Pygmalion and was able to self-differentiate from her parents and choose the life she desired for herself.

This book is an exciting read. I read it around the clock within two days. It’s also complicated enough to provoke an intellectual discourse about what it means to be faithful to oneself and how one’s loyalty to family plays out against self-worth and self-knowledge.

This memoir is the fourth book I’ve reviewed about a woman raised in a fundamentalist Mormon family. The first three were all brought up in polygamous households, but Tara’s parents are not polygamists. They keep their family in the local ward despite her father’s concerns about the Illuminati infiltrating the mainstream Mormon church. This family looks Mormon from the outside, but a more sinister agenda lies under the surface. She makes it clear this is NOT a book about Mormons but rather the head-spinning tale of a dysfunctional family. She reminds us that most Mormons send their children to public school and go to the doctor when it seems necessary. The fundamentalist vibes which are all there, under a cloak of self-righteousness, could be manifested within any denomination or cult.

The only thing that made this book uncomfortable for me to read was the descriptions of the terrible injuries this family continually sustained due to the father’s stupidity. I constantly cringed at these stories much like I would while watching a show about life-threatening emergencies. Even worse, her father truly believed all these near death injuries were ordained by his arbitrary version of God. It was all I could do to keep from screaming while I was reading it. Such vivid descriptions were necessary though for the reader to understand what Tara had to endure.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say Tara will eventually go no contact with some of her family members; she has mentioned this in interviews. What is impressive about Tara is that she shows no bitterness. She loves her parents and family but has chosen to separate from them as a boundary for her sanity. Or did they shun her first? As in most narcissistic family survivor stories, it’s hard to tell.

This memoir is a true survival story about surviving a survivalist mindset. This book is the tale of narcissistic, emotional and spiritual abuse and one girl’s victory in becoming herself despite being vilified and gaslighted. My favorite quote from the book sums up Tara’s journey,

I am not the child my father raised,
but he is the father who raised her. 
-Tara Westover

When I went to post my five-star review on Amazon, it was apparent her family got there first. There was a string of one-liner, one-star reviews with comments calling her a liar and embellisher. Even if I had not endured similar gaslighting and been called similar names, I wouldn’t find these reviews credible. Some words were misspelled. Most of them made no critical comments for discussion. They seem to be family members and employees of the family business just trying to discredit her, but the evidence in the elements of Tara’s story refute them. Such reviews only reveal what she was up against to survive mentally. Anyone who has lived through narcissistic abuse and scapegoating knows you can’t make this kind of false family togetherness up.

If you read this memoir and can relate, please consider leaving a positive review. For the sake of the Adult Children of Narcissists community, it’s the least we can do.

Tara’s story is a victory of education, but even more, it’s a triumph of human courage to rise up beyond the mountain—the only home she ever had to find her authentic home within herself. Bravo Tara Westover! You are an amazing survivor! Thank you for documenting your often painful journey so the rest of us can know that although our stories may vary, we are not alone.