Tag Archives: Childhood

Be a One Woman Riot

25 Feb

When I was a kid, if my siblings and I argued or made too much noise, we were put on silence. Silence meant we were not allowed to speak or make any noise. If we found a way to communicate through spelling letters through sign language or motioning, we might even be put on frozen statue. Frozen statue meant you were not to move at all. No touching or laughing or smiling because a smile meant you might be up to something. If you did not obey the rules of silence and frozen statues, then you could be beaten with the Persuader. Such was the “fascist regime” of my childhood. And while I loved my parents, I hoped to leave such control behind by the time I reached adulthood.

Of course I didn’t realize when people can no longer control you with the belt, they will guilt and shame and shun to push you into doing what they want. Even as a young adult, I rarely spoke to my siblings about what happened in our childhood because to do so was considered breaking the ultimate rule of family togetherness. Family togetherness means you never speak of the past—not even to each other–all must be forgiven and forgotten.

Family togetherness also means you never, ever speak about the family to outsiders. And in case you are wondering, I’m doing that right now. I’ve been doing it for seven years and I have had less phone calls from my parents than you can count on one hand. Every year, I get an email from my mom acknowledging that I was born on my birthday, but my attempts to have a real relationship with them is very limited—not because I don’t want to have one, but because they feel I have broken the rules of family togetherness and they basically have no interest in my life.

Simply speaking about things that happened over thirty years ago makes me a monster to them, but I am writing a memoir—not out of anger toward them (actually I hope to portray them with love and compassion) but because my childhood was unique and strange and it was very hard for me to grow up when I got out into the real world.

Speak the Truth Healing Fowers, Cherilynclough.com, https://www.etsy.com/listing/509653965/speak-the-truth-giclee-print-8x10-or?ref=shop_home_active_1

Prints Available in Etsy Shop, Accessories at Red Bubble

So why can’t I keep quiet? Because if I don’t speak up, no one will ever have known that I was alive or what happened in my life. No one will know what it is like to have Mt. St. Helens blow up your life and be isolated from other teenagers and denied an education while you wait for Jesus to come. I have to speak it because it was not just their lives that were affected by their choices, it was my life. These are my stories, not so much theirs, but they do play a major part.

I’ve mentioned how the current US administration brings on my childhood PTSD. It’s the authoritarian rule. In the past no matter which party was in office, it was not a huge deal because presidents from both sides respected the U. S. constitution and at least made an effort to treat all people as equal. But my PTSD was most recently triggered this last week by the treatment of the press by the White House.

I took some journalism classes in college and the first thing we were taught is the press is the watchdog on the White House steps and to imagine it being muzzled reminds me of many fascist regimes throughout history and the losses of freedom including religion. The worst part about this is that so many, even within my religious community, seem unable to see this.

My sweet grandma always kept a diary. I call her sweet because whenever I walked into the room, she made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. And she wasn’t playing favorites, I’ve seen her greet my male cousins and brother and my sisters in the same way. I think it could be fair to say she was kind to even her son in laws who really never seemed to respect her very much. There was a lot of eye rolling because she didn’t cook much and she did CPR on cats at least twice to save their lives. It’s true she talked to cats and raccoons and skunks and birds. She was like a Grandma Doolittle and many people were nervous about the skunks she fed on her back porch. It could be said about Grandma that she walked with skunks and angels.

Grandma talked to Jesus and about Jesus every day. And for decades, she kept a diary. The contents were often mundane about the weather or her pets, but sometimes they told stories of her faith in God and how he came through for her. She lived through her parents’ divorce which mortified her and separated her from her siblings and she endured the great depression and worked as Rosie the Riveter during WWII and endured many sad events such as losing her first born child at birth. Grandma lived a life of faith despite her pain.

When Grandma hurt her hip and ended up in elder care, my parents took all those decades of diaries and burned them in a big bonfire. They took away her voice before she was even dead. My siblings and I were appalled when they told us but no one confronted them because we knew it would make things harder in our family to get along.

Silence. Silence from one party can mean sadness, anger, disconnection, or even death. But forced silence is another thing altogether. Forced silence is a form of control to murder another’s voice. Or even another’s right to determine the truth by hearing more than one side of the story.

During the Women’s March I saw a video of a group of women singing a song by MILCK. My husband played it for me because he thought I would like it and when I heard it, my eyes immediately filled with tears. This is why I must write on. I can’t stop my blog or my memoir as hard as it is when I have no family to support me in telling my story, I will press on because Jesus cares.

Jesus never asks us to keep quiet about our pain or to ignore injustice. Jesus comes to each of us with love and forgiveness, but he always, always leans in to listen to our pain. I have a friend who had an abortion decades ago and she is still feeling ashamed about it. I asked her if her little boy ran over his pet turtle on his bike and was feeling horrible about it, would she care about the turtle who was not in any more pain now, or for her child? She said her child of course.

Jesus is like that. He knows we have all messed up big time at some point in our lives, but he cares more about our hearts than anything we have done wrong. This is true for parents as well as children.  But the one thing Jesus doesn’t ask us to do is be silent when we have been hurt. We are free under God’s government to share our stories and to tell our stories because this is how we overcome (Rev. 12:11).

So I don’t know about you, but I am nervous about this changing of the guard from a land of freedom of speech and diversity to a land where we are threatened to be quiet if we have a different opinion or color of skin from the powers that be, this is not how God runs his government. Jesus runs his government on freedom for all and he says we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.

If you have been shamed and abused, don’t worry if someone scapegoats you and calls you a monster. Don’t let them shut you up. You are not alone. You are one of many. Tell your story. Embrace the messy truth, speak the honest truth and cherish the value of your own voice. I’m doing it for myself, but I am also doing it for Grandma and all the women before us who were forced into silence. Let’s not be quiet. We can each become a one woman riot! Viva la resistance!

Put on your face,
Know your place,
Shut up and smile,
Don’t spread your legs,
I could do that

But no one knows me, no one ever will,
If I don’t say something, if I just lie still.
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let them hear what I have to say?

I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

I can’t keep quiet
For anyone

Cuz no one knows me no one ever will,
If I don’t say something, take that dry blue pill
They may see that monster, they may run away
But I have to do this, do it anyway

I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh I can’t keep quiet

Let it out let it out
Let it out now
There’ll be someone who understands

Let it out, let it out
Let it out now
Must be someone who’ll understand

Let it out, let it out
Let it out now
There’ll be someone who understands

Let it out, let it out
Let it out now

I can’t keep quiet
For anyone,
No, not any more.

-Written by Connie Lim and Adrianne Gonzalez

Why You Need to Talk with Your Younger Self

25 Aug

Have you ever met a stranger who reminds you of your Grandma? Or reminds you of a mean aunt who verbally abused you? When we react to other people and various stimuli, we are often reacting to our past experiences. These clues might seem like nothing at first, but consider how the triggers of the past influence the decisions and relationships we have today. This is why you need to have a talk with your younger self.

Do you love the smell of crayons and hate the smell of dodge ball rubber? This could be your seven year old self sending you messages about how fun it is to make art and how dangerous it is to get hit with an ugly red ball. Do you love certain songs and hate others? Perhaps this is your teenage self feeling nostalgic or remembering a sad episode of your younger life.

There is meme circulating through social media telling us to stop looking in the rear-view mirror. It reasons looking back is wrong because that’s not where we’re headed. It seems like sound advice until we remember there’s a very important reason for the rear-view mirror–to protect us from backing up into places we don’t want to go.

The rear-view mirror could even save your life by avoiding an accident. If we ignore the rear-view mirror we might crash, but a smart driver understands when to look in forward and when to look in the mirror. It’s the same way with remembering the past and planning the future.

Your body and character might have changed, but deep in your mind, there is still a place where that little child resides in fear or joy and longs for love. You can’t ignore that voice because it influences your life today.

I’m all the ages I’ve ever been.
-Anne Lamott

Life is mostly going forward, but sometimes we run into situations that require looking in the rear-view mirror. To refuse to listen to your younger self is like backing up without looking in the mirror.

Elephant Girl, cherilynclough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/13518803-elephant-girl-inner-child?asc=u&c=541752-inner-child

Prints and Accessories Available Here

One reason we need to remember our past is to make wrongs right. If you have a narc parent, they won’t help you do this. As a matter of fact they will do everything they can to discourage you from remembering the past. Their behavior is not about you, but about them because they aren’t proud of the way they treated you. They will say why can’t you forgive and forget? Why do you have to live in the past? They will talk about you to other people because they would rather lie about you than hear the truth about themselves. They will send in the flying monkeys to shame you for remembering the past.

(I’ve been accused of living in the past but I am a seven on the enneagram.  If anybody knows anything about an enneagram seven, they realize we love to think about the future and care very little about the past.) It doesn’t really matter what others say, remembering the past is a gift we can give ourselves.

For one thing it’s impossible to completely forget the past, because the body remembers what the mind forgets. There is a place in the brain that stores our memories and sometimes without even trying, a memory comes back and slaps us in the face. This is body memory.

Those of us who were belted can feel it all over again whenever we see or hear a belt slapping against something. My body has never forgotten the stinging on the back of my legs or the bruises as they formed. To even see the belt section on a department store as a middle aged woman has freaked me out.

One conversation I’ve had with my younger self is to explain how the belt was wrong. I didn’t deserve to be belted over and over in anger. This was not based on a true understanding of scripture. When the twenty-third Psalm states “Thy rod comforts me,” it’s not talking about a beating. Shepherds don’t beat their sheep.

It’s important for you to remind your little girl or boy inside they are no longer in danger and no one can harm them now. It’s okay to speak your truth and it’s okay to tell your stories. People who are angry or shun you because you choose truth don’t deserve to be in your life.

As I am writing a childhood memoir, I’ve enjoyed connecting with my younger self. I’ve learned I can love this little girl inside and protect her. I’ve had to teach her a few things like the fact she can’t eat all the junk food she wants. I’ve had to teach her to exercise more and that self-care is not selfish. I’ve had to teach her it’s totally okay to say no to projects she’s not interested in and it’s always right to avoid unsafe people.

I’m also teaching her it’s okay to put on nice perfume and get your hair done and dance with your husband and go on a road trip and take time to smell the flowers. The lessons I’m teaching my little girl are endless. I care for her like I would a real child because I’m giving her the love and freedom she didn’t get years ago.

What about you? How are you talking to your hidden child?

Here are some ideas you might want to try:

Have you reminded her how Jesus cares about her heart?

Have you helped her accept the apology she never got?

Have you discovered how she was asked to play a game she could never win?

Did one of her parents or both use her as a mirror?

What are the rules she grew up with that need to be rewritten?

Remember to make this fun, give your child the freedom to dance, rock out, make art, vote as she likes, dress to express herself and tell her stories.

It is never too late to give yourself the childhood you’ve always wanted.

Restoration from Narcissistic Abuse

29 Jul

When I was eleven, I had a tabby cat I loved dearly. When we moved, I had to start school late and to make it worse I had to take the fifth grade for a second time due to all of our moving. I was worried I’d never have any friends. But one thing cheered me, I had a little cat to sleep with me and sometimes she even put her paws up next to my cheek. I went to school for two months before we had to move again.

On this moving day, my cat couldn’t find her litter box because it was lost in the hurry of moving before the landlord got there. My dad hated cat messes and he went into a rage and rubbed the cat’s face in her poop. She scratched him so he threw her against the brick fireplace wall. The cat yowled in pain and ran out the open door. With tears streaming down my face and scared to say very much lest my father belt me, I went outside and called for my cat for the next two hours, but she never came back. My parents packed the car and left while I crooked my head out the back window to look for any signs of my precious kitty while we drove away, but I never saw her again.

For adults on the run, one cat was a just a small loss, but for an eleven year old girl who had very few friends, it was devastating. This happened in winter and a few flakes of snow fell while we left. I cried and cried because I was worried about my kitty, I knew she was hurt and I feared she might die or starve.

This was one of the most traumatic moments of my life, but when you live in a family that’s on the run and hiding, there’s no time to discuss how you feel, so you just stuff it—usually with food. I cried and cried and my mom gave me some peanut M and Ms (my future drug of abuse.) I was holding a large table lamp, but my body had to move so I started to rock back and forth in the car.  That’s when my mom turned around and said, “Stop that, what are you? Retarded?” I tried to sit still, but like much of my childhood, I couldn’t stop rocking due to the things that happened.

For almost forty years after I lost that tabby cat, I’ve always had a cat, but never a tabby. When we went to the humane society to get a cat three years ago, my husband insisted on a half Maine Coon tabby kitten. I didn’t want her. I thought she was ugly, but he really liked her, so I agreed to take the little sprite and figured it would be his cat since we already had a black cat I loved dearly.

Can you imagine? I thought she was ugly? But only for five minutes, because I am a cat lover after all. Oh my word! She has stolen my heart like no cat I’ve ever had before! She sticks with me all day and all night long. Sleeps beside me with her paws around my arm and her face next to mine. She is the only cat who has ever slept as close to me with her paws on my cheek like that little tabby forty years ago. She sits at my feet while I write or wash dishes or paint. She is the most affectionate, smart and crazy cat I’ve ever had.  Here is a painting I made of her.

Kitteh Coon, cherilynclough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/13518170-kitteh-coon?asc=u&c=541259-soul-sanctuary

Prints and cards available here

One day I said to my husband, “I wonder why I’ve never liked a tabby cat before, then all of the pain came back to me. Once again, I felt like that helpless eleven year old girl watching her father throw her pet and friend against the brick wall. Then I remembered all the shame that came when I was discouraged from talking or mourning about it. I literally started to rock back and forth just like I did as a child when I remembered this loss.

To be fair, my dad is an old man now who has been known to make a hot water bottle for a stray cat on a cold winter night. But this blog is not about him, it is about me and my healing from the past. If my parents were healthy, they would recognize it’s okay to make mistakes and apologize to your grown children so you can have an authentic relationship with them.

When we are traumatized we either remember it very well or we block it out. I have always remembered this happened, but I tried to forget the details. And one way I dealt with it was to never have another tabby cat. This way I could forget about my painful loss as a child. My plan to avoid dark tabbys was mostly subconscious, but deep down inside my heart I think I always knew. How can we make up such losses that seem to follow us like dark riders for the rest of our lives?

Today I was reading a new book titled Healing from Hidden Abuse. The author Shannon Thomas is a Christian therapist who has written the best book I have ever read on healing from narcissistic abuse. This emotional moment came up for me today because I was reading through the healing part of her book where Shannon explains how we can find ways to give ourselves some of what we’ve lost.

We’ll never get our missing childhoods back, but we can find some restoration in things that have meaning for us. For me, this started when I got this tabby cat. And even as I read Shannon’s book, I realized my Father in heaven was working to restore this broken piece of my heart. My husband picked out this kitten five months before I realized what narcissism is on the eve of my fiftieth birthday. I’ve always felt like that knowledge was a gift from God and now I realize God was even leading in which cat my husband chose for me.

What sort of losses have you suffered?

How are you finding ways to bring restoration back into your life?

We Are Shaped by Our Stories

14 Jul

You’ve probably heard the saying, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” One of my secrets is that my family was often homeless. It happened for a short time when I was eight years old. Then we lived in a cabin with limited utilities for most of seven years. During that time, we took our weekly showers at the state park. In my mid and late teens, we moved from campsite to campsite to motel and to cabin without any power or running water.

As I am writing my memoir of those years, I am struck by our resilience and our ability to ignore the fact we were homeless. We were more depressed over not going to school, so despite all the chaos, we never called ourselves homeless. My mom used to say she couldn’t wait until we lived like normal people. Not having real beds or a place to call home was hard, but the one thing my siblings and I longed for most was friends. We didn’t go to school so we only had each other and we missed the socialization and community of going to school.

My youngest siblings had at best a third grade education, but they only attended one year of formal school for first grade. At least I got to the sixth grade before my parents pulled us out of school. We are all good readers because of my second grade teacher who let me read all the way to the fifth grade readers. I learned so much from her that I eagerly taught each of my siblings to read before they even got to school because I was good at it and I loved reading so much.

The state of Washington had a law for kids between eight and fifteen to be in school. We were told my parents could be arrested and put in jail and we might get farmed out to foster homes if we were seen. We were told to hide below the car windows if we drove somewhere during school hours. We had to hide in the woods or the shed when someone came to our cabin or house. I lived in fear and dread of being caught.

Everything Shapes Us, cherilynclough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/13519018-everything-shapes-us?asc=u&c=540575-healing-flowers

Prints and Accessories Available Here

All of this hiding and the loss of community and relationships further isolated our family. No one knew if we were belted, no one checked to make sure we had an education, no one realized we were homeless.  The worst part about all of this is we could not speak about these things.

Meanwhile we were told Jesus could come at any time so we needed to perfect our characters to be accepted by God or we would burn in the lake of fire. The cognitive dissonance I felt, still brings a tear to my eyes today. In my heart, I just knew I was lost because I was a fake and a liar telling people I was home-schooled, lying to bill collectors and hiding in a shed.

Whenever the world events inspired my dad to warn us about being ready for Jesus to come, I laid awake at night begging Jesus to forgive me, but doubted that he would. As I grew up and left home, these doubts still terrorized my soul. My dad referred to grace as cheap grace, so I had no faith in the grace that calmed others. I still feared for my life and carried the dread of Jesus coming far into my adulthood.

One day a film adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew began to change my picture of God. Every time I watched Bruce Marchiano’s portrayal of Jesus, I wept for the dawning realization that Jesus must surely love and forgive me. This drove me to share as much as I could of God’s love with others. It gave me great comfort to know that Jesus was homeless too. It felt like Jesus wrapped his arms around me and said, “I understand how that felt to not know where to lay your head or whether you would be safe.”

But the journey was not over yet, I had more to learn about God and little by little God brought seminars and people into my life to show me deeper truths about him and I began to trust God more with each paradigm shift. Sadly, it began to separate me from my parents. I eventually had to fire their version of Jesus to embrace the Jesus I was getting to know.

As the years go by, I’m learning more about the true Jesus and I am no longer afraid of God. The saddest thing for me is that out of my own family–my only peer group growing up, I have almost nothing in common when it comes to talking about God. Some reject God altogether, others follow and agree with whoever they are with at the time and seem not to do their own thinking. My parents, as far as representing God to us have epically failed because they refuse to acknowledge the wrongs of the past which would allow us all to move forward in truth and love.

Even in adulthood, we were discouraged from talking about being homeless, beaten with the belt and our loss of education. One of my siblings tried to speak of it in our twenties, but became the scapegoat where they had once been the golden child. Then, as I woke up in my mid-forties and realized the inability to speak of our secrets and pain had damaged me, I spoke up and became the scapegoat.

I am writing memoir today because this is history–my history. I ignored the first twenty years of my life for the second twenty and woke up in great despair for swallowing all those secrets. The only way to find relief and live a wholehearted life is to tell the stories that make up my life.

“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them.
During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything?
The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important.
It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow.
But you know I was here.”
-Maya Angelou

Those who are perhaps not awake might say, “Forget the past and move onto the future.” But for me, the future is clearer when I can acknowledge my past. Maybe that’s because I am still the little girl beaten, the homeless big sister trying to comfort my mom and encouraged my siblings while we sleep on hard floors and eat m and ms for breakfast. I am still the teenage girl who weeps for friends and thrills to read novels which were taken away from her. I am still the young woman inside who determined never to let anyone control my life again. Anne Lamott is right when she says, “I am all the ages I have ever been.”

We can tell people what they want to hear, but when we are alone with the mirror, we have no choice but to tell ourselves the truth or die. I choose truth and life. It gives me great joy to know that Jesus is the Truth and he always supports those who tell the truth and he stands on the side of the truth.

Did you grow up with secrets?
Is it hard to tell the truth?
Will your family members openly discuss the past today?

Re-Framing Our Life Stories

25 Feb

A couple years ago, a man in my church told me to hurry up and finish my memoir so I could move on with my life. Sadly, this person has probably never read a memoir unless it was of a sports hero. He was assuming I was damaging myself for writing about my unconventional childhood, but I’m so glad I ignored his advice. For the last five years, I’ve been writing my story and re-framing the events in my life and it’s been a very therapeutic process. Even if you are not writing a memoir, you can benefit from re-framing your life stories. Here are some things I have learned in the process.

When I tell people I’m writing a memoir, most people are positive–although some are not sure exactly what a memoir contains. Some think it’s a book by a famous person and since I’m not famous, they probably think I’m big headed and delusional. Others imagine since I had a strange childhood that I want to write some “Mommie Dearest” revenge memoir to take down my parents, but that’s not my style or personality. Others imagine I’m writing a biography and ask if I’m going to include this or that in my book.

So then what is a memoir? I think of memoir like a series of snapshots–only in words, to describe a theme going throughout a life. Memoir is an opportunity to re-frame a life, but sometimes I think the genre itself is misunderstood and needs to be re-framed.

Reframe Butterfly, CherilynClough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/21112144-butterfly-reframe

Print Available Here

Memoir is a Process
Writing memoir is as much about researching your past as writing about it. Sometimes research involves looking up facts to match dates, but other times the research is in your head–trying to make meaning out of events that happened long ago when you were small and not in control of your life.

Writing Memoir Can’t be Rushed
A very time consuming part of the memoir process is actually preparing for the art of memoir. This includes studying writing methods and reading the memoirs of others. Like a large painting, memoir writing must be done in stages, brush stroke by brush stroke with loving care. And like the stories behind a painting, there is so much more than meets the eye.

Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle says it took her five years to write out her stories. This is common among memoirists. After the stories are collected, we search for the plots in our lives. Discovering the plots and meaning is a much deeper process than just writing a chronicle of events. It requires deep introspection on the part of the writer. Due to the emotional nature of childhood memories this cannot be rushed. Every memory has it’s own baggage and/or joy. To fully engage in the details, the writer must process many emotions, but this is where the healing comes as we re-frame those memories and make sense of them.

Not All Memoirs Are Boring
You may have an image of memoir in your mind. Maybe you read a long and dry account of someone’s life and wondered when you could get rid of that book. This is not a good example of memoir. The author did not study up and learn to process their story so it could be palatable for others to read it. If you want to read good memoir, look for best sellers who are not celebrities.

Don't Shut Up Pillow, CherilynClough.com,http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/13999494-dont-shut-up?asc=u&c=540504-survivor-girls

Pillow Available Here

I’ve read dozens of memoirs by now and the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is one of my favorites. She wrote it in an easy to read, fascinating style. So did Maya Angelou who’s first memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is now a classic. These women are masters at story telling. Their memoirs are like poetry and stir the deepest part of my soul.

But other memoirs are not so great. Failings in memoir include those who seem to be writing a long endless list of sad happenings or dry chronological lists that state “I went here and did this and then I ate worms.” What is missing in these memoirs is a sense of plot. When the memoirist’s voice drones on and on even the most empathetic listener is tempted to fall asleep. If only these authors had studied the art of memoir and discovered the plots in their lives, they would find a much greater blessing for both themselves and their readers.

Memoir is Not About Revenge
If your only goal is to shame your parents or ex, you won’t find any joy in the journey. Writing memoir is a huge waste of your time if your desire is to expose your family. There are faster ways to do that if that’s your goal. Memoir is a very personal journey about you and your relationship with yourself and God which just happens to include other people.

I am choosing to change all names and places to take away the potential pain for any involved in my story because my story is not about my siblings or parents or neighbor’s–it’s my own experiences. Yes, we all have experiences in common, but like witnesses at a traffic accident standing on different corners we all have a unique perspective. No one can tell someone else’s story. It might be hard for some people to understand, but no two siblings had the same experience growing up. Age and gender and temperament all influence how a parent treats their children differently.

Memoir is Not for Everyone
Not everyone wants to tell their stories and not everyone wants to hear our stories. People are in different stages of awareness and waking up. Not everyone deserves to hear our stories. People who are not awake often want us to hurry up and be quiet, but our stories are not for them. We should cherish our stories, but save them for those who are worthy to hear them.

Not All Memoirs Are Sad
Who doesn’t have a story or two to tell? For those who had unconventional childhoods the temptation is to tell the obvious–the many moves or the beatings or the traits of the enmeshed or isolated family patterns. Sometimes these stories are sad and there are people who want us to be quiet–either because they can’t relate or because they want us to shut up and save the family reputation, but I don’t think anyone should shut up, I think we need to reframe our stories and possibly reframe why we tell our stories.

Write the Truth Original Art, CherilynClough.com,www.etsy.com/shop/LittleRedSurvivorArt

Original Art Available Here

Writing Memoir Can Bring Joy–Even Through the Pain
Another bonus to actually doing the work of memoir is discovering the joy that sometimes was overshadowed by loss and pain in the past. Remembering allows us to rediscover the good times as well as the bad times. There is wonder and joy in the journey as we examine our lives.

Memoir is About Re-Framing–Not Making Stuff Up
Memoir is not fiction. We don’t rewrite the facts, but what we do when we re-frame is come at the story from a new angle so we can see it in a different light. An example of re-framing is the story of how I started the fifth grade late two years in a row and left early before the school year was out both times. I was once angry my father let this happen. But looking at my grandparents’ headstone a few years ago, showed me the dates when my father lost his mother in late September of my first fifth grade just before we moved. His father died in November a year later when we moved again. I can see how young my father was when he lost both parents within a year and was struggling to support a young family. It didn’t take away from the bullying I experienced at one school, but it did allow me to have compassion and understanding for my father.

I once wrote to Jeanette Walls and I was grateful to get a reply. She told me, “If you have a memory in your life that you don’t want to explore–that is the very thing you must explore!” She was teaching me to re-frame the past to gain greater understanding about myself and those events. She also gave me her mother’s advice to, “Write the truth!”

Writing Memoir Helps Us Re-Frame Our Lives
Even if I never publish my memoir, I will benefit from this process of re-framing. Finding our life plots require waking up and seeking clarity. Our memoirs reveal the treasures of our lives. Every life matters, but nothing is more important than understanding our own journey. To re-frame our stories allows each of us to be more fully awake and to live more wholehearted lives. Memoir also provides empathy and encouragement for those who are still in the middle of such stories.

Since I started writing memoir, I’ve been enjoying the process of re-framing my life stories. I hope you are learning this too. It’s been said memoirs are modern fairy tales, but I think it’s even bigger than that–I think our life stories are God-stories. We are part of a vast play ordained in the cosmos long before we were even here, we were dreamed up in the mind of God and all of our stories are interesting to Jesus. Let’s re-frame our memories and find our God-stories.

P.S. If you are interested in writing a memoir, I highly recommend the book and workbook by Martha Alderson, The Plot Whisperer.

Tale of Two Mamas

8 May

It feels like I’ve had two mothers in my life, but she was the same woman. I remember the mama who polished the pipes under the sink, kept the house spotless and made sure I didn’t get any germs in my mouth. I remember the mama who drove all over town to find me a dollhouse for my sixth birthday. I remember the mama who wrapped a present carefully with a red square lollipop tied in with the bow so I could take it to a birthday party when I was seven years old. I remember the mama who taught me how to make sure my clothes matched and who took pride to sew me a little coat and dresses and the occasional Barbie doll outfit. I remember the mama who was a glowing hostess and once made a cherry pie complete with lattice crust which was the most delicious pie I’ve ever eaten, but I never saw her make one of those pies again. Within a year we ended up homeless and living in an abandoned saw mill.

While we lived at the sawmill, my mom encouraged us by making it an adventure and telling us it was like going to summer camp. She showed us how to sweep out our tents and straighten our beds and wash the camp dishes. After our chores were done, we went for “hikes” and then we took naps. Four children, eight years and younger must have been quite daunting for a young mom to keep happy. We picked wildflowers and sang songs and listened to stories. Every few hours my next oldest sister and I would run to ask mom, “Is this what summer camp is like?” We had to keep checking in because she was the only one who had ever been to camp and we want to make sure our experience was up to par.

That abandoned sawmill was a turning point between my first mama and the mom I know now. I don’t know how she did it going from her high hopes and high expectations to living in a tent and then a cabin without water and electricity. There were motel rooms and house after house and another cabin or two. Move after move, which happened every six months or a year; her furniture fell apart and was destroyed in the moves. The cedar hope chest and bookcase made out of mahogany she built herself–sometimes it felt like our family might fall apart too, but mom wouldn’t let it.

It’s hard to care about keeping things clean when you have a rough wood floor and your children have no place to play but outside in the dirt all day. It’s hard to worry about keeping things clean when you can only go to the laundromat once a week. It’s hard to keep your kids clean when you have to take them to the state park to put in a quarter to give them a shower once a week. And it’s hard to do dishes when you have to chop the wood to build a fire, then haul the water to heat up on the stove before you can wash them.

It’s hard to keep hope alive when every time you start to make friends you have to say goodbye. And it is hard to hold your head up high to relatives and people you once knew, when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or you are going to get kicked out of the place you’re renting. It’s confusing to love a man who moves as often as his moods. No matter what my mom has ever done to me, I’ve seen her. I know the stuff she’s made of and I’ve taken courage from who she was then and who she is now. No matter how hard life gets, she has taught me to look to God and hold my dignity. For that I will always be grateful.

I don’t think my younger siblings remember that first mama, but I do, I have missed her for most of my life. I know the mama who was excited for me to go to school and learn to read and the mom who gave up on me getting an education. I know the mama who said she hated it when my dad belted me in anger and the mom who said if I didn’t jerk around so much he wouldn’t have to hit me with both ends of the belt at the same time. I know the mama who had a spotless kitchen and the mom who cooked in the dust over a campfire.

I’ve spent much of my life working hard to please my mom and win her love. She said she had her babysitter first and she taught me to vacuum and wash dishes when I was four. I cleaned and cooked and packed for close to forty moves in twenty years. All I wanted was for my mom to be happy and love me back. It’s the twinkle in her eye fading through the years that breaks my heart the most. I’ve tried for years to fix it, but I can’t, there’s not enough money or time in the world to fix our parents or a child. Our journeys might intersect, but in the end, we must take them alone.

I haven’t spoken as much with my mom lately–partially, because when I call, my parents seem more worried about my theology or the kind of music I listen to than what’s actually going on in my life. All I’ve ever wanted is to spend time with them, but they are always too busy even for a phone call. I guess their parents might have done the same to them, so I don’t hold it against them. In some ways religion has become a wedge in our relationship and that makes me sad because I don’t think Jesus planned it that way. But no matter what she says or does, I will never stop loving my mom.

I am sharing Peter Hollens’s version of Shenandoah. My mom used to play this on the piano while I played my flute. Oh how I miss those days! And in case you are reading this, I love you Mom!

Little Red

30 Apr

Little Red. We’ve all heard about her, but we didn’t recognize how much we had in common with her. Little Red is the symbol of all who were abused in the home and church in the name of love. Nothing is more sinister than believing we are loved and safe only to be ravaged by wolves in the fold.


Skipping along the path of life, Little Red’s heart is full of love. She is longing for Eden as she reaches out to take the flowers of life God has provided for her, she also knows the joy of giving. She is carrying a basket with homemade bread and jam for her grandma.

She naively doesn’t recognize her grandmother’s wolf-like behavior at first because she automatically assumes all parents and grandparents are safe. This is the experience of many who have been abused by narcissistic parents and false church leaders. Something feels wrong, but in their innocence they can’t figure it out until they have already been abused.

Let’s face it, Little Red thought Grandma’s house was a safe place and so did we. It was shocking to find ourselves taunted and lied to by the people who were supposed to love and protect us. The most sinister abuse is cloaked with the word love–such false love has often confused us because we failed to see the hate coming. Nothing is more damaging to the psyche than abuse in the name of God.

There are many endings to the story of Little Red throughout history and across cultures. Some say she was rescued by a hunter or woodsman. Some say she and her grandmother were both eaten by the wolf, but survived after his stomach was cut open.

My favorite version is among the most ancient. It says Little Red did not depend on anyone else to rescue her. She out smarted the wolf by saying she had to go to the bathroom and he let her go to the outhouse with a string tied to her finger. Out of his sight, she wisely untied it from her finger and placed the string on the outhouse door and ran for her life.

I believe this is the healthiest version of the story because it represents what we have to do when we are under the power of abusive people. There is no violence or retaliation toward the wolf in Red’s escape. She simply knows he is unsafe.

This is similar to how we must treat our abusers. To wish them ill is to harm ourselves. Our abusers are like rabid dogs infected with a virus of survival of the fittest. No matter how much we love them, we cannot fix them. No matter how much you love your dog, if he gets rabies you will mourn him, but it’s no longer safe to play with him.

People are not the wolves, but the wolves come to us in many forms. Their names are Abandonment, Loss, Inferiority, Rejection, Criticism and Shame. The people who call out the wolves in us were once innocent children who were deceived and bitten by the wolves themselves. Once infected by the selfish virus of survival of the fittest, they now continue to pass on the virus and harm others.

I admire Little Red because she doesn’t wait to be rescued. Red realizes she alone can take herself to a safe place. I believe that safe place is with the Maker of the flowers. I believe the Creator gave us brains to remember the pain so we won’t go back to get burned and bitten over and over again.

Our abusers have lied. They tried to say it never happened. Sometimes they say we made things up–that’s code for they don’t want anyone else to know so they wish to discredit us. When people lie, there is no light in them. Two cannot walk together unless they agree. This is where we, like Little Red, can rescue ourselves by using our minds to run away to a safer place. For many that safer place is with Jesus.

Jesus knows everything that has happened to you. He promises to set all captives free. Jesus says the truth will set you free. He not only calls Himself the Truth, but He embraces all truth and He is always on the side of truth. He even sends His Spirit of Truth to comfort us.

This website is to encourage, comfort and support survivors. Like Little Red, we can only protect ourselves by leaving an unhealthy situation. In order to enjoy the flowers God gives to us, we need to stop letting the wolves destroy our lives.

Pocket Full of Sunshine

1 Apr

Some of my friends were talking about how to move on. They would like to forget the past but it never seems to leave them. If you have never been in this situation, it might be hard to understand how we need to both review our past and move on from it.

For those who would like a better picture of the pain of an ACON* or person raised in a highly dysfunctional family, here is a great poem For Children Who Were Broken that pretty much says it all.

I love the song Pocket Full of Sunshine and I have made several references to it on my blogs because it seems to embody the feeling of freedom from oppression. It’s hard to remember the sad stuff, but it’s also healing when we can reframe things and move on.



There are many ways to move on from the past. This is not to forget the past but to heal from it fully knowing what happened and choosing to take an action that is healing. (I am not a counselor, but if you are having trouble with this I recommend you find someone to help you figure out how to experience more joy in your life.)

For me, healing the past requires enjoying the present. From time to time I will add something to this series about experiencing joy. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Please feel free to share in the comment below about things you do to heal and experience wholeness in your life.


      • Getting out of your comfort zone
      • Enjoying some beautiful music
      • Go for a walk in the sunshine
      • Go to a play or concert
      • Visit and art gallery
      • Go out with a friend for a heart to heart talk
      • Join a team or take a class
      • Fill your life with healthy people
      • Bake and share it with someone
      • Make art–remember it is a process not an object
      • Do a random act of kindness
      • Make a gratitude list

Even if you are knee deep in remembering the past, it is healthy to remember where you are right now today. The wolves can’t haunt you anymore and the belt can’t reach you, so turn up the music and enjoy life. You have a pocket full of sunshine, don’t be afraid to use it.

*ACON-Adult Children of Narcissists

Making Beautiful Things

Why Some of Us Were Frozen

22 Mar

Who says Disney movies are for kids? A wise man once said “Rules are for children and stories are for grownups.” The movie Frozen proves this point. We might laugh at the idea of having a super power, but let’s face it, most of us have been frozen at some time in our lives.

Elsa exhibits the common fear of an oldest child. Some say the first born as the practice child who is subjected to the parent’s fears as they are learning to parent. There is a joke about a mother who refused to get dirt on her first baby, she washed it off the second and actually threw her third child into a mud puddle so she could finish her household chores.

Perhaps this joke is not that far fetched. Maybe parenting is progressive. First born children have been said to exhibit more fear than their siblings. Whether this is due to being first and having to make a path in society for the rest to follow or because of over-protective parenting, we might never know, but such fear exists and Elsa in Frozen is the poster child.

Elsa’s fears began with a traumatic incident in early childhood where her sister almost died. It was her special gift that caused her sister’s pain and because of this, Elsa has been asked to control her super power of making ice. She spends her childhood trying to reign it in. The lyrics she sings could be a hymn for many Christians.

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.”

How many relationships might have been saved and compulsive addictions never started if people were allowed to just be themselves. Many Christians grew up wearing a mask. It was considered essential to please other people and make their families or the church look good. But masks never heal, they only harm the wearer. Jesus sees down into all of our dirty, sneaky little hearts and He loves us anyway.

Elsa has been wearing a frozen mask while a storm is brewing inside. She is afraid to unleash, but once she does, there seems to be no way to undo the damage. There comes a time in every life we need to take off our masks and stop trying to be perfect. Healing will never happen until the false image is gone and we can finally be ourselves.

While we don’t have the same type of super powers as Elsa, many of us have been told to keep the family secrets and not to speak truth because it might hurt people. For some of us speaking truth is our super power. And whenever you have any kind of a super power, there is bound to be someone who resents you using it.

Like Elsa, many of us have let it go. Our super powers of telling the truth or whatever they might be seem to be a disaster. Some are hurt by our honesty, others are angry and some don’t want to hear the truth. If we all stopped speaking truth, it would help no one.

At this point many of us have withdrawn like Elsa. We spoke the truth to the people we loved the most and the reaction we got back was hostile. Sometimes it was name calling much like the people in the village calling Elsa evil. When we are attacked for being our honest selves, we need to find a safe place to go. Elsa went to the top of a mountain where she felt like the queen of isolation.

Whether people shun us for using our super powers or we withdraw, like Elsa, we are tempted to isolate. It’s not healthy to be alone, we were created for relationships. When Elsa was all alone and threw everyone out, the shards of ice started to fall in on her too. While it’s true, God promises to never leave us alone, we still need healthy people in our lives. We need to fight the isolation and find healthy community.

I love the fact that Anne did not need a man to save her, but she was able to save herself through other-centered love. This is the deepest truth of all. For Anne to wait for a man to kiss her and save her would be self-centered. When she risked her life to save her sister, she discovered the greatest love of all. God has designed the universe to thrive on the natural law of unselfish love. This is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated at the cross.

There comes a time in every life when we need to stop being the compliant, mask wearing child and start using our super powers for good. The basic concept of this tale is true in the real world–an act of pure love really will save us. It’s only by being honest with ourselves that we can stop waiting for someone else to solve our problems. When we use our freedom to do an act of pure love and risk self to love another, we will find our own healing.

The Quilt of Integrity

18 Oct

Among the voices telling me to forget about the past, my own was the loudest. My husband and I once bought a Dr. Phil book which required making a timeline of our lives. We went out for coffee to fill it out, and found ourselves swallowed up by a dark cloud.

We discovered both of us felt so much shame, we couldn’t talk, write or even think about our childhood without drowning ourselves in indulgent amounts of chocolate and pastries.

This first attempt to understand ourselves lasted as long as the mocha in our cups. We went home, shut up the book and tried to forget our memories for another six years. Meanwhile our past continued to affect us.

We can never avoid the truth,
we can only prolong the day
when we will have to deal with it.
-Dr. Tim Jennings


Just as not all who wander are lost, not all who examine the past are sad. The past is our friend. It reveals who we are, where we came from and why we do the things we do.

There’s big a difference between living in the past and understanding your past. The first includes resentment for what can’t be changed, but the latter seeks understanding.

I read once that we don’t really grow up until we stop living our lives to please our parents. It was hard for me to stop this because I had been programmed to please them before I thought of myself. The biggest compliment my parents ever gave me was that I was thoughtful and so I tried to do everything they asked me–whether it made me happy or not. And part of that deal was to never bring up the past.

In the last couple years, I have decided to give myself permission to remember. My pastor had a class a few years ago about how our emotions affect our spirituality. I went home determined to fill out my life’s timeline, but it took weeks. Part of the complications included the fact I had moved over forty times before I was twenty and some of those places were not in houses, creating even more confusion.

My life stories were like a big wad of tangled laundry where the whites were not sorted from the coloreds and the sheets were twisted into the mix. I felt like a little kid who hates to clean their room because they don’t know where to start.

I started by saying a prayer for courage, then I wrote down one memory at a time. The first memories were good ones. As a little child, I felt loved and cared for by both parents. It seems they started with the best intentions to give me a good life and teach me about God. I found comfort in remembering the first few years of my life.

The past reveals new information–but not new memories. My memories had always been there, but I’d been afraid to acknowledge them. It was like matching up socks—some parts were missing, so I wrote what I could and moved on. Sometimes later in the pile, I would find a missing part and go back and match it up.

We all have a right to our own memories and no one can take them away from us. They also don’t have the right to judge us for remembering. God created us to remember so we could grow up. To deny our past is to forget our good times and our mistakes. We need both. To ask someone to forget their memories is to ask them to play dead for those years. It is a denial of life at the basic level.

I ran into events which seemed shameful and I wanted to avoid them, but I began to realize the things that happened years ago can’t reach out and bite me today. As I progressed through my life, I took some time to mourn the sad events before I moved on. Reflecting on these events turned out to be cathartic. As I revisited each event, I noticed things looked different from maturity than they did when I was a child, teenager or young adult.

As I collected my stories I began to see the general shape of where I’ve been and how I want to improve the pattern. I began to see my entire life from God’s perspective. I realized that no matter where I have lived or how I was treated or how lonely I felt at times, Jesus has always been right beside me–only a prayer away. This gave me a lot of peace.

Healing comes when we place all the pieces of our lives next to each other. It’s like lining up quilt blocks. Some lives appear to be filled with neat and orderly quilt squares, but mine resembled a crazy quilt with jagged edges, odd shapes and mismatched colors.

The more we understand our past. The more we understand our own choices and accept our healing–part of this process is to share our stories with each other. Brene Brown says the antidote to shame is empathy. By telling our stories to trusted people who reflect empathy back to us, we can stop feeling sick from the toxic shame of our past and a new picture will emerge.

I think of this process as creating a quilt of integrity. The root word for integrity is to integrate. My life quilt includes pieces of a little girl beaten, a teenage girl denied a high school education, a young adult struggling to help her family, and now the middle aged woman who is trying to stitch it all together to make sense of it.

Integrating my entire life has brought peace. I accept the past, I forgive my parents and myself and anyone who has hurt me and I am able to live wholeheartedly because the mysterious baggage of my past has been sorted out.

If you have been discouraged by family for remembering your childhood, you might have been raised in a controlling family. I hope by sharing my story, you will find courage to explore your own stories. It’s okay to remember–that’s why God gave you a mind. And if people make fun of you for remembering something sad, God won’t. He keeps a record of our lives—not to condemn us as some people believe, but to reassure us of how much He has been leading us all along.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8