Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ Carl Jung
As I work on my second memoir, The Edge of Hope: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Son’s Addiction, I find myself knee-deep in the swamp of memories that pop up at the strangest times—when I’m standing in line at the grocery store or trying to fall asleep at night.
I call them “scene pops” and have learned that anything that keeps me up at night is worth writing down.
When you write a memoir, the story is always with you. The challenge is to capture the moments that will invite and keep your reader in the story. The moments that matter.
But just when I think the manuscript is finished enough for a professional editor, I think of another scene or detail that I need to include. It feels like a faucet has been turned on and keeps flowing. The story is not quite ready much like baking a cake requires all the right ingredients before you put it in the oven. My story needs a few more ingredients before I ship it.
Like most things in life, timing is everything.
How much deeper do I have to go?
My writing group tells me that I need to show more about why seeing my fourteen-year -old son drunk for the first time was so horrifying to me. They have challenged me to keep digging deeper so that the reader will feel and understand my responses.
This is the agony part…the part where revisiting painful memories stirs up deep-seeded emotions.
A litany of questions bombard me:
Why didn’t this young mother take action sooner?
What could she have done that would have made a difference?
How could she stand to look into her son’s hollow eyes and not want to rescue him from his self-destructive tendencies?
How can she not blame herself for her son’s addiction?
How does a mother handle an addicted child while fighting her own cancer?
In Writing Down the Bones (p. 50), Natalie Goldberg notes:
“Caress the divine details, touch them tenderly. Let your whole body touch the river you are writing about, so if you call it yellow or stupid or slow, all of you is feeling it.”
I’m listening and caressing those divine details in what I call “manageable doses” meaning I work on it for brief periods of time then put it aside. Sometimes, I need a few days before I revisit it. As time goes by the amount of time I need to stay away has decreased. There were times when I shelved this project for months as I worked through the sensitivities of writing about my children.
Too. Darn. Painful.
I want to honor the story and do it justice. Giving myself time to process it is part of taking care of myself so the story can take care of itself.
The only way to the other side of the swamp is through and, as long as I keep writing, I can begin to see the shoreline in sight.
Memoir writing is a journey of self-discovery that slowly reveals itself layer by layer.
There are surprises, detours and potholes along the way. But if I keep persisting on the path, I trust it will make sense.
Here’s the ecstasy part…treasures are unearthed as I keep digging past the guilt and shame and terror of loving an addicted child.
We all have a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Writing about it though fraught with challenges gives me the opportunity to make sense of it and even reframe the story. In my case, the mother who unwittingly enabled her son turned out to be the mother who never gave up hope. Reflecting on the struggles, losses and regrets—so the reader sees, feels, hears, smells in the moments I describe– brings that reader into my experience.
If I can make sense of the jumble of memories, my life review, I can reflect on who I am, the meaning and purpose of my life and where my pain has taken me. In doing so someone else can relate my story to their story and perhaps gain some perspective that may help them travel their own path.
And isn’t that why we write memoir, to make sense of our lives and share a message that will inspire and enlighten others as well as ourselves?
Writing my memoirs has helped me lift the burdens of my past and share the lessons of that pain. The agony of reliving the pain is rewarded by the ecstasy of self-discovery and sharing a story that will touch others in meaningful ways. When readers reach out to me to let me know that my story was meaningful to them, I know it was worth all the agony.
And what better time to tell the story only I can tell than now? If not now, when? And if I don’t write it, who will?
How about you? How do you reconcile the agony versus the ecstasy of writing your life story? What keeps you persisting in the journey? Do you have tips to share? As readers of memoir, what keeps you turning the pages?
I’d love to hear from you. Please join in the conversation below~
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