“It is not the truth that will hurt you; it is the lies.” Marion Elizabeth Witte
I am very pleased to feature Memoir Author Marion Witte in this interview about her memoir, Little Madhouse on the Prairie: A True-Life Story of Overcoming Abuse and Healing the Spirit. Marion and I met on Goodreads. My book reviews can be found on Goodreads and Amazon.
Welcome , Marion!
KP: Your memoir, “Little Madhouse on the Prairie,” begins by going back two generations in your family. Why?
MW: I had a desire to understand what it was that made my parents act and behave as they did. I intuitively knew that there must be a reason for how they parented. I came to believe it was a learned behavior, so I wanted to go back and find its source. Both of my parents came from rather stoic cultural and genetic backgrounds – Scandinavian and German – and they were very closed-mouthed when it came to talking about family “issues.” I wasn’t going to find out what I needed to learn from them, so I needed to go back to the ancestral source. It seemed as if “not talking” was part of the problem, and I discovered that to be true.
KP: When did your mother begin the physical abuse?
MW: It began, to the best of my recollection, when I was about three years old. I have a theory that my mother may have suffered from post-partum depression after my sister was born. Both my brother’s and my world were turned upside down after my sister was born. To me, something changed in our lives. Maybe everything in her life – the three children, the farm workload, a husband who abandoned her every night to go to the bar in town – tipped the scales.
KP: Describe the circumstances that would prompt her anger.
MW: It was pretty random and unpredictable. That was even more difficult than knowing you’d done something wrong. Or that it was precipitated by something other than my behavior. For a while I tried to control things by being as good as I could, or as quiet as I could. But when that didn’t work, I tried to absent myself from the physical situation.
KP: Discuss the moment you realized your father was incapable of coming to your defense.
MW: The first time I realized it was when I told him how my mother was treating me. My father was gone a lot, but when he was home I realized my mother did not punish us. I came to believe he was totally unaware of what was happening. I decided to share very carefully what was happening in my life. I was waiting for him to rise to the occasion and whisk me away. The opposite happened. He left. Then he came back and told me he was leaving my mother and we would never see him again. That was all traumatic for a little girl. That was when the abject loneliness began, because I knew I was alone in the world. I also believed he was leaving because I told him my “secrets.” I never spoke to him about it again until he was on his death bed.
KP: Were any adult friends or family aware of the abuse?
MW: I don’t know. At the time I thought not because no one ever said anything. As an adult I believe the family that lived on the same farm was aware. My aunt, I think, knew something wasn’t right. I also think the teachers at my school had an idea something was not right.
KP: When did you finally say to yourself “enough is enough”?
MW: I was sixteen and my mother and I had an argument. She went into the porch to get the wooden oak rod she used to beat me with and I snapped. I broke the rod into two pieces and threw my mother against the washing machine. The years of pent-up rage came out. I told her enough was enough and that next time I would kill her. My life could have taken a whole different path that day if I had made good on that promise.
KP: When your mother finally stopped abusing you, you seemed to start abusing yourself. What happened in high school?
MW: After that event there was something released in me that I’d been shoving down. It exploded in high school and I was angry and it was coming out in the most inappropriate ways. I turned into a juvenile delinquent. I started drinking and defying the teachers. The result of years of abuse started pouring out and I took my anger out at people in authority.
KP: You were so successful in your early career. In what ways did your childhood abuse interfere with your enjoyment of that success?
MW: Because nothing I did it was ever good enough. It was never perfect. It was a constant struggle to accept and enjoy the success. Outwardly I appeared to be climbing the ladder. Inside I couldn’t climb it high enough or fast enough. No matter what accolades I earned, it didn’t satisfy me because I didn’t feel it inside. No external achievement could change how I felt inside.
Most people had no idea this is how I felt – because when you’re abused as a child you’re always pretending everything is okay.
KP: You write with compassion about your family, even though they wounded you. Is forgiveness part of the healing process?
MW: For me, it was an important final step. I realized if I couldn’t forgive, there would always be tightness in my heart and in my spirit. Others disagree and say you don’t need to forgive your abuser. To me, forgiveness opened up my heart. You can heal emotionally and psychologically, but until you bring your heart into state of forgiveness, you can’t heal spiritually. It was the step that set me free.
KP: What is your hope for “Little Madhouse on the Prairie”?
MW: I want to shed light on what happened to me so that others who encountered childhood mistreatment, or are now in those situations, know that they are not alone. There is hope and help and you can recover. I want people to understand that what happened to them as children affects their adult behavior and the way they parent. I call it “connecting the dots” between our childhood experiences and our adult behavior.
Thank you , Marion for sharing the painful lessons you learned so bravely about how abuse as a child affected you as an adult and for showing us your pathway to healing. Your story will provide hope to others who have suffered and need to know they are not alone.
Author’s Bio and Contact Information for Marion Witte:
Certified Public Accountant
Award Winning Author
President of Angel Heart Foundation
Book website – littlemadhouseontheprairie.com
Publishing website – wiseowlpublishing.com
Blog – marionwitte.com
Foundation website – angelheartfoundation.org
Marion Witte was raised on a farm on the North Dakota prairie, where she lived with her mother, father, older brother and younger sister until she was 18.
Conditions inside the Witte household were often as brutal as the outdoor winters. Disobedience was severely punished and Marion in particular was the target of her mother’s wrath. She was beaten for the slightest offense and locked in a terrifyingly dark cellar. The violent dysfunction seemed contagious — Marion’s brother once slaughtered her beloved pet rabbits with a shotgun in a fit of anger.
In her compelling memoir, “Little Madhouse on the Prairie,” Witte vividly describes how abandonment, alcoholism, isolation and unhappiness plagued her family for generations, creating a perfect storm of child abuse. We learn of her parents’ and grandparents’ grueling struggles as they scratched out livings on the harsh Midwestern plains, where lessons were taught by beatings and children were seen, never heard.
Witte’s great compassion and clear-eyed perspective elevates “Little Madhouse on the Prairie” beyond a story of violence. By shedding light on the cultural roots of her own abuse, Witte sets the stage for a way out of the cycle of violence against all children. “Little Madhouse on the Prairie” is an impassioned plea for action to extend human rights to the planet’s youngest citizens. Her memoir also suggests ways one can heal from the wounds of abuse. Left untreated, she writes, those wounds can lead to self-destruction, and turn an abused child into an abusive adult.
Witte finally escaped her misery by attending college, where she excelled academically and graduated in three years at the top of her class with a degree in business administration and accounting. She passed the CPA exam while a junior, becoming one of the youngest CPAs in the country that year.
Yet even as her career soared she was haunted by the emotional damage she had suffered as a child and which followed her into adulthood. In 1991, she began the long road to emotional recovery. In 2007, Witte sold her successful business to provide the funding necessary to pursue her passion – empowering children. She established the Angel Heart Foundation, whose vision is “All Children Deserve a Safe and Just World.”
Witte lives in Ventura, California, not far from her daughter, Angela.
How about you? Has writing about past abuses helped you to heal? How do you feel about reading about childhood abuse?
Marion has agreed to give away a copy of her memoir to a commenter whose name will be selected in a random drawing at the end of the week.
Marion and I would love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Announcements: (Drum roll…) And the winners are:
Sharon Lippincott won Toni Piccinini’s memoir, The Goodbye Year: Wisdom and Culinary Therapy t Survive Your Child’s Senior Year of High School (and Reclaim the You of You)
Paige Strickland won Greta Beigel’s memoir, Kvetch, One Bitch of a Life: A Memoir of Music and Survival.
Clara Bowman Jahn won Denis Ledoux’s The Memoir Start-up Package.
Congratulations to all the lucky winners!
Thank you all for stopping by and commenting. Your presence “around my kitchen table ” is greatly appreciated.
Monday, 11/4: “A Milestone in a Memoir Writer’s Journey: Are We There Yet?”
Thursday, 11/7: “The Face of Abuse: Should I Stay Or Should I Go? by Memoir Author Wanda S. Maxey