Long before I heard of ACEs or the phrase “childhood adversity,” I started to write a book; my first. Now, hot off the press, my memoir isn’t the book I set out to write. But who am I kidding? It’s exactly the book that had to be written. It finally gnawed at me, dared me, to excavate for truth.
My book was supposed to be about walking the Camino de Santiago Compostela in 2013. After I’d hiked nearly 1000 kms of trails across Spain, I told my family and friends that I would write a book about that walk: about the jaw-dropping landscapes, the delicacies, the other pilgrims I met along the way. I knew that I would also write about my struggle to walk up to (or more than) 20 kms a day, despite physical impairments and chronic pain. It all seemed so clear, straightforward - and predictable.
Somewhere along the way, I got stuck. I’d jot down an anecdote, then find myself unable to write any more. This grinding happened frequently enough that I shelved the manuscript countless times. One day, early last year, I started to wade into what felt like an impenetrable jungle - of pain, shame, self-loathing and family secrets. At first, I tried to ignore those tugs, plugging away, and determined to stick to the plan. Even though I meant to write a pretty book, about pretty people and pretty sunflowers and meadows, truth got in the way: I had to pull up the weeds and mangled roots.
Long submerged, my trauma (her)story had to come up for air.
Some asked me: What happened? Why did you veer off-course?
Metoo (Part II) happened. TimesUp happened. Women were standing up, naming their assault (and abusers). ACEs happened too (for me), prompting me to move ever closer to honesty. A quiet but colossal pivot happened. I stood up too – because I could no longer sit (this one) down.
Courage begets courage.
I crept out of my lair and tapped away on my laptop keys, deep into the nights. The words spilled out, and found their rightful place among the pages of my book. There was no looking back. But I felt stilted. Imbalanced. Nervous about what lay ahead. Fallout. Accusations. Anger. Can I? Should I? What will happen? She is still alive…
With trepidation, I stepped into an unknown. I laid bare the shaky foundations of my life – while excising the anger. Decades of tumult and turmoil strained to exhale. These things happen (I wanted my book to shout out) even in the lives of otherwise ‘normal’ and seemingly ‘contented’ families. Who was I to render the invisible, visible; stubborn life-stains and all? I would do it, not just for myself, but for others who wanted courage to step out of the darkness. And so, I did.
“The only thing that mattered in that flash of recognition, was that she might begin to find a way back to herself. She had been found by a book, by a single word, as if it was the only word in the entire universe that could tell her what she was about, even when she had no words for it herself—This, this is how you have lived and coped. Dissociation. That, that word, the one word that brought the thick red ruby velvet curtain separating her from the world, tumbling down, made all the difference…” ~ excerpt from (Un)Bound, Together.
Then, I sent her those excerpts. There was shock, anger, disbelief, unexpressed shame. We had discussions. Negotiations. Tears. Talk of truth – and consequences. Passages that had the power to cause further pain and alienation. I snipped some, revised others, tamed a few more. It was a balancing act, tempering stories of cruelty while unwilling to abandon the truth. She is still alive…
In between the emotional grit and grime, I said to her: I have to believe that good will come of this. Even if I have no idea what this is - other than an invisible centrifugal force sending ripples outwards from my pages.
Rising from the ACEs, I wait; as much for the expected, impending fallout, as for the unfolding of mystery, grace and good things.
(Un)Bound, Together: A Journey to the End of the Earth (and Beyond), a memoir of personal and spiritual pilgrimage, is now available on Amazon. A list of C-PTSD / ACEs resources appears at the back of the book. I’m at work on my second book. If hope stands a chance of transcending anger and a sense of betrayal… I will write it with her.