Saturday, May 30, 2015

Writing Through the Pain

Memorial Day weekend I decided to participate in a contest titled How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life (in 1000 words or less). Below is my attempt to answer the question.

Journaling, poetry and short stories were haphazard as a child. Expressing myself on paper continued into adulthood. My graceful attempt to write flowed more like me tripping on a threshold, stubbing my toe and slamming into the doorway, only to wonder two days later how I got the huge bruise on my leg.

One by one friends suggested, “You should write about your abusive upbringing.”

“Write a book.”

“Tell your story.”

“Me, write? A writer I am not.”

“And anyway, child abuse isn’t original. Who wants to hear another story about that?”

Besides, I get tense trying to understand a pretense, never mind suppositions, oppositions, I mean, prepositions, thees, thous and those. I mean thou art. Oh God, forgive me and help me at the same time.

Dad was a walking time bomb. Self-pity of his disability didn’t bode well with the bitterness and anger he mixed with Darvon and alcohol. Mom? Well she appeared absent in her presence and didn't defend us. Me, the oldest of three, the lightening rod of his wrath, or so it seemed, was not having a fun childhood.

Growing up I had this sense of feeling stupid. Dad would call us stunods. It was funny then because backwards it spelled donuts. But comments such as those weren't balanced with love, encouragement or support.

By junior high Dad came home drunk more frequently and would send me and my sister to bed without finishing our homework. Mom shared, "I could only come up with so many family crisis," as she sent us to school with another excused-note explaining to the teachers why our homework was incomplete … again.

In 1992 Dad was hospitalized. We hadn’t spoken for six years so I wasn’t sure what to do with the news. In the meantime my sister had the chutzpah to make one last attempt to contact him.

Shortly before he died in 1992, she reported his death-bed blessing for his three children, 
"...You kids are no good and stupid and you can all go to hell."

This was his final answer to who I was in his eyes and who I had to overcome.

Even though I was angry at Mom for not protecting us, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt her. My challenge? To share my story authentically, be true to myself, respect my family and offer a message of hope.

After five plus years of assembling my notes into a book (I'm now in the millionth rewrite stage - really probably more like 87), I have found a new creative outlet along with my voice.

Hesitantly I revealed to Mom that I’d been writing about growing up with domestic violence. Her response, "I know we didn't grow up June Cleaver style. I'm sorry I didn't do things different, but I love you kids so much. I don't know if I can ever read your book, but I support what you're doing because people need to hear your story."

Since then, Mom has read my book, edited aspects of it, corrected family trivia and continues to cheer me on. 

The experience has been cathartic for me. I now have my mother's love, encouragement and support. Our family is mending at their pace. A friend told me I wrote her life story. Based on the positive feedback from my blog, I’m striking a chord with people's hearts. I’m encouraged that my pain wasn't wasted and perhaps my story is helping others. 

If nothing else ever happens with my book, the healing of my family's past has already begun. My determination to ask the “why” questions of our abuse and Mom’s willingness to answer is a direct result of me writing through the pain.

In a nutshell conclusion;
When I was nineteen, I took a road trip with a friend to upper state New York. During the drive I remarked on the scenery.

"Look over there isn't that pretty."

"Those trees are pretty."

“Isn’t that hill pretty.”

Everything was pretty. Randy couldn’t stand it anymore and said, "You really have to find another way to describe things besides pretty. There are other words ya know."

I remember thinking how else does one describe pretty if not with that word? Abuse stuffed my creative voice so far down into my being that I didn't realize how blocked I was. Little did either of us know, Randy had planted a seed, which took root many years later.

May of 2015 a new friend read my blog and commented, "You have such a way with words, they are so descriptive. You must have gone to school to learn this."

I almost cried and laughed at the same time. Instead I hugged and thanked her for the encouraging words. If she only knew the school-of-obstacles I’ve run into and climbed over.

During a poignant phase of my writing journey a friend encouraged, 
“Just create to create and see where it takes you.”

Writing has forced me to ask,
“Why would I hang our dirty laundry on the line and what would I gain?”

After a rough start, daring to write the truth of our past opened a door to conversation and forgiveness.

My father never tried to know us and he was misinformed of who we are. His heavy heart was diluted therefore he missed discovering how wonderful and smart and courageous his children really are.

Rather than drink the bitterness of his legacy, I continually strive for restoration of my soul.

Creating to create gave me the opportunity to change my view one step at a time, or in this case, one page at a time.

Do you have a negative that has been turned into a positive in your life?


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. More than 30 years ago, my mom was one of 3 women that dared to challenge the status quo of domestic violence. Their group - Womenshare of Manchester was instrumental in founding Interval House. How things have changed in those 30 years - with resources, protections and discussions on this subject. Bravo Tammy Sue. DCP

Anonymous said...

"Rather than drink the bitterness of his legacy, I continually strive for restoration of my soul."

That says it all, my friend.
Love, HKBC 1.5

Anonymous said...

Let me elaborate - it took 18+ years of abuse (my blank childhood) for my mom to get the courage to make the actions she did. So, even the people that work successfully through these situations do not do it overnight. It's a long process for most - complicated by the isolation, control and self esteem issues that most often accompany domestic violent relationships. It is usually not very pretty. Your blog is wonderful. DCP

Linda Lemire said...

You are so absolutely amazing, a wonderful person. I wish I could have been of support but please know I am. love you-I would hug you in person if I could. You have so very much to share beyond the stories that you are sharing.
Love you,
Linda L

Tammy Sue Willey said...

Dear DCP,
I so get what you are sharing. What courage it took your mom to bring awareness to abuse and forgiveness for you to see that. I imagine there are many layers you have dug through over the years because as you already know, healing does not happen overnight, but thank God it can and does. It may be one layer at a time, but that's one less layer of anger and bitterness toward continued victory! Thank you sister for sharing your pain to help others.

Tammy Sue Willey said...

Dear HKBC,thank you! It took me a while to get it, but being angry wasn't helping me. Rather than drink bitterness I'd rather have a good cup of coffee with a friend!

Tammy Sue Willey said...

Dear Linda,
You have such a huge servants heart, you're the one who is amazing! Support? Your friendship over the years has been nothing but accepting and non-judgmental as you lovingly and gracefully shared your heart and home with us. Thank you. Next time I see you I'll take that hug! Love you, Tammy Sue

Linda Loegel said...

Tammy Sue, to borrow a song title, writing is a bridge over troubled waters and it spans from the author's soul to the readers' eyes. You have built one magnificent bridge! It has been my good fortune to be able to help lay a board here and there with you. You do have a "pretty" amazing way with words, and a "pretty" darn good insight into human nature and a "pretty" awesome soul!

Tammy Sue Willey said...

Mom, by God's grace we are here to talk about it and build this "pretty" bridge together! That is "pretty" cool. Make no mistake, your willingness to help has made all the difference. With love, thank you.

Anonymous said...

HI! So good to read these, you’ve come such a long way (and have helped me even back in early nineties when we meet and how you helped me with your words when I was going through divorce etc). (DK) June 1, 2015 9:30am