Browsing Tag

stories we tell ourselves

Guest Posts, memories, storytelling

The Ever-Expanding Story

April 24, 2022
dad

I don’t discover the broken tree limbs until weeks after the ice storm. By then, my family has weathered not only the most snow and ice Louisville, Kentucky has seen since the 90s – we’ve also gotten through Achilles surgery, a child’s fractured pinky finger, and a $9,000 bill for a roof coming apart at the seams. I’m not even surprised when my husband returns from taking the boys to school one day and says, “Did you notice we lost some branches?”

I follow him into the backyard shaded by the abundance of trees planted on our small plot. I love our home like it’s another member of the family, our permanent address a respite after years of ever-rotating rentals. It’s where we have movie nights on a couch the size of a city bus, where I’m making my way through Wendell Berry’s collected poems in the living room we converted into a library, where I write, where I feed the blue jays and chase off the squirrels.

I clutch my coffee tighter against the chill still in the air. It’s the first official break in the February gray and sun streams across everything like someone threw the curtains open on the world. The rays of light dance across our one remaining pine – another ice storm our first winter took down its twin – now missing two enormous limbs. My heart aches for the damaged tree at the same time my brain starts running the numbers on calling someone to clean it up versus buying a chainsaw, like a self-respecting Kentuckian. Everything costs money.

It’s a few days before it occurs to me that my dad heats the rural home he shares with my stepmom and niece with firewood. Every fall, right around my birthday, he hooks the carryall to the tractor, rides down the big hill into the woods, and gathers firewood for the winter. I don’t have to close my eyes to imagine the wood pile that sits near the house. It stands so tall we could climb it when we were kids. If anyone has a chainsaw up for the job, it’s him. But I’m not in the habit of asking my father for things. Outside the refuge of my home, words don’t come easy in my familial relationships. There’s nothing noble about my silent suffering, the way I swallow everything because it’s easier to avoid someone I love than it is to tell them complicated truths.

A year ago, I probably would have made the drive to the hardware store for the chainsaw and tried not to break any bones getting down the massive limbs, one still attached ten feet up the trunk. But a lot can change in a year. I text my dad a picture of the tree and ask if he has time to help.

I prepare myself for it to be days before he texts me back, like when I sent the rare vulnerable text around the one-year anniversary of my brother’s death and asked him not to drink his way through grief. But this time his response comes back quickly. He fires off questions about the tree, but also the roof, my husband’s physical therapy, my youngest’s pinky finger.  He tells me we can get this done, no problem, do not hire a tree service, he wants to help in any way he can.

Survivor’s guilt goes from concept to experience as the thought darts through my head: He has time to help me because my brother’s dead. Even if it’s true that my brother’s addiction and the resulting costs to my father’s time, money, and resources impacted his ability to help me, it’s not as if I would have agreed to pay that price to have his help now. Not even for the way something blooms in my chest when I ask my dad for help and get an immediate yes in response.

*

The words dad and father have such different connotations. My dad cuts down the wood that heats his house. My dad and I take my niece on hikes and tell her stories about her daddy. My dad has a chainsaw I might borrow. A father, on the other hand, is mostly an explanation. I’m estranged from my father – that’s the formal line I used to tell people to explain his absence.  Writers care about diction and connotation because the right words help us tell our stories. The reader feels different things if I use the word deadbeat or mysterious or long-lost to describe my father. They feel the frost in father and the warmth in dad. There is no alternate word for daughter; only the one.

The story I’ve long told myself about my father uses straightforward words: my father stopped seeing me when I was in middle school and my mom and stepdad raised me through the hardest years on their own. A chapter in the story might read like this: The last time I asked my father to come to Louisville and help me with something it was 2010 and he said no.

*

Long before the Veterans Administration and an unprecedented streak of stable employment allowed me and my husband to buy our home, we rented an 1,100 square foot bungalow five miles west. It was 2010 and we were still feeling the effects of the post-2008 fallout. It turned out our landlords were, too. They were forced to sell their home and we (the colicky newborn, the toddler, and two over-degreed and underemployed adults) were forced to accept the grim reality that we could not afford a new place. Instead, we would move into my mom and stepdad’s small brick ranch.

The day we moved out of the rental house, when it came time to hoist the washer up the basement stairs, the tight fit took some of the original 1920’s doorframe with it. The white-painted frame splintered and exposed raw wood, like flesh tearing to reveal bone. We will never save up enough for a new place if we don’t get our deposit back was my only thought as I stared at the wounded doorframe. Neither my husband nor I are what you would call handy, especially then (this was before you could look up anything on YouTube). I was desperate. I flipped up my Blackberry Pearl, composed a text asking for help, and used the new camera feature to send a grainy picture to my father. We hadn’t spoken since my second son was born. I don’t remember exactly what he said back, but I know it could be summed up as no. I called my mom in tears. She brought over putty and paint and we fixed it enough to make it unnoticeable.

I never asked him for anything else. At least that’s the story I told myself.

*

My dad arrives to help me take down the broken branches on a sunny spring day. He brings his chainsaw, my stepmom, my niece, and donuts. He’s dressed in the working clothes I associate with cutting up wood – jeans, denim long sleeve shirt, work boots, and a hat to block the sun. If not for the lack of hair under the hat and the lines that now run across his face like creeks through earth it would be like no time has passed since I was a child trailing him around the farm.

My husband is working, the once colicky newborn and toddler are now older and away at (middle) school, and my stepmom’s attention is on my six-year-old niece, so it’s me and my dad left to tackle the tree.  In another life my brother might have come down too, like we helped with the firewood when we were kids. Sometimes I think about how my whole adult life we poured our love into my brother but not each other, and how these moments, just the two of us, are like a consolation prize, when you get something nice but you still lost.

We get to work, breaking only for pizza or to admire my niece’s theatrics and occasional demands for attention. We fall into an easy pattern – he cuts, I carry. We work like that for hours. We don’t talk a lot beyond the job. We couldn’t hear each other over the buzz of the chainsaw anyways. But even in the quiet lulls there are no serious discussions about the past, or my brother, or the conversation we have both tucked into our pocket like a buckeye you save to worry with your thumb: the what happened when I was a kid? talk and the what’s your side of the story? conversation.

They’re conversations he says he’s eager to have. When I sent the text on the anniversary of my brother’s death and he finally responded a few days later, he casually mentioned he read an essay I published about him under a pen name back in 2017. At the time we barely spoke unless there were updates about my brother’s various legal troubles and addiction relapses, or the dutiful invite to one of the boys’ birthday parties. In the essay I wrote about how my father was a stranger, a ghost. Four years later, as we texted about that very essay, he said wanted us to know each other, wanted to fill in the gaps. I didn’t text back all the things I have learned about him since I wrote that essay: that he likes the way walnut casings smell, that he has buddies who play bluegrass with my favorite musicians, that he found his youngest child dead from an overdose and survived it.

Today we are both content to keep those conversations tucked away awhile longer and do something we haven’t done in almost thirty years: work together. I wonder if other people realize the small miracles found inside the basic act of doing a task with their dad. Painting a room. Doing the dishes. Moving a dresser. We’ve never done these things together. In the past year we’ve spent more time with each other than in the previous thirty, but mostly on hikes or sitting around a table talking. This act – this doing – feels different. Like my whole adult life, we’ve been strangers visiting but today, today we are a dad and his daughter cleaning up a mess.

*

The truth is growing up I was a daddy’s girl and I basked in his attention like a seedling in spring weather. Dad, read the poem I wrote. Dad, look at the snake I caught, caught him right behind the head so he can’t bite me, like you showed me. Dad, can we play baseball after dinner? Dad, watch this.

What is it about our parents that makes us revert back to our youngest selves? My friends describe this phenomenon, too. How after five minutes with their mothers they go from self-assured middle-aged woman to the irresponsible child flushed with shame, or how the presence of their father can take them from easy going adult to willfully obstinate adolescent for no understandable reason. It’s as if our bodies remember the time when our parents were our whole universe, and what it took to break away and make a universe of our own. Maybe that’s why almost every essayist and memoirist writes about our parents. Maybe it’s muscle memory.

*

Like the sun makes its arc over the yard as we work, casting us first in silver and later in golden light, the passage of time also casts things in a different hue. Before the ice storm took down the tree limbs, I was working on another essay, this one revisiting my brother’s eulogy. I reread every one of my brother’s letters in preparation. I found new details for the essay, but the two letters that stayed on my mind long after I’d put the box back on the shelf had little to do with my brother.

One was the first letter my brother ever sent me from prison, dated August 2009. I saw the date and did the math. My brother was locked up off and on for ten years, a tidy decade, age twenty-two to thirty-two. Holding the letter, I realized our dad spent a decade with an incarcerated son. The new beginnings and relapses, lawyers’ fees and court costs, commissary deposits and phone cards fell on him. When I was asking him to come to Louisville and repair a piece of splintered wood, he was fresh in the early days of trying to figure out how to fix a splintered son.

The second was a letter from my father, written in 2012 (two years after the infamous no). I flushed with shame when I realized I held his response to a letter I wrote asking (begging) for money. We’re more of a generational trauma than generational wealth kind of a white family, so no one had anything to spare. Except my dad. He sent a check for $75 (more than I got for hocking my vintage dress collection) with the letter I now held in shaky hands: Glad to help, keep us informed and we will help when possible. I enjoyed seeing everyone at the birthday party. I am very proud of you and your family. We love you and hope to spend more time with you.

I forgot about the letter and the money, my memory cutting out what didn’t fit the narrative. I forgot my dad has never expressed anything but pride in me. When he found the essay I wrote about him the first thing he did was compliment the writing. When I wanted to write about the things that killed my brother, he gave me his unconditional blessing. A year of quarantine and grief had already made me question the story I told myself about my childhood, especially the one-dimensional main characters: mother – hero; father – villain; daughter – victim. And now I held in my hands tangible proof of a glaring plot hole.

Sometimes it feels like the narrative of my life is crashing down like the big limbs in our backyard, unable to hold under all the weight of something new.

*

We writers (and readers) want tidy endings, or at least emotionally satisfying ones. When I wrote about my dad before, I said There is no word that explains how girls love absent fathers. Maybe I got that right; sometimes there is no word. There’s only an ever-expanding story.

It’s fitting that something as ordinary as wood split in two could expand ours. I only have to close my eyes and I’m eight years old, riding the carryall down into the woods to get the firewood for the winter. I’m scrambling onto the back with my brother and lining up on the L-shaped lift, as good as any ride at the county fair. My belly flips as we rise in the air. There are no helmets or belts. We whoop, we holler, we hold on tighter for the descent and hope the worn wood doesn’t give us splinters. The air is thick with the contrasting smells of decaying leaves and fresh sniffs of split wood. The sun shoots through what’s left of the canopy in perfectly defined beams; they warm the crown of my head as we work. Our annual tradition falling right before my birthday makes it feel special even though it’s simply preparing for the next season before the current one slips away. When my brother dies eight days after my thirty-seventh birthday, I will think of the way I’ve always felt autumn in my body, deep in my chest, like something I love that I’m going to lose, and I’ll wonder if I always knew.

Once the branches are cut into pieces and stacked in tidy piles my dad loads the chainsaw back into their car. My stepmom and I bump elbows and my niece jumps into her booster seat with an unceremonious wave. The normalcy of the afternoon leaves disbelief in their wake as they drive away. This, then, is what it can be like. This is what can happen when the branch breaks and you use what remains to start a fire, to warm something new.

We finally got a clear view of the damage once we’d cut our way to the last of the second branch. The biggest of the two, it was still attached to the trunk. With most of the mess cleared we could now see the deep wound three feet tall, shiny and thick with sap congealed like a scab where the branches broke and took big pieces of the trunk with them.

As we stared up at the injured pine, I asked my dad if the tree was going to make it.

“Maybe,” he said. “The wound is pretty bad. But even if you lose it eventually it’s still got some time left.”

Lucie Brooks is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. You can read her work in Catapult and Taunt

***

Writing Cohort Opportunity

Circe is offering: Crucible – A Year-Long Writing Cohort 

Let by Gina Frangello and Emily Black, this cohort is designed for writers seeking to spend a year deeply immersed in writing or revising a book length work.

Cohort Includes:

  • Once monthly class meeting over Zoom
    • 2-3 members will have their pages workshopped per meeting (each participant will be workshopped twice)
  • Every other month individual/private meeting with Emily or Gina over Zoom (participants will have a chance to work with both)
  • Ongoing online communication between members of the cohort to share resources and ask questions in between sessions
  • Writing prompts
  •  100 manuscript pages read and reviewed by Emily and Gina

Email info@circeconsulting.net for more information

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Guest Posts, healing, self-loathing

My Monster

April 10, 2022

I wasn’t always a monster, of course. I like to believe no one ever really sets out to become a monster, and I think most monsters are created by forces bigger than themselves, often in the murky darkness of childhood.

My sister Michele and I spent a lot of time on my family’s dairy farm as children. Our mother was the oldest of nine siblings, so my sister and I were delightful little playthings to the many aunts and uncles who still lived on the farm. We basked in their attention as they showered us with sleepovers and wagon rides and trips to the nearby lake.

There was a dangerous freedom to the barn, with the powerful hind legs of the massive cows that towered over our small selves as we ran down the center aisle, squealing to avoid a sudden discharge of liquid shit. Michele, the cherished first-born, was a tomboy who loved running around chasing cats by their tails and dodging in and out of the barn as our uncles and grandfather worked the cows on their rigorous milking schedule. My sister languished in the smells of summer hay being put up and danced in the swirls of dusty dry sunshine that accompanied all those animals.

But it was soon discovered that what seemed like wild, sweet freedom to one granddaughter was the very thing that threatened another. My grandmother never quite seemed to accept that I wasn’t just being stubborn or lazy when I stopped wanting to go to the barn. That, in fact, I had asthma. And all that dander from the cows whose milk was the sole source of the family’s income was cutting off my airways and strangling me.

But in the mid 1970’s, things like asthma and allergies weren’t well understood – at least, not in our neck of the woods in Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, where my people lived and worked. Generations of my family were raised on milk: not just to nourish bodies, but to pay the bills. Going against the family farm in any way was akin to treason. My grandmother, in particular, had little tolerance for time-consuming things like asthma attacks. Sniffles? Quit all that snorting, Krissy. There’s work to be done. Stop bothering me.

So, every summer I tried in vain not to be a nuisance, to get out in the barn and help with chores like my good, big sister. And each time, I’d end up coughing and wheezing and back at the house, crying as I knew how much I’d disappointed my grandmother by being weak.

Crying only worsened my asthma attacks. I fled to the bathroom, closed the door, and ran a washcloth under cold water to wipe my face. I stood at the sink trying to calm down as aunts and uncles would bang on the door, saying they had to pee. Looking in the mirror, I watched my itchy and enflamed eyes as the whites turned an angry red and swelled over the green circles of my iris. For a few hours, my eyes took on the appearance of some swollen, sickly Christmas decorations in the middle of July.

My grandmother was a woman of efficiency whose nerves were worn thin by too many people needing too many things. What love she had in her heart was painfully and privately shrouded in vigil for her own long-dead mother who was cruelly taken from her by cancer when she was only sixteen. Unprocessed heartbreak with no place to go can get lodged on repeat in a cruel sort of rhythm that no amount of barking at sick children will unstick. Such is life for a generation with nowhere to place such cavernous grief.

But I didn’t know this as a child. Instead, I learned from a young age that there was something wrong with me. Something inside my body that was bad. Something shameful that didn’t allow me to participate in the regular work and play of the family like everyone else.

By the time I was five, I learned that my wheezing and gasping for air were something akin to a moral weakness – that if I would just toughen up a bit, I could get over it. Thus, I didn’t deserve to breathe like other people. I was five years old, and I didn’t deserve to breathe.

***

Sheila, my uncle Mitch’s wife, was a teacher who worked with special needs kids and took an interest in me. She loved my drawings and encouraged the stories I wrote. I relished the whirling worlds in the books we shared, one adventure weaving into another. We stayed inside her yellow brick house across the road from my grandmother’s, with air conditioning that insulated our activities from the farm’s threatening allergens.

Sleepovers at her house were a special treat for me and my sister with ice cream sundaes and buttered popcorn so rich it gave me a tummy ache. As the sun set through the white eyelet curtains of the yellow room with the shag carpeting, cool darkness fell over the house. We would lay our heads on embroidered pillows, knowing that she was safely nearby in the room she shared with Mitch, just on the other side of the closet door that secretly adjoined our room.

***

Years passed. I turned twelve before my mother finally took me to an allergist to treat my asthma. Several rounds of steroids to clear my lungs resulted in rapid weight gain and crushing depression, which perfectly coincided with the onset of puberty. It didn’t take long for my inner monster to latch on to my self-loathing. An eating disorder quickly took root, enabling me to lose fifty pounds in three months, and by the time I was seventeen, I had downed a bottle of pills in a botched suicide attempt and earned a month long stay in a mental hospital.

My psychiatrist found me to be a curious case. I’d landed a coveted spot on the high school pom-pon squad, and we had a somewhat stable, loving, upper middle class family. I had excellent grades, an artistic gift, and a boyfriend who was the running back on our school’s state-winning football team. Yet, my symptoms didn’t seem to add up. Debilitating depression. Self-loathing. Cutting. Looking at my chart, the doctor asked my mother: had I ever been sexually abused?

Goodness no, she said. Of course not.

***

It wouldn’t be long before I discovered the joys of alcohol. My Irish Catholic family was practically raised on beer, bourbon, and brats. When we weren’t floating in a lake drinking under the warm sun, we were at college football games, Summerfest, and family weddings. Life was one big celebration, and my monster loved to party.

It was at one such wedding where I met my future husband, a longtime friend of the groom. A few years older than me, he was a good Catholic farm boy from Iowa whose steadiness was the perfect counter to my volatile self. We married when I was just twenty-two, but it would be many years before I’d fully appreciate just what a fantastic sense of foresight God had in bringing us together.

We went on to have three children and life appeared to be good, but the darkness was always lurking just under the surface. My monster was often hiding in the corner, whispering that I wasn’t quite good enough. That I didn’t deserve to be happy. That there was no point in trying – I was just a sham. There were so many days when I didn’t know what would happen because I could never trust when my monster would demand to be fed next. Living with depression was like dragging myself through the day with a big boulder strapped on my back. Most days loomed dark, heavy, foreboding, as the weight threatened to crush me.

Alcohol has a cunning way of latching on to mental illness to create the perfect storm. I found that if I drank just enough, I could keep my darkness at bay. Wine had a way of blurring the edges of my anxiety, while vodka would obliterate them completely. To me, this was just the solution I needed.

Soon, I was waking up every day sick, parched, disgusted. I repeatedly told myself today would be the day I’d stop doing this. Today would be different. Knowing, even as I said it, that I was lying to myself. Just willing change into existence doesn’t make a damn difference if you don’t do anything to change. If your next move is to open up a bottle, you’ve already lost at your own game – and your only opponent is yourself.

My boogeyman never lurked around some dark corner. That bitch lived inside me. I opened the door and welcomed her to come right in and take a seat every time I bought a bottle. I thought I drank to quiet her down, hoping that the more I drank, the more likely I was to flood her out of her cave. What I didn’t know was that I had it all wrong. Alcohol didn’t put out my monster’s anger. Pouring alcohol on my monster only fed the flames, like gasoline on fire. My monster loved alcohol – thrived on it. More! More! She cried as she laughed, threw up all over the floor, then went on drinking.

With alcohol mixed into the equation, I had no chance against my monster. I hated myself when I drank. Everyone around me hated me when I drank. And even though I knew better and had everything going for me, I wasn’t smarter than alcohol; it had locked me in a vice grip that I couldn’t break. I no longer wanted to drink, but I could barely function without it.

I was circling the drain but instead of putting the cap back in the bottle, I was pouring my life away with every glass I emptied. That’s the way addiction works. Nobody wakes up one day and says they want to become an addict. It’s a slippery slope that seems to work just fine for a long time as it does what it promises to do: it takes the edge off. But after a while, it stops working. And you need more and more to get the same effect.

Twenty-five years after my first suicide attempt, I found myself with an Exacto knife in my hand, pulling it across my wrist and drawing blood. Another time, I stumbled into the middle of a country road and stared down a Mack truck that was barreling towards me. And it became commonplace for me to stand on the Metra platform in Chicago, willing my body to throw itself in front of the train. I told my doctor at the time that this was normal for me. Nothing to worry about here, folks.

But this time was different. I wasn’t just some dumb seventeen-year-old kid. I was married with three children. I owned a business with employees and was doing work I loved. I had everything. But I couldn’t see any of that when the monster came out of her cave. She was now a fire-breathing dragon, and she was going to burn down every last fucking thing that stood in her path.

The thing that wasn’t different this time was how I felt. The way I felt at seventeen was still the same way I felt again at forty-two. Twenty-five years later, and the pain inside me was exactly the same. No number of years or ounces of alcohol could drown the darkness that a lifetime of trauma had built. That powerful pull to finally give in and end it all – it was too big to resist, and I just wasn’t strong enough. And once I finally decided to kill myself, the decision was complete. Then, just like when I was seventeen, it came as a relief.

If I thought of my children at all in that moment, my only thought was: the kids are better off without me. They had my husband to take care of them. I was useless. Better off dead. And that logic made perfect sense to me. Perfect sense.

That’s what depression does. It’s a darkness that works on you from the inside out. It wears you down and pulls you in and wraps its tentacles around you and doesn’t let go until it sucks all the light from your soul. It squeezes the air out of your lungs until you’re gasping for breath. Until you can no longer breathe.

Because you don’t deserve to breathe.

***

I was surprised to find that my mental hospital had been locked in its own stagnant time capsule: faded floral artwork trapped behind plexiglass screwed to cinder block walls. A single caged lightbulb dimly casting shadow over moldy shower stalls. A wall-mounted telephone with a frayed eight-inch cord flanked by nefarious steel-barred windows. I snagged my color-coded socks on cracked and peeling linoleum as I learned that pink signified fall risk, blue for suicide watch. Mine were blue. I could have gone a lifetime without knowing any of this.

For five days, I walked up and down the stale hallway thinking of the many ways I’d changed in twenty-five years, and the many more parts of me, like this place, that were still the same. Those early days of padded, shaky steps in my fuzzy blue socks were the first of many in the tentative direction of eventual healing. It took a long time to realize that alcohol was a former friend that had turned on me a long time ago; I was just too sick to see it. Once I was able to get some clarity and distance from my old pal, I finally had a fighting chance.

I learned there were many root causes to my monster’s growth. Genetics played a part, such as living in a family with layers of madness and addiction. Ultimately, it didn’t matter why a monster had grown inside me like a cancerous tumor. The damage was done. But understanding where it came from was a way to help me untangle its interwoven grip on my life. And in order to extricate myself and live freely, I had to do the work.

I learned to separate the monster from myself. The monster lived inside me, but she was not me. In time, I could learn to tame her and live with her.

I learned that when I stopped drinking, I stopped being so afraid. And I was finally able to ask myself: what was I so afraid of? What was I trying to drink away?

My fears ran from broad and expansive to precisely imagined scenarios. Drinking had been a way to run from the fear of living in a violent and unpredictable society full of senseless acts and random school shootings. I found that I could alleviate the anxiety of not knowing if each morning’s goodbye kisses would be our last by turning to the bottle. But eventually, no amount of alcohol could keep the terror at bay; in spite of our country’s lavish thoughts and prayers, the shootings kept coming.

I was afraid of what would happen if my kids found out I was an alcoholic. But judging by the way they dumped out my wine, it was pretty clear they already knew.

I was terrified that my children were destined to live with the same madness that had hijacked my own brain from such a young age. That my daughters would develop eating disorders that would ravage them for decades. That my son would develop an addiction and attempt suicide. In sum, I was afraid of everything. Most of all: myself.

I finally had to admit to myself that I was afraid of saying I was an alcoholic, because I just didn’t want it to be true. I was afraid to stop drinking because I didn’t know how to live without it. And if I was really trying to be honest with myself, I just had to edit that last sentence a bit:

I was afraid to stop drinking because I was afraid to live.

I believed that addiction and mental illness and abuse and suicide attempts were all just a matter of time for my children, because that’s simply how it was. Because that’s what was passed down through generations of trauma in my family. Because it was destiny, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I kept continuing the cycle with every bottle I drained because I didn’t believe I had any power to stop it.

Until: I stopped.

When I learned to stop fearing my monster, I found that I was growing stronger and could finally start to face my fears. And I realized that my monster was really just a coward that hid in the darkness of her cave and thrived on alcohol, and bred depression and shame.

I learned that love is stronger than fear. Love is what breaks the cycle. Love is what cracks open the darkness and allows the light back in. And by coming back to love, one day at a time, I learned to start trusting myself again.

I remembered the ferocious love I felt for each of my children from the moment I was aware of their tiny sparks growing inside me. And I remembered the biggest love of all: God’s love. In beginning my recovery, I learned that though I never believed I was worthy of God’s love, that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. It was there all along, from the moment I was just a spark in my own mother’s womb. I just couldn’t see it through the darkness.

I finally learned to love myself.

And twenty-five years later, I would recall my psychiatrist’s question to my mother about whether I’d been sexually abused as a child. Memories would float back to me at random, like fireflies flickering in the night. The yellow room with the shag carpeting. The white eyelet curtain. The sleepovers that endured long after I wanted them to. I would remember my uncle, insistent that we keep up those overnight visits far after we felt comfortable. And when given the choice of any of the other rooms in the farmhouse, he would emphatically press on that my sister and I should stay in that room, the yellow room with the shag carpeting, the one that connected to theirs via secret passageway.

***

My monster’s fire-breathing roar has been replaced by the sounds of laughter that now fill our house. Our comings-together at the end of the day are reminders that we’ve survived something together. My children may carry the strains of mental illness; time will tell. But if that happens, we now have the tools to manage it. I’ve finally learned that dealing with mental illness and addiction is something I can control. At least now, we have a fighting chance.

My monster is still there. I see her sometimes, sleeping in the back of her cave. I like to think of her in a sort of permanent hibernation. To keep her there, I’ve learned to put a blanket over her when she’s cold. I’ve taken away her alcohol and replaced it with nutritious food that I put at the mouth of her cave, offering it to her if she ever gets hungry, too. I sometimes wave to her as I pass by on my daily walk, or during yoga. I see her sleeping and I think – oh yes, there she is. I remember her. I nod and respect her space. I let her sleep if she’s tired. And I pass by, thankful that she no longer has any power over me. I let her keep sleeping.

And then, I walk out into the light.

Kris Martinez been in marketing for over 25 years and has owned an award-winning digital creative agency near Chicago since 2004. Her work has been published in Entropy, The Manifest-Station, Literary Mama, Iris Literary Journal, and Enterprising Women Magazine where she was honored in 2018 as an Enterprising Woman of the Year. In 2020, Kris completed her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Screenwriting from Antioch University Los Angeles. The essay “My Monster” is an excerpt from her memoir and first book, for which she is seeking representation. Kris lives near Chicago with her husband and their three teenage children.

***

Writing Cohort Opportunity

Circe is offering: Crucible – A Year-Long Writing Cohort 

Let by Gina Frangello and Emily Black, this cohort is designed for writers seeking to spend a year deeply immersed in writing or revising a book length work.

Cohort Includes:

  • Once monthly class meeting over Zoom
    • 2-3 members will have their pages workshopped per meeting (each participant will be workshopped twice)
  • Every other month individual/private meeting with Emily or Gina over Zoom (participants will have a chance to work with both)
  • Ongoing online communication between members of the cohort to share resources and ask questions in between sessions
  • Writing prompts
  •  100 manuscript pages read and reviewed by Emily and Gina

Email info@circeconsulting.net for more information

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Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, Manifestation Workshops

2017: The Year I Learned I am Innocent

January 19, 2018
story

By Jennifer Noble

For my entire lifetime I carried this burden that I was guilty. I believed it was my fault I was sexually abused, physically abused, emotionally abused and raped.

I wasn’t good enough.

I was inadequate.

I did not deserve to make decisions about my body.

My control was taken away from me because I was worthless and did not deserve to exist.

This led to a life threatening eating disorder, debilitating anxiety, major depressive disorder, self-harm and numerous suicide attempts.

I found recovery and years later I began to heal.

I began a yoga practice which started to work through what psychotherapy could not. I began to release emotions from my physical body and started to heal on a cellular level.

This journey began years ago. At times it felt authentic and at others, inauthentic. I caught myself feeling blocked from time to time and did not know why. Continue Reading…