Hello Friends and Allies,
It’s summer! Or maybe I should say, it’s summer. Summer blues were something I noticed about ten years ago. For unknown reasons, I felt defeated in the abundance of sunlight, and when family events loomed ahead on the calendar, my anxiety increased with every passing day. I looked for excuses to not attend my mother’s birthday, or to skip out on a family reunion with my two sisters who visited about once a year.
What kind of daughter/sister was I?
My sentiments made me a horrible person. In theory, family occasions were opportunities to reconnect and relive the time that had passed from our last visit with stories of adventure, work, parenting, and all the other day-to-day humdrum components of our beautiful and unique lives.
Instead, I left these momentous occasions feeling unwhole and rejected. A stranger would have garnered more interest from my relatives—questions would be asked, curiosity would be piqued—but me, I tended to dishes of pasta salad and veggie plates with an armory of stories shuttered in my mind. It soon became apparent that my family didn’t know me. Their disinterest proved the disapproval I’d convinced myself of deserving for as long as I could remember.
Childhood grief lingered long after I had grown up. It surfaced every time I felt obligated to attend family events. I anticipated the sting of rejection. It felt like a racing heart wanting to escape the stories long ago imprinted like record grooves in my emotional memory. Summer was a time of freedom—no school, no schedules, and no supervision. This created a horrendous circumstance for my child-self to navigate.
Summer vacations meant my psychological needs underwent a heyday of mockery. The voices were not in my mind, but parlayed by my family through sibling violence that went overlooked. It’s laughable, right? Girl fights, pssshhh. But my older sister, put in charge whenever our parents had obligations, turned aggressive and overbearing. At age eleven, she hit, punched, kicked, yelled, and screamed. At thirteen, she manipulated her friends into bullying me. At sixteen, she went to Homecoming with the boy I tried dating. At seventeen, she was in the room while a guy from school sexually assaulted me. Was this a girl fight or was it abuse?
This was my home. This was my safe harbor. Luckily, when I was seventeen, my sister left home. My body unraveled with colossal relief, and I spent the next two decades believing I could win back my parents’ affection, if only I played along that we were a decent family.
Years later, I wondered why I felt anxious about going home. I wondered what I’d done to be rejected, why I felt unloved. Having two daughters, my needs were based on their needs. A daughter needs a mother who can validate their emotions. By the time Aileen (the oldest) was thirteen, I had a breakdown. I was not OK. Abuse of a child was not OK. I came to learn that my experience had names: scapegoat, abuse-by-proxy, neglect.
These were big stories to own. F-ing huge stories to own. Healing begins with living in your worst nightmare. Betrayals were toxins in my body that made me aggressive, distrustful, and short-fused—as would be expected when reality hits like a freight train. What was I supposed to do with these stories?
Get them out. Get them out. Get them out.
My body had been telling me for years that going home was a bad idea: the paranoia and dread, the sense of defeat. Every time I went home, I returned to a victim’s playground. Summer equated to abuse, a simple math problem. But I estranged myself. I had a blind spot. I couldn’t see what was familiar—the lack of perception that had allowed my family to enable such treatment. It was not until I hammered my family story into my own framework that I began to believe my truth: principles were more important than family picnics. I needed my own permission to address the conflict: family vs self. I had self-erased for decades, but what came next? What does a person do in this situation? What would you do?
WHAT I’M READING:
The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich. In honor of the James Welch Native Lit Festival this weekend, it’s obligatory for me to read and advocate the importance of books written by native authors. Through oppression, assimilation, displacement, and horrendous abuses, native voices have been erased far too long. It’s time that we listen.
I’m currently surrendering a narrative arc to my work-in-progress to explore and dig deeper into themes that have emerged throughout the process. It’s a chance to be free from a singular parameter while also adhering to constraints that will define areas that need more depth or exposure.
Also, I’m revising a long-form essay that I hope to one day submit for publication. The goal-switch from completing an 80,000 word project to a 5,000 word project feels much more manageable. It involves a true crime, taking the full-time spotlight off me. Sometimes, a person just needs a break.
RELATED NEWS: The Montana Book Festival is September 15-18th. I’ll be hosting a conversational panel: Trauma as Backbone; Strengthening Communities of Adversity with Creative Writing. I’m honored to be joined by the following panelists who will represent populations afflicted by child trauma, the houseless community, and justice-involved youth:
- Sheryl Noethe; 2x Poet Laureate of Montana, Founder of Missoula Writing Collaborative, TEDx speaker, and author of many poems and chapbooks.
- Barry Maxwell; Barry earned his MFA in nonfiction at the University of Montana and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Social Work. He is the founder of Street Lit Authors Club-Missoula, providing books and workshops to Missoula’s underserved communities.
- Nicole Gomez; Nicole is about to transition from Executive Director of Free Verse, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering incarcerated youth of Montana through literature and creative writing. She holds an MFA in fiction form the University of Montana, and a BA in International Relations and Italian Language and Literature from Stanford University.
If you think creative writing is not important, think again. These incredible people are changing the course of people’s lives by giving them a pen and saying, “Write your story.” The conversation will be a moving and eye-opening exposé of what happens when the silenced are empowered to claim their voice.
WELCOME: Anna, The Hairy Truths blog, and The Introverted Idealist blog. I am so glad you’re here.
A question about lake swimming sparked quite the conversation on Twitter.
When a commenter sent me a video of how bacteria in water infected her with a rare breast disease, I felt compelled to share her story. Watch here.
After hearing the warnings of bacteria and toxin-infested water, I learned to not take the clean lakes of Montana for granted.
Thank you dear friends for hanging in there with me. I appreciate your support. Have a safe and happy summer, and be true to yourself.