Writing Your Memoir Can Be Painful

resilienceI just read about a very brave young woman who has written a memoir about her childhood filled with neglect and abuse. Katie Beers wrote Torment to Recovery about her years of abuse as a child in her own home and about being kidnapped and abused for 17 days before eventually being adopted into a loving and supportive foster home.

In an interview about her book Beers said, “I try not to be sad about what happened, because ultimately it made me who I am today, and I’m very satisfied and happy with my life.”

Not many of us have the kind of life-changing experiences that Katie Beer writes about, but even so writing your memoir can be a very scary experience.  All of us have parts of our lives that we are reluctant to share.  In my first memoir class, I encountered one of those vulnerable spots very early on. We were assigned to write about a turning point in our lives. At the time, I was in the midst of a very painful turning point. My husband of 26 years had announced to me out of the blue that he didn’t want to be married anymore. I was faced with redefining my life. I had to find a new career at 61 years of age, face a future of living alone instead of part of a couple and basically redefine who I was.

Of course there were other turning points I could write about—when I left home for college, my first real job, moving to Dallas. But I couldn’t get past this turning point that was defining my everyday life. So I took the plunge and wrote about it. I cried while I was writing it and I cried while I was reading it to the other members of the online class. These were people I barely knew, and I was laying bare my soul.

As difficult as that experience was, I learned from it. I received very supportive feedback from my classmates. They called me strong, brave, resilient—all adjectives that I hadn’t thought were part of my makeup.

Your memoir is your story. You share as much or as little as you want, but I encourage you to write about even the tough times and the times you’d rather keep hidden from the world. After you’ve written them down, if you still want to keep them hidden then just delete the file and throw away the evidence. I think you will find that the process of writing down your experience and your feelings associated with the experience will be cathartic. If it is something that happened years ago, you might just be able to discover how you’ve grown because of that bad experience. You’ll discover how strong and resilient you really are.

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