I recently had the privilege of reading one of my esteemed friends as-yet-unpublished memoir.
I finished all 300 pages in less than three days—it was that good.
Afterwards, as we discussed her work, which I emphatically encouraged her to publish if she saw fit, she asked me a common question people who write candid, painful, possibly shaming memoirs ask, “How do I mitigate the potentially negative impact of this piece on the people I love if and when it becomes public?”
I answered truthfully, “I don’t know.”
When I was in my early 30s I completed a similar memoir.
It outlined in unflinching detail a horrific time in my life when I was in love with a brilliant, misogynistic, narcissist for whom I demeaned myself and humiliated myself in the off chance that I might make him love me back
Not exactly what my parents want to include in their annual Christmas letter.
Also not exactly what my children want their friends to know about me nor what I want to discuss at PTA meetings. Or rather, have discussed behind my back in derogatory whispers at PTA meetings where the other moms stay a safe distance away, for fear I might infect their haloed reputations with my checkered past.
A couple of years ago, at age 42, I began writing again. This time it was in the form of blogging—stuff about yoga, which I teach and vegan food, which I eat. I had utterly transformed my life and become an upstanding member of the community.
No one but my husband and close friends was the wiser.
As I wrote my umpteenth article about the virtues of mushrooms versus meat, I started to feel a hankering to work on something else.
Before I knew it, I had written dozens of articles so revealing they might as well be x-rays about those bad times in my 20s. They just poured out of me, and I hit “submit” before I could over think it.
I figured, now the sh*t’s gonna hot the fan.
I also wondered, why.
Why did I feel compelled to spill my guts in such a public way?
Am I so selfish that I can’t just let the past be the past and spare my family the endless repercussions of knowing the a**hole that is me?
Apparently, I can’t.
When the comments starting rolling in, I was too afraid to read them. I was still struggling to justify why I had put all this information out there when it had been safely locked away. Didn’t I just want to forget the whole thing?
I guess if I could have, I would have. But the truth is, what I did and what happened to me changed me—it is with me every day, all the time and in not disclosing my experiences or “owning them” as it is popularly expressed, I was being inauthentic. I was a liar.
My journey toward respectability had taught me something important—part of being a strong woman, who has compassion and empathy for others, is having compassion and empathy for myself. Hiding pieces of myself that I deem unworthy is not compassionate, it is acting on the belief that I have to be other than I am in order to be okay.
That belief was where all my problems started in the first place.
I’m not willing to do it anymore.
This year I pulled that old book out of the closet. I held it in my hands. Weed Street. I’d always loved the title because it is the improbable name of an actual road here in Chicago, a road on which I used to score drugs but also the place where I began to turn things around.
I knew as I held it, that come hell or high water I wanted it published, I wanted the whole depth of my ugliness on display—for it is only in that way that I can also claim the best of me.
When I finally got up the courage to read the responses to my articles about my sordid youth, I was quite surprised.
With very few exceptions, they were supportive, encouraging, even loving. People (in general) weren’t horrified, they were inspired. Countless women in similar situations said that hearing my voice helped them hear their own. Not only was I claiming the bad stuff, but I was able to alchemically transform it into something good.
Now I was getting somewhere.
The fact is, we all have our secrets and our scars. If we are courageous enough to reveal them, we may be judged. But if we are not, we are judging ourselves.
The answer to the question, “How do we mitigate the potentially negative impact of our truth telling on the people we love?” is this:
By being strong, fearless individuals they can be proud of no matter what our pasts. By leading by example and demonstrating over time that though we are deeply flawed, we love ourselves regardless, which enables us to love others in a way nothing else can.
~ dedicated to K.S.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock