When writing our memoirs, it often helps to begin by journaling. As Sherrey Meyer writes in this guest blog, transferring our innermost thoughts onto paper becomes the catalyst for the healing process, and provides a wellspring of acceptance, openness and lack of judgment about our own feelings and emotions.
I met Sherrey through our growing online community of memoir writers on Facebook. Her heartfelt and insightful reviews of my memoirs made me realize how generous she is in "getting the word out" about women finding their voices through writing. As she works on her own memoir, she offers her story of hope and healing. Please welcome Sherrey to the Women's Writing Circle. ~ Susan
As a child growing up, I knew fear. My mother, Nelle, disciplined using fear in the form of verbal and emotional abuse. One of my greatest anxieties arose from the thought I might displease her. I knew too well the result of her displeasure. Because I hoped to please her, I never gave up trying despite fearing the reward for possibly failing. (In the above photograph with my mother and nephew Kevin, December 2000 when I was preparing to move her from the nursing home in Tennessee to Oregon after determining she had been abused in the Tennessee nursing home.)
An excerpt from my memoir in progress provides an example:
I dreaded getting in trouble with Mama. From a very early age, I remember the emotions created by one of her favorite punishments. Inflicting humiliation and dread on the object of her anger seemed to bring her great satisfaction. I hated to hear the words, "Go outside and bring back a nice long switch. And while you're walking back make sure you pull off all the leaves. That way it will hurt more and the sting will last longer so you'll learn from this." Before leaving her presence, my head bowed and my steps began to shuffle. The posture of a defeated soul. It didn't help to cry -- tears only increased her anger. And if tears fell, there'd be another barrage of words, "I suppose you think those tears will make me feel sorry for you. Well, they won't!"
Off I’d go to pick the tool to render my punishment and walk back to the house, tears coursing down my cheeks, while my child fingers stripped the switch bare. I could already feel its sting on my legs and back. I walked what seemed the longest walk cloaked in a blanket of dread for what was to come. All the while I hoped that one day this and other punishments would be cast aside. Still, despite that hope, I feared what might be if I failed again.
Eventually I began to realize that my hopes and fears were woven together in my childhood experiences. In my second marriage in the early 1980s, my husband began to gently work on my reactions to my mother’s habitual manipulations and abuses. With his help, I began to stand taller and stronger. I began to learn how to use hope in a way that quelled my fears inherent in my relationship with Mama.
- By now we lived out-of-state and her rants and abuses were via phone conversations. The moment I heard her voice I began deep breathing exercises to calm the stress of conversations with her.
- Knowing the result when I countered something she thought or said I began speaking in more “vanilla” terms. In other words, I kept my comments from being confrontational. That isn’t to say I gave up and didn’t speak my own thoughts and opinions. I learned to speak them differently.
- I began journaling after our phone calls, transferring my thoughts out of me and on paper.
- I am including letters to my now deceased mother written in my child voice throughout my memoir. I share with her my fear, dashed hopes, and even happy days we had together. These letters allow me to face my fears in black and white, dissecting them away from who I am today and giving them a home outside of me.
The letters have been most therapeutic. I didn't know what would happen when I first started. The catalyst was an ugly memoir that came bouncing forward and I needed to cope with it, so I sat down and wrote out my feelings. That's when the letters started.
These last two steps, writing in a journal and writing these letters, have been instrumental in transforming me into the woman I am today. My fear of failure no longer dominates my activities and dreams. I have risen to a level of knowing myself from the inside out, not from the outside in as Mama defined me.
Hope for change in the face of fear or any other detraction from happiness and positivity is always present. It is much simpler to engage in hoping for change and improvement.
Hoping to hear my mother’s words of affirmation, I asked my mother one day when she was more alert than usual if there was anything she needed that wasn't being seen to. I remember she looked at me and said, "Sherrey, you have done everything just right." These were the last words she spoke to me before she died. I had waited 57 years to hear that very affirmation and validation.
I believe hope represents all we see as positive . . . fear is the opposite, showing all we believe to be negative. And yet, they are often inseparable. What strange companions these two emotions are.
Hold out hope as a lantern lighting the way in face of any fears you may have. Hope will guide you down the path to the next good thing coming your way. Hope is what made me who I am today.
“Hope and fear are inseparable. There is no hope
without fear, nor any fear without hope.”
~ François de La Rochefoucauld
(French memoirist, 1613-1680)
A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents. She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else! Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write. Among her projects is a memoir of “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse. Sherrey is married and lives with her husband Bob in Milwaukie, Oregon. You can reach Sherrey on her websites: Healing by Writing and Found Between the Covers or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.