So excited to have Kathy Pooler of A Memoir’s Journey guest blog for Giving Voice to Your Story site. Kathy has been instrumental in giving me essential feedback for my memoir Accidental Soldier and I’m excited to share with you her latest guest post with the Giving Voice to Your Story community.
DS: Before you wrote your memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, what did it feel like to look back on the painful memories about your self-defeating choices and try to make sense of it all?
KP: This question gets at the heart of what memoir writing is all about—exploring a slice-of-life and gleaning the lessons learned. Inherent in that is the transformation and healing that takes place when writing one’s life story. Quite honestly, I lived with guilt and shame for many years when I looked at the choices about marriage partners I had made that impacted not only my life but the lives of my two children. Years later, when I looked around and realized the joyful life I was living, I decided I had to tell my story to share my hope with others—it is possible to climb out of the abyss of poor decisions and go on to live a meaningful, peaceful life.
Looking back was like re-living the pain and chaos. So I had to do it in “manageable doses”, often times putting the manuscript aside for weeks and months at a time. I didn’t even know what my story was until I started writing and rewriting vignettes in Linda Joy Myers’ (NAMW)Spiritual Memoir Tele-workshops over a three-year period. The value of sharing our stories in the safety of a trusted group of fellow writers cannot be overestimated. Through the sharing and support I was able to achieve self-forgiveness and a better understanding of that young woman who made so many self-defeating decisions. The group gave me the courage to keep digging deeper and to keep writing.
DS: I would love to know what it felt like, after all that effort to pull your chaotic memories into a memoir. What impact has it had on your view of your life, and the way you feel about yourself today?
KP: Finding and shaping the narrative arc was the most challenging, yet most rewarding part of my memoir writer’s journey. I hired developmental and copy editors as well as used beta readers. I worked hard at remaining open to suggestions and edits. At one point after my first developmental edit, I felt like I had major surgery and needed recovery time. Chapters and scenes were slashed so deeply, I wallowed in self-pity and stuffed the manuscript away for several months. Then one day, a friend visited and asked me to read the chapter she was in. When she said, “It sounds like a novel. I was right there with you”, I picked it back up and never looked back. I ended up editing right until the last minute. I connected to the main purpose in telling my story—to share hope—and began to believe I had a story to tell.
KP: Yes, writing my memoir has changed me. It has helped me to see beyond the pain and guilt about all my poor decisions and wasted years. For years, I was asked the question, “How does a young woman from a stable, loving family make so many wise choices about her career but so many poor choices about love that she ends up fleeing in broad daylight with her two children from her second husband for fear of physical abuse?” Writing my memoir helped me to find the answers to this burning question; to put it to rest.
It has also helped me to forgive the men in my life whom I felt had hurt me. I can see the part I played in allowing these men into my life despite the red flags. I can also see both of them as humans with flaws, not evil entities out to get me. I shed the victim role and ended up forgiving myself and feeling compassion for the young woman in my story.
This is where a memoir can be both a gift to the writer and the reader as we can connect and be transformed through our stories.
KP: Now, I focus on sharing all the lessons learned that may touch others in a similar situation. Paying tribute to my loving family, my Catholic faith and my beloved nursing career helped me to realize the blessings in my life. It has opened up conversation with my children and helped them to make sense of their own lives. It has healed and transformed me.
My greatest hope is that it will help others connect with their own stories in a healing way. I have been able to share my story in many different venues and find readers connecting to its theme of finding freedom from abuse by claiming and honoring our inner strength. I’ve been amazed how many people have related their story to my story. It’s interesting because when I first started writing, I wondered who would care about my personal story. This experience has shown me how much our stories do matter.
DS: What’s next?
KP: I will keep writing, blogging, journaling and will go where that takes me. I have my eye on magazine submissions…TBA.
I have started my next memoir which will go deeper into my story of how hope and faith brought me through the simultaneous battles of a cancer diagnosis and the downward spiral of my young son to alcoholism. It will be painful to revisit but as I have learned through writing my first memoir, I trust in the healing power of memoir and am ready to begin this leg of the journey.
Getting my story out there has helped me to move beyond the pain, live life in the moment and enjoy every precious one. I am open to all life has to offer and very grateful for second chances.
Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published on July 28.2014 and work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York. She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: http://krpooler.com
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One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.
Another story: “Choices and Chances” is published in the “My Gutsy Story Anthology” by Sonia Marsh, September, 2013.