This book ended with one of my favorite quotes from a lifelong mentor, Christopher Robin. That Pooh Bear toting little man who lived bravely through all the adventures in the 100 Acre Wood. Yes, that Christopher Robin. And this is where my takeaways from this poignant book, Transforming Memories, begin.
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
~A. A. Milne
I must be honest here, this book both challenged me and encouraged me. The aha moments I identified with were tempered by flagrant emotional tension of those stories that left me shocked. The book begins at the title with a badge of courage, “Transforming Memories: Sharing Spontaneous Writing Using Loaded Words”. To understand the title is to understand the environments these three authors grew from; all of them children of alcoholics. While reading, I remembered frequently my brother’s echoed words from years past, “Janie, not everyone grew up in a home like ours.” I understand that now better than ever. No, no they didn’t.
There are no pages bleeding out poor me, feel sorry for me, sympathy-seeking, parent-slamming, passive aggressive, co-dependency. Instead, the book is predicated on what it was like to grow up in a family dysfunctional due to alcoholism. The first part of the book by Liz Crocker, Polly Bennell, and Holly Book describes their discovery of writing as a healing mechanism for their souls. Through their practice of writing and seeing its advantages, they agreed that they needed to share this form of therapeutic benefits with others. This book, Transforming Memories: Sharing Spontaneous Writing Using Loaded Words, is the result. Readers like me will appreciate the index at the back of the book for easy look-up of specific topics for review. It came as no surprise to find two appendices for further research. The authors are thorough in their own research and share copious studies and an extensive list of other books you might read later.
The title intrigued me. How about you? I was impressed that the authors offered a complete analysis and rationale for why they chose this title, the foundation of the book. Transforming came from the “act of reflecting on and writing about” childhood memories; memories that were “shape-shifting”. Memories come in the form of snapshots of their past whether good or painful. Transforming memories seemed to speak to the heart of their experience, “capturing what we did and what effect our process had.” In sharing, their hope is that others will be inspired to try writing as a source of healing. Spontaneous writing describes the discipline of writing quickly, without thinking about what to say or how it sounds – just write. Loaded words was a completely new concept to me until I came to understand the heaviness that all the baggage of dysfunction heaves onto children. The authors select their recollection of ‘loaded words’ and articulate how abandonment, community/home, gifts, hope, resolution, spirituality, surrender, and unpredictability affected them for a lifetime.
Promoting this spontaneous writing process is the belief and assurance that it’s good for your health. Each of the authors writes with deep feeling about each of the loaded words. I like one of the quotes they used in describing the cathartic process of writing spontaneously.
If you write it down, the weight of it [the experience] is on the page, not on your heart.”
You will cringe at some of the stories detailed in their childhood memories. I admit my heart was broken for the storyteller every time I felt the excitement for events that were prime for celebration only to be plummeted with the crushing blow when mom or dad was too drunk to notice. Don’t misinterpret what I just wrote as summary of what I read over and over in the pages of this book. In the beginning, I said there are no poor me, feel sorry for me stories, and there aren’t. I can’t help but be deeply moved though. The fact is, these three women found that writing and sharing their stories have been therapeutic for them. They have broken the cycle of addiction and found a healthy way to recover and live their best life now, regardless of how broken their past.
What you need to know about this book is that you will read numerous accounts of life with alcoholic parents. You will be sad but expectant, enraged but forgiving, heartbroken but hopeful, devastated but optimistic because you see the origins of these beautiful women and how they turned tragic circumstances into a journey of opportunity and personal development. Liz, Polly, and Holly want you to take the methodology they have laid out in this book and adopt it for your own practice. In fact, one of the chapters is titled Your Turn.
I admit that my attempt to identify with the circumstances these young women lived through is foreign, but this book taught me some important truths that are applicable to every living person. Be thankful for life. Do all you can, with what you have, for as long as you can to make wise choices. Every choice has a consequence, good or bad. Journaling, spontaneous writing, openly putting your thoughts on paper relieve your mind of the heavy burden. Thoughts weigh a ton, and feelings are like boulders, aren’t they? Whether dealing with consequences of the past or making choices now to avoid consequences in the future, put pen to paper and start writing.
I have been a serious advocate of journaling for many years. This book is an excellent resource and guidebook. Learn the process of pouring out your heart and finding the path to a peaceful life.