137missing piece

50 for 50 #13

We sat, as we had before, in our sacred circle—a group of women gathered together in safety to write down our words and speak them out loud. Beth, our leader, called to order our crew comprised of different ages, backgrounds, ethnicities. She reminded us again of her fundamental “rule,” not to apologize when our turn to read arrived. Almost always one of us forgot, overcome by the need to justify our humanity.
I expected a list of prescient prompts. Beth has that gift. She began, “Number one, a birthday cake” and continued on until she said, “Number 10. My girl going.”
My eyes welled and I knew in an instant that this was the prompt I’d use. At past retreats, I had tried to write the truth of my experience as the mother of a daughter who struggled with mental illness. To do otherwise seemed a waste of precious time and energy. Yet, that truth was tempered by shame and fear, by the editor in my head that struggled to keep my words and by extension me hidden away in the dark. I hoped this time would be different. 
I found a quiet corner in the place where we were and opened my journal. I wrote that sentence fragment at the top of my page, My girl going. . ., and continued to write. I soon discovered that I couldn’t stop writing. This never happens. For me, there is thinking and staring and jotting and scratching out and starting over—a near obsession with control of the creative process. Folly, I know, and beyond that even detriment. The real-time editing of my thoughts is a perfectionist behavior, a habit I try and usually fail to break. But this time, there was no need. This time my pen scribbled across the paper at a maddening pace. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote straight through until it was time to stop. My world split open in a way it never had before as words poured out of my soul. 
When it was my turn to read I said, “I used the prompt my girl going.” Instantly, tears began to flow. I resisted the urge to apologize, instead grabbing tissues from my purse. Someone held my hand. I read and cried until I was finished reading and crying. I had a wad of soggy tissues in my lap and a tread of watery mascara down my cheeks. I looked up and into the faces of the women who encircled me. The reading this time had felt different and I saw that it had been. I saw compassion. I saw understanding. I saw tears in other women’s eyes and knew that I had been received. Shame had not prevailed. My experience was accepted, and my world split open again. This, I realized, is how we heal.   
The next day, I decided to share what I had written for the group on my blog. I was scared. My words were intense. They’d included descriptions of suicidality and images of blood and razor blades. There’d been anguish and rage. I’d crossed an invisible line in the invisible sand and had written about my child. I hesitated. I anticipated blowback because I’d addressed topics people would rather ignore. And because 1,400 words does not a full story make. What would people think of us, how would they judge us, after reading an infinitesimal offering of our experience? Plus, my daughter was years into her recovery. She no longer was the damaged young girl I’d portrayed. I wrestled, too, with the narcissism inherent to appearing center stage of my girl’s story. Determined, I put aside my hesitations. If I wanted to call myself an advocate, I had to advocate for myself and for the women I’ve met on our journey who can’t or won’t speak for themselves. And my daughter understood that I wrote to educate. I wrote to support. I wrote to eradicate stigma. Going public with this post felt as crucial to my healing as writing it had felt. I created the post, clicked Publish, and then pasted it onto my Facebook page. 
On average, my new blogs are read by maybe a few dozen people. “My girl going” topped out that day around 2,400. Some of the comments were neutral. Most were positive. The trolls were silent. No one was more surprised by this than me. I replied to every person, thanking them for their kindness, for having my back, and for acknowledging their new perspective courtesy of my bravery. My external world had risen to meet the challenge of supporting my tender heart. Then something happened. 
I didn’t feel it, exactly, but I knew something was wrong, something inside me snapped shut. The next day I was awash in anxiety. I paced from room to room worrying about the piece’s potential ripples, effects beyond my imagination. I considered removing it from my blog, and ticked off a list of pros and cons, like the comfort of anonymity versus the waste of good work, and the required vulnerability inherent to both success and failure. What if I can’t do it again?, I wondered. I felt the weight of responsibility in my clenched jaw. I covered my keyboard with miscellaneous bills and paperwork, as if feigning indifference could solve the problem. I didn’t write anything new. I didn’t want to. Days and then weeks passed. I sought advice from a mentor and still didn’t write. I discovered tons of good excuses not to start again. I even believed some of them. I was busy. I had shit to do. I told myself I’d sit down and write tomorrow, but tomorrow never came. Months passed. I suspected my writing life had reached its conclusion. I figured my inner world wasn’t up to the challenge of mining and sharing rigorous honesty. The question I pondered but never answered was why? Why was fear getting the better of me? 
A year has passed and I’ve now returned to the page in a regular way. There was no epiphany, no come-to-Jesus moment. One day I just realized it was time to get back to work. No one else was going to write my story. That was my job, and my privilege. So I grabbed my keyboard, moved aside the bills, blew off the accumulated cat hairs, and wrote. I also signed up for another of Linda Schreyer's Slipper Camps. This post is the result of one of her prompts.   
When I sent Linda my first draft, I assumed my story here needed a clear-cut ending, that knowing why was imperative. It was she who reminded me that not knowing finds us all. Not knowing is "juicy and honest." I would have accepted that ambiguous solution if my intuition wasn't implying otherwise. I was missing something important.
I lamented to a friend. "It seems a cop out," I said, "to write I don't know and leave it at that." 
“Didn’t Julia Cameron write about fear in The Artist’s Way?” my friend asked?
Yes. Yes, she did and there it was, right in the Table of Contents. Fear written about in the chapter on self-compassion. I was on to something. Cameron confirmed that fear is what blocks an artist. I got that part, I thought. And? I read on until I found what I was seeking. Cameron wrote: There is only one cure for fear. That cure is love. Figures, I thought, in a "Dorothy, you've had the power all along" sort of way.
The answer to why fear derailed me is a lack of enough love, enough self-love to be exact. To a woman who has dedicated her year to exploring self-care, which is to say self-love, this revelation (this synchronicity) came as no surprise. In fact, I chuckled to myself and had to wonder if love will turn out to be the answer to every question I've ever asked.     
You can read My Girl Going here.     


  1. Oh, Tracey, you are truly the gift that keeps on giving.

    After a week of struggles with the old man and a plumbing disaster thrown in for good measure, I carved out time to go through emails and do some good, solid reading.

    I came to #13, and I followed the link to My Girl Going.

    For once, I am absolutely speechless.

    The beauty, the power, the vulnerability you expressed in that essay! I am humbled, both by your experiences and by your skill in articulating your emotions. And yet, you probably feel as though you've barely scratched the surface.

    Our friendship is too new for me to have inquired as to the exact nature of your girl's illness, but now that I know, I stand in awe of what you and she have survived together. Someone should build a monument to honor the struggles of mothers who have endured the kind of horror you have been through.

    Thank you for exposing the soft underbelly, for being willing to share the anguish. Education is the only way to understanding, and someone, somewhere, is going to read your essay and the light bulb will go on. One more mother will find the strength and the grit to do what has to be done, to watch her daughter walk away, out of the darkness and back into the light. You may never know about it, but you must keep the faith that it will happen. You are my hero.

  2. What a beautiful comment, Kelly. I, too, fully believe that Tracey's story, the words she writes, will inspire countless others to move forward with strength & conviction. Connection with others, through our experiences, thoughts and feelings, is so very meaningful.

  3. Kelly and Sue, I'm honestly not sure how exactly to express the gratitude in my heart for these comments, and for both of you here supporting me in this way. There are still days when I wonder why I've committed to this journey, attached as I am to an outcome that seems so far away. Then, I receive gifts like these from the two of you and have my answer, and the attachment loosens. Thank you so much.

  4. Sending lots of love your way, Tracey. That old saying about how babies aren't born with instructions… well, a DIY book on how to take care of ourselves doesn't come with our births, either. Some people seem to have it easier, at least that is what it appears to be on the surface. Who knows though, right? The best we can do, with our unique set of circumstances, along with the whole nature vs. nuture conundrum, is to take the best care of ourselves as possible. Life's experiences gives us an everlasting set of opportunities to learn about who we are and who we want to be. Sometimes this just feels too damn hard, yet we work through the pain and come out stronger for it. We're moving in the right direction. That's a good thing. A great thing!

  5. Wow! This is such a beautiful piece of your heart and soul, Tracey. You're an amazing woman, mother, friend and soulful writer. These words that you have poured out onto the page have arrived with perfect timing…reminding me of, "My Girl Going". A reminder for me to share it with a family member who will be moved in the right direction. Thank you and please, please, don't ever stop writing from the heart. xoxo

  6. Thank you, Tracey, for your every heartfelt word and for acknowledging me and my Slipper Camp. You are a gorgeous writer. Xoxo

  7. This is SO beautiful, Tracey! You're writing from the heart, and this is not only therapeutic for you, but for many others going through a similar experience.

    I didn't know that you stopped writing for months after "My Girl Going." I'm in awe of you recognizing that fear derailed you due to lack of self-love. What an amazing, important, thing to realize — so you can move forward.

    I can totally relate to what you said: "If I wanted to call myself an advocate, I had to advocate for myself and for the women I’ve met on our journey who can’t or won’t speak for themselves. And my daughter understood that I wrote to educate. I wrote to support. I wrote to eradicate stigma." These are the reasons why I write and speak out.

    Beautiful, eloquent writing. Thank you for sharing! xx

  8. Thank YOU so much, Linda for creating such a fantastic way for us to get out of our own way and get words on the page. Slipper Camp rocks! And your constant support and encouragement means the world to me. But then..you know that 😉

  9. Thank you so much Rhonda. I'm so grateful for the connection our writing lives have created for us. I appreciate you and your encouragement more than you know.

  10. Thank you so much, Jeni. I know how hard you work to achieve the same things that I work to achieve. I know you know how hard it can be sometimes to write our truth. There's much to fear in the process, in many different ways. Knowing there are people like you who support, encourage, and even share my mission makes all the difference in the world. Thank you.

  11. LOL..Sue. You're sure right about that. I'd have loved to have had a DIY book for my own self, let alone for raising my kids!! Thank you for this beautiful comment. Yes, we work through the pain and come out the other side stronger. I've learned so much from you over these last years, and am so grateful for you and your friendship in my life. You inspire me to keep going. Moving in the right direction with true friends by your side and deep connection makes all the difference in the world.

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