Friends, today I’m sharing with you an open letter to author Martha Beck. I’m doing so in hopes of encouraging you to share your own truth with the world, and to see how much of an impact one person’s words can have on so many lives.
In 2002 I read your book, Finding Your Own North Star, and it changed my life. I vowed then to spend all the monumental effort I had put into slogging through onerous tasks, creating a life that looked right, to creating a life that felt amazing.
I picked up the book because I hated my job, and was obsessed with finding my true passion, that elusive thing that would make life better. In the book, you talked about emotional wounds, and how it was impossible to find your right work when you are busy trying to survive an emotional shotgun wound. I took your quiz, realized I needed help, and found the courage to go to therapy. I used my hated job to fund five years of therapy, and I finally felt halfway normal. I still didn’t like my job, but I was starting to like my life.
In 2007 my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I took a leave of absence from my work and moved back to the hometown I had fled from thirteen years prior to help my mom and sister take care of my dad. During this time, all of our family skeletons forcefully danced out of the closet, with party hats on.
My dad’s years of binge drinking, his paranoia that the FBI was following him, my haunting feeling that he had molested me and I couldn’t remember it, the mindfuck games he used to play on all of us, the overriding creepy menace of living with him all came out.
The fact that he used to threaten to kill my mother or our pets if we didn’t do math problems with him. The overriding terror that one day we’d come home and find that mom had vanished, and we’d be left with a smiling, giggling father refusing to answer us where she’d gone. The revelation that he had tried to push her down the stairs once, and she stayed with him anyway.
All of this suppressed truth came rushing out, while my father smiled creepily and spoke to an apparition of Richard Gere in the living room, with Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash crooning ‘Ring of Fire” on repeat from the TV.
It was a seriously fucked up time, Martha, and I survived it because of you.
My mom had survived life to this point through a form of fiercely cheerful denial. “Think of something happy,” was a general motto. She was so well trained in hiding my dad’s mental illness that it never even occurred to her to call an ambulance when he first started weeping and talking aloud to invisible apparitions.
Due to the five years of therapy and your words (I have North Star pretty much memorized), I had developed an equally fierce commitment to telling the truth. I did so, loudly, to doctors, family members, social workers, and basically anyone who would listen.
My mother and I screamed at each other, cried with each other, locked in the funhouse of my childhood home, for four months, while my dad withered away. She finally got comfortable enough with the truth herself to go to therapy. My sister drove hundreds of miles, often, to be with us to offer us breaks of sanity.
It was a horrific time, but a magical one as well. It felt like God was hitting the three of us over the head with a sledgehammer, determined to help us heal. I’ve come to think of this time as my dad’s parting gift to the family – a spiritual apology and opportunity to have his own truth brought to light.
Someday I might write that story, but not today. Today is about seven years of healing for all of us. Today is about the joy of watching my mother – now a powerhouse of emotional strength – speaking the truth with joy and abandon, and being loved by everyone who ever meets her. Today is going to a gallery opening of one of her ACA friends, visiting her on her month long visit to Rome, reading her screenplay, hearing about her latest session with her personal trainer.
Today is about watching my sister stop seeing the world as pool of black water to drown in, to a joyful ocean to surf. Today’s about seeing her quit her job and open her own business, make Star Trek costumes with her teenaged daughters, and fall in love with her own essential self.
For all of those things, thank you. I did my own work, and I’m the only one who could have done it – just like my mom and sister. But you are the reason I started.
You were the person who convinced me that I didn’t have to suffer – that life wasn’t meant to hurt so badly. You showed me that it was possible to live with joy, and recover from horrible pain. You convinced me I might not be broken and unmendable.
Since 2007, you have helped me in immeasurable ways as well, but today I just wanted to thank you for speaking your own truth in Finding Your Own North Star, and showing us a different way to live.
With huge, huge gratitude,
Who has impacted you like this? Leave a comment and let us know.