I'm delighted to welcome today's guest blogger, Dawn Novotny, as she shares her thoughts about the impact writing a memoir can have on your self-image. See below for more information about Dawn and her memoir, a fascinating (and at times heart-wrenching) tale of abuse, regret, and redemption, from her troubled childhood through her marriage to Marilyn Monroe's stepson.
First, your mind has to dig around like you’re scavenging through an old treasure chest. Some of the “treasures” are pretty, some are ugly and worn, some are very badly tattered and some are even stinking from being concealed for so long.
But if you rummage long enough, writing a memoir is healing. While not meant to be therapy, the process of writing or revealing one's story can be quite therapeutic. Writing slows down the telling of one's story like watching a movie in slow motion.
For example, I was in a writing group with a friend that I had been close to over thirty years. I thought that she knew everything there was to know about me. Over the years, having told her all of my “stories”, I worried that the re-telling would bore her, but as we continued in the writing group she would remark, “Wow, Dawn, I didn't know that incident was so heartbreaking for you. You always seemed so strong when talking about those situations.”
I was taken aback that she didn't know how much I had been hurt back then. Yet, looking back, I could see how glibly I used to convey my stories. I would truncate my feelings, but other times, I abbreviated my words so I would not have to feel the depth of my sorrow. How could she have known?
Through writing and sharing my memoir, I came to understand that my previous accounts were like showing the previews of a major motion picture without connecting the story lines. Writing slows down the narrative beyond just the bold captions. Through writing, one has to add and expand on the colors and the textures, and supply details that create a coherent, integrative life story. This slowing down process changes how you think and how you see yourself in the context of what happened.
Untold stories can imprison memories, creating a lack of coherence and an ongoing sense of not being seen or heard. Writing a memoir — telling our stories creates a sense of integrative coherence and connection.
After all, we are talking about our life. It is our life and our unique story. If we don't honor that exclusive story, the story that can only be produced by our remembrances, then who else will? Who else will honor you?
When we write our memoir, we journey to our heart, which changes us in unexpected ways—how we think, feel, and react to the past. We grow and expand with each memory that we pluck from the treasure chest regardless of its condition.
The pieces we find in our memory chest are part and parcels of the who that we have become. If we are lucky enough to be supported through our memoir journey by a writing group, we will be held, nurtured and witnessed in unimaginable ways. Start your memoir journey now, and reap the riches of self-discovery.
In 1963, Dawn Novotny was seventeen. She thought God had finally come through for her. Out of nowhere appeared her dashing Prince Charming. Married within three months, she was sure this was redemption for her rag doll beginnings. Though she had lived in the shadow of illegitimacy, poverty, and physical and sexual abuse, she was sure she would prove worthy to her groom. After all, she had remained a virgin. How was she to know that he expected her to be an aggressive sexpot, or “whore,” as he put it, modeled after the persona of his famous stepmother, Marilyn Monroe? Thus began Dawn's ill-fated effort to compete with the sexual image of Marilyn. Divorced after two years, she though of herself as “used goods.” Ironically, she reacted by becoming exactly what Joey had wanted her to be–an alcoholic and a sex object, not only in men's eyes but in her own.