The One You Feed

In less than two weeks, THE ONE YOU FEED will be available (pre-order your copy now!) and I usually do a “the inspiration behind” post for new releases, so…

First, let’s all just look at this fucking amazing cover by Eddie at Unnerving:

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Okay, now, on with the stuff that makes me uncomfortable. My inspiration:

Many years ago, I was struggling with how to make a reader feel what I wanted them to feel while reading my stories. I had yet to learn that the writer has to feel it first. When it was explained to me, I couldn’t quite grasp the mechanics of it. I spent so long trying to avoid feeling certain things, it was difficult to connect to that side of myself. So, my mentor at the time told me to write about something I’ve never shared with anyone. Something that affects me on a deep and intensely personal level. Write something short and don’t share it with anyone. It’s just for me. Connect with a feeling that makes me uncomfortable and go with it. I chose a scene from my childhood. It was a gut wrenching and awful experience. I hated every second and I deleted it almost immediately after finishing. I wish I’d printed a hard copy so I could have burned it too. I’m still cringing at the memory of that piece of writing.

But that wasn’t the inspiration. It’s the spark that lit the fire. The inspiration is something I’ve felt guilty about for most of my adult life. As most of you know, I grew up in a small town. If we had tracks, I probably lived on the wrong side of them. My mom was married twice to abusive men. The first almost killed her. The second almost killed her and himself. People often asked “Why does she stay?” It’s a good question. The obvious, one, right? Why the hell would you not run for the hills the first time he hits you? Why would you stay if he tells you you’re stupid, worthless, or ugly? Why would you accept an existence so full of darkness and depression, you’d consider leaving this world instead of leaving him? If you’re going to put up with it, then you deserve whatever you get.

It took me a long time to understand my mom’s reasons for staying. It wasn’t until I found myself in a place that I swore I’d never be in, that I finally got it. Why does she stay? Because she loves him. Because she loves her kids. Because she doesn’t think anyone else will love her. She stays because she’s too afraid to leave. Because she thinks she doesn’t deserve better. Because he said he’ll die without her. Because she’ll die…

And so on.

I’ve also heard people say “If he loved her, he wouldn’t hit her.” Again, it’s not that simple. My stepdad loved my mom, but he hated himself more. It took him a long time to understand and correct his behavior. Sadly, she paid the price for that lesson and it tainted their relationship forever.

When discussing any kind of abuse (violence, sexual abuse, etc.), we tend to ask things like, “Why wouldn’t he/she tell someone? ANYONE?” or “Why let it go on so long? Someone would’ve helped him/her if he/she just asked.”

Sometimes asking for help validates your fear that you’re not good enough, because you’re admitting that you’re too stupid or weak to stand up for yourself. And, worst of all, it means sharing your shame with someone else. It makes it real and goddamn it, you worked too hard to convince yourself it wasn’t that bad. It’s sounds illogical if you’ve never been there. I get that. You have to understand, though, that kind of thinking makes sense to the person in the situation.

I told more than one adult what was happening in our house. I expressed fear for my safety and my mom’s. I was told, without exception, that it was my mom’s fault. ADULTS told me, a child, that my mom stayed because she liked the attention. She was dramatic. She provoked him. She LIKED being a victim. Why else would she get involved with another man who hit her? She was the common denominator in both situations, so obviously, she was the problem. They said if she really wanted a better life, she’d just leave. If she really loved her kids, she’d stop letting him hit her. She was to blame for our misery. And I believed them. For many years, I was angry with my mom for staying instead of being angry at my dad for hitting her. I was terrified of being around anyone who was drinking alcohol (sometimes I still have this fear), and I blamed my mom for that, not the person who got drunk and unleashed his rage on her. Every time he came home drunk and I heard them fight, every time he hit her, every time she cried about it later, or covered up a bruise or a fat lip, or made lame excuses for a sore ear (he ruptured her eardrum more than once) or explained away a chipped or loosened tooth, I was furious with her. I blamed her instead of him. When she tried to take her own life, my rage was so intense I couldn’t even be thankful she didn’t succeed. I was just so tired of her being weak and allowing this to happen.

And that’s what inspired this story. Like so many before me, I was taught to blame the victim and it not only hurt my mother, it hurt me.

I want readers to walk away from this book knowing that all of the horrific stuff we’d rather not see or know about, isn’t a problem caused only by the people involved. It’s everyone’s problem. For example, everyone in our town knew my dad hit my mom. He didn’t even try to hide it. He didn’t have to, because no one said a word. No one stepped in to stop it. No one told him it was wrong. No one asked her if she was okay or offered to help. The only time I heard anyone say anything was when they shamed my mother for “putting up with it.”

Because I was (wrongly) taught to blame the victim, I became the child who thought she was broken, worthless and utterly alone when someone who should’ve protected me, hurt me. I didn’t ask for help, because I believed I did something to make it happen. I’ve been the girl who said no too late and I didn’t tell a soul what happened because it was my mistake. I’ve been the woman who believed that being with someone who was occasionally cruel was better than being alone. I’ve believed that I didn’t matter. It took me a long time to feel “good enough” for anything or anyone and I still struggle with those things now, especially the guilt over blaming my mom, but I don’t talk about it. Who wants to share that kind of negativity?

You might find it interesting that I started writing this the day after I signed the contract for THE ONE YOU FEED with Unnerving. It’s been sitting in my “drafts” for months, because there are too many feelings involved. I mean I’m a horror author. We don’t do feelings! (I’m joking, by the way. We totally do feelings.) I’ve been sitting here for FIVE HOURS, reading and re-reading instead of publishing it, because talking about this stuff  makes me feel anxious. I don’t like that I blamed my mom for what happened to her. I don’t like admitting that I was weak in any way. There are things I’ve experienced that I’ve never talked to a soul about. I know I haven’t really talked about them, but even acknowledging they happened is fucking hard. For much of my life, I’ve been told those things are no one’s business. If no one knows about it, you can pretend it didn’t happen to you, and then you can be positive and move past it. I’ve worked hard to forget some things and to separate my life now from what it used to be. I want you guys to see me as a strong, intelligent woman who can take care of herself. I fed the right wolf and dwelling on the past only wakes up the one I’ve tried to starve all these years.

Sharing the shit that almost broke me destroys the illusion of strength I’ve worked so hard to maintain, so I’m uncomfortable about this whole thing. I can’t share the inspiration for this story, though, without also sharing the rest. I mean, I asked for help once. It wasn’t well received and I’ve never asked again. I don’t want anyone to fall into the same pattern that I did. When you see someone who is hurting, you should say “What can I do?” instead of telling that person how you think they can help themselves. And sometimes the best and only thing you can do is listen.

Now, this book is not going to change the world, I know that, but if just one person stops and thinks or tries to understand a situation, before blaming the victim, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. If someone who’s struggling feels less alone, that’s even better.

And on that note, I’ll end this mess with what I wish I’d said to my mom and anyone else who needs to hear it:

If you’re not ready to ask for help, it doesn’t mean you’re weak or worthless. You have no reason to be ashamed. You’re still here. You’re still fighting. You are fucking amazing and you matter. You have a voice and someone will listen when you’re ready to use it.

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