NG Intro: My guest today is Meg Blaine Corrigan, and she’s here to talk about her memoir, “Then I am Strong: Moving From My Mother’s Daughter to God’s Child”. It’s an insightful, humorous, and courageous look at the life of one girl growing up in a profoundly volatile family, with an alcoholic mother, codependent father, and over-responsible sister, as they lived in the shadow of the bottle. Meg not only reports the events in her own voice, but she employs a unique look at her parents’ early years as well. Using stories from her family and her father’s letters to her mother, the author tells a tale of moving from pain to healing. Along the way, she discovers God and His plan for her life, which allows her to forgive her parents-and most of all, herself. Her journey will encourage others, and show that, no matter what happened in our past, it does not have to determine our present and future.
Meg Corrigan holds a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling from the University of New Mexico. She has worked as a county social worker, vocational rehabilitation counselor, and a college counselor, helping clients and students with depression and anxiety, grief and loss, chemical dependency, sexual abuse, and other mental health issues. Welcome to the show, Meg!
Meg: Hi Nadia, it’s so good to be here, thank you for having me.
Nadia: Meg, I’m glad we could get together for this. I was personally moved by your book and it made me wonder if, under the same circumstances, I would have ever had the courage to write a story like yours. What was the catalyst.? Was there a defining moment?
Meg: It all started with a photograph. After my father’s death, I was sorting through his belongings and ran across a photo of my mother passed out on the floor, obviously drunk. The photo instantly brought back all these uncomfortable memories of my childhood. I was amazed that these intense feelings were still inside me. The only reason I can conceive that my father took the photo was perhaps to try to commit my mother at some point. I showed the photo to my husband, and I said, “I ought to write a book.” He said, “Yes, you should,” and that’s how it all started. I wanted to write my story to show other people, that adversity in life doesn’t have to define who you are. For me, being raised by an alcoholic mother (who was probably also mentally ill) did not have to mean I would turn out just like her. Other trials in my life – the sexual assault, a failed marriage – did not result in me adopting a “woe-is-me” attitude.
Nadia: Did you find the process of such personal storytelling easy or difficult?
Meg: Much of the writing itself came easily. I have a good memory of lots of things that happened in my younger years, both good and bad. My mother was still living when I wrote most of it. She didn’t know I was writing it – by then, she was beginning to show signs of dementia – but I was able to ask her questions about her family of origin and what it was like for her growing up. I also talked to some of my father’s sisters and one of his brothers, and I had all of these amazing letters my father wrote my mother when he was in flying school. There were parts of the story, however, that evoked profound sadness and deep emotions as I was remembering them and writing them down.
Nadia: As a novice writer, what methods did you use to begin your project?
Meg: I was a counselor at a two-year college, and I requested and was granted a one-year sabbatical to write the memoir. I had no idea what I was doing. I just started writing, and continued to do that for about five hours a day, five days a week, for ten months. When we went out of town, I took the laptop and continued to write whenever and wherever I could. I wrote in a Chicago hotel room. I wrote at a fishing resort in Mexico. But mostly I wrote in our den, in the lower level of our home, with no windows.
I posted a little list by my computer that said, “Who, What, Where, When, How,” and another little list that said, “See, Smell, Hear, Taste, Feel, Sense” and a third list that said, “Photos, Clothing, Hair Styles, Movies, Posters, Stuffed Animals, Toys, Letters, Cards, Newspaper Clippings, School/Team Uniforms, Art Objects, Souvenirs.” (By now my computer was looking rather cluttered!) I used these lists whenever I got stumped on what to say or how to say it.
Nadia: You used some flashbacks. How and why did you use them?
Meg: My book is unique because it is written in two “voices.” One is my own, throughout my life, changing from a child to an adult. The second “voice” is the narration of my parents early lives, which I chronicled using family stories and my father’s old letters to my mother.
Part of my goal in writing the memoir was to try to understand my mother better. Why did she become an alcoholic? Why did she feel she was superior to other people? Did she ever really love her children or her husband? I use flashbacks to link the experiences I had with her to the things that she went through when she was younger–the things that may have unknowingly shaped her adult life.
Nadia: As a young adult, you faced the terrible ordeal of being sexually assaulted at gunpoint. What was it like to write about that?
Meg: That was the one section of the book I was afraid I couldn’t write about. I began the book in the fall and I promised myself that I would write the assault chapter the first day it snowed that year. It didn’t snow until late February, and the first draft was due in March. I kept my promise to myself and wrote the chapter that day. Then I fell apart and cried the rest of the day.
Nadia: In the book, you describe your “faith journey” as life changing. Can you say something about that?
Meg: Clearly, it was the discovery of God’s role in my life that began to turn things around for me. He had to hit me over the head a few times, but when I realized how much He loves me and wants me to lead a happy, productive life, I began to see some dramatic changes in the way I handled the trials in my life.
At some point in our lives, we are all faced with challenges to make decisions about who we are, about how we live, and about how we interrelate to others. Some abdicate this responsibility entirely, some take aim but miss the mark, and still others embrace the opportunity and seek diligently to reach their ultimate potential. For me, finding God was how I was able to embrace the opportunity to strive to be the best I could be in this life. In the end, the life I lead as a Christian is my own best explanation of why I believe in the first place.
Nadia: In the back of the book, you list several organizations that provide help for people with a variety of issues. What is your experience with those organizations and why did you include them in the book?
Meg: The areas of mental health services I list are: Chemical Dependency, Depression and Suicide, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Veteran’s Services. In some way, my life has been affected by each of these and I have sought help in several of them. Although I do not consider myself to be an alcoholic, I chose to quit drinking because alcohol had brought nothing but pain in my life. I have sought professional help at times for depression, and I also did so following the sexual assault. And I have a special place in my heart for all military personnel and their families. Fortunately, today help is available to military families which was not available to my family when I was growing up. I want to encourage my readers to seek professional help when and if they need it, even if it means “working their own program” while those they love are still engaging in destructive behavior. That’s the bottom line in the AA philosophy, and it works!
Nadia: What were the easiest and the most difficult tasks in writing your memoir?
Meg: The easiest was just sitting down and writing. I have never been accused of being at a loss for words, and much of the book just flowed. The most difficult thing early on was tying all the loose ends together to make sure the story made sense and that I didn’t lose the reader somewhere along the way. Later, the hardest thing by far was cutting the book back from 130,000 words to about 100,000 words. I had what I called “chopper’s block,” because I could not bring myself to cut anything at first. My editor, Connie Anderson, helped a great deal in this process. She even came out to my house and sat at my computer with me to show me how to cut things and still maintain the integrity of the story.
Nadia: What would you say to others who want to write their family story.
Meg: For me, writing the memoir was very healing. It forced me to examine my old feelings about my nuclear family as well as myself. My book is unique in that I write about my parents’ early lives almost like it’s a novel – since I had no personal experience with it, much of it ended up being sort of a “best guess” at how it actually happened. And in the end, I believe writing this book was instrumental in helping me forgive my mother. I actually thought I had done that, forgiven her. After my father’s death, we moved my mother to an assisted living closer to us and I was her primary care giver. When she died, I knew that I had given her the best care I could and I had no regrets. But it wasn’t until I had written the last chapter of the book – about her dying – that I realized I had been in the process of forgiving her right up until her death. Writing about it helped to put that in perspective.
I would recommend that anyone who so desires should write about his or her life., if for no other reason, than to pass it on to those who follow us. Not everyone is equally interested in family history, but having it there for others may be important to the individual, and who knows? Someday, family may be very grateful to have that record of a person’s life.
Getting it published may be another story! I found out, as most first-time authors do, that getting a book published is a lot of work and takes more time than most people can imagine! But if a person has a unique story and believes it will sell, then that person should pursue it!
Nadia: What are your plans for future works? Do you plan to write another book?
Meg: I’ve already started on another book! This one will be much more light-hearted, a kind of a farce, really! It will be a novel about life on the road in the music business. I have hundreds of stories I can use, and it will be hard to cut them down!
Nadia: Meg, I’ve had such a good time having you here. It’s been great to talk to you today and hear your story. Before we go, please give listeners your website or blog, and tell them again where they can get your book, and anything else you think they should know.
Meg: Thank you Nadia, I’ve enjoyed this too. My website is www.MegCorrigan.com and if you go there, you can get my book. It is also available at Amazon.com.
Nadia sign-off: Thanks Meg, as we sign off, I want to be sure to give the listeners the information they need about our radio show. The best way is to go to my blog at www.EmbodyYourVision.com. Here you’ll be able to find links to all our shows (including today’s segment) and also to everything else I’m doing.
Bye everyone, until next time, this is Nadia Giordana, reminding you to “Embody your vision, it’s easier than you THINK!”