Hello, this is L.M. David. Today, I am interviewing Ashley Rae, author of Not My Mother. It is an extraordinary book about her surviving abuse as a child and coping with a lot of emotional stress, as well as drama, through her teen years and into adulthood. I especially like the fact that Ashley arrived armed with a can of pepper spray, wooden stakes and charms that would repulse vampyres. And wouldn’t you know it, Preston is again MIA.
Welcome to my little spot on the map, Ashley. Let’s get down to it.
Q. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A. Ashley Rae could be sitting on a Florida beach at this very moment having sand kicked in her face by her ecstatic preschooler, or jotting notes on a couple of her latest projects while the steady sea breeze tries to blow her and her notebook away. She also could be teaching a class on Reiki, self-healing, writing, or divination. She might even be sneaking off somewhere to eat raw chocolate, devouring the latest paranormal romance novel with a goofy grin on her face while her son beats her over the head with a stick shouting “Hi-yah!”
I am reinventing myself as we do this interview. Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ran most of my life. I worked on healing myself of the depression actively for ten years, trying everything except medication, before I finally won my battle in early 2011. I am still healing from the PTSD, but I am close to finally being anxiety free. Who am I now that I no longer identified as depressed? Well, now I define myself by my passions. I am passionate about self-empowerment, self-healing, and sacred sexuality. I am totally in awe of the power and beauty of natural birth and motherhood. I am in love with Earth-based Spirituality, Reiki, vibrational healing, and divination. I bear witness to thousands of miracles, some tiny, some huge, and I am so grateful, so happy that I kept trying, that I didn’t give up no matter how bad things got, or how the peace of death appealed to me. I love my life.
Q. Your book, Not My Mother, is about child abuse, parenting issues, an unplanned pregnancy and the circumstances that followed. What prompted you to write about such painful events in your life?
A. I couldn’t write about anything else. I had to make sense of my life and everything that I’d been through and was still going through so I could let it go and make something better for myself.
Q. I have read cases where children who are abused blame themselves. Did you? And if so, why?
A. I hated myself because I grew up believing the hurtful things my parents told me – that I was worthless, fat, ugly, hard-headed, and that I deserved to hurt. I was always angry with my parents for how they treated me, even as a child. I clearly remember feeling shocked and outraged at them for their behavior towards me. But even so, a part of me did believe it was my fault, that if I wasn’t so fat, or stubborn, or ugly then maybe they would have treated me better.
Q. How old were you when the abuse started?
A. My biological father abused me and so did my mother. My father died when I was five and had abused me until I was four. My mother continued that abuse, but it got much worse when I was around eight years old. She died when I was twelve. I’m incredibly fortunate that my parents died before my teenage years.
Q. Which parent hurt you the most? Your mom or dad?
A. My mother, but only because my father died so early in my childhood.
Q. In the book, you mention you were in a relationship and then got pregnant for another man. What happened?
A. In the first chapter, I reveal that my baby’s father was my first and last “friends with benefits” relationship. He had been encouraging me to find a real relationship with someone who wanted kids because he never would. I had just begun a real relationship two or three days before I discovered my pregnancy. The scene of me revealing my pregnancy to both men is my favorite to read aloud at readings and signings. It’s also the scene I read at my thesis defense.
Q. The week you lost your job, several other events happened, none good. How did you deal with all that stress?
A. I did several things to manage my stress that week and the weeks that followed. My baseline for stress management was a belief that I had cultivated in the previous year – that is everything would work out for the best. My pregnancy was a source of joy for me after the initial shock. I always wanted a baby, more than anything. I meditated daily, practiced nourishing breath (where I breathed in healing energy and exhaled stress,) and I performed releasing ceremonies, writing out my angst on paper and then burning it.
Q. Where did you end up after the relationship with your boyfriend ended?
A. We spent a month couch-hopping until I could save enough money to rent a room. Then I spent three months in a rather stressful situation, unable to find employment to save my life. I had to sue my son’s father for child support, and that turned out better than I could ever have anticipated. My son finally met his father for the first time on January 1, 2011. His father brought his then girlfriend, who later became my best friend and then my bond-sister. We moved across the state to live with them as an extended family. She held space for me so I could heal, finish my MFA, and get back on my feet.
Q. What made you decide to forgive your parents for what they’d done to you?
A. I decided that I wanted to forgive my parents because my anger was hurting me, not them. I succeeded in forgiving them while writing my book. It helped me see things in a new way; see them for the damaged people they were. They were sick, not me. What they did wasn’t ok, but I could empathize with them, and ultimately forgive them.
Q. When you had your son, was it a home birth?
A. Yes, I had the most incredible homebirth. It was such an empowering experience, so beautiful and sacred.
Q. How long after his birth was it before you were finally on your own again?
A. On my own again…I guess a little over a year, though I have needed help a few times since then. Being a self-employed single mother, I find that having a community is crucial.
Q. Were your parents a part of your son’s life?
A. My mother remarried before she died, and my stepfather adopted me when I was 6. He visits once a year or so, and we use video chat to keep in touch because he lives in Colorado now.
Q. Of all the things that happened to you, if you could change one thing, what would that be?
A. Of all the things I’ve experienced, if I could change one, I would have taught myself how to release anger and frustration during periods of high stress without harming anyone, or anything, BEFORE I had my son rather than after. I am strongly against corporal punishment and authoritarian parenting, but I had to learn how to overcome that conditioning under highly stressful conditions while raising a spirited toddler alone, and I’ve screwed up more than once.
Q. Has writing this book helped you with any issues that still bothered you about what happened to you as a child?
A. Writing my memoir was a crucial step in my healing process. Writing the first version, which was my thesis, was very cathartic. My thesis was very heavy and dark, and included a lot more of the most painful details. When I revised it for publication, I was no longer depressed, and I had to reflect that change in the revision so it could be true to who I was at that moment. That revision allowed me to forgive my parents and myself.
Q. Do you have any advice for someone who may be in the same situation you were in as a child?
A. Advice for a child? I would tell a child to find help and do whatever he or she has to do to keep safe. For an adult who suffered as a child, I also advise reaching out. If you keep reaching, eventually you will find someone who can also reach you. You have to be open to hell. It’s so hard to open up, but little by little you get better with every passing day until you discover that you do have the power to change yourself, and you can change your life.
Q. As a writer, what advice would you give others who want to either write a memoir or non-fiction story?
A. Memoirs are awesome because you use the skills of fiction writing to tell the story as you remember it, and in the process you discover your life’s plot. Read tons, and while you read, think about how you might have written it differently. It does help to take classes, but reading about writing helps a lot too.
L.M. David: I must say that I admire your courage and the path you have walked towards overcoming your traumatic childhood. I wish you all the best in the world with your book, Not My Mother, and raising a child on your own. You are an inspiration, without doubt.
Not My Mother: A Memoir follows that Rae over the nine months of her pregnancy as she deals with the dramas of getting laid off, having her best friend and roommate screw her over, starting a relationship with Not-the-Father, and finding a home in which to have her home birth. A survivor of child abuse, Rae struggles to understand and forgive her parents so she can become for her unborn son the mother she always wanted for herself.
Not My Mother is available exclusively at Amazon.com
**Of note, on Monday, May 13th, Ashley Rae will be interviewed on: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/charmedinnewengland/2013/05/14/ashley-rae-author-psychic-mother-survivor.