Mother’s Day Not Happy for All

Mother’s Day is a happy day for most folks, but not all. In fact, millions of American’s don’t have a lot to celebrate about their own dysfunctional family relationships. Many of you have written me honest, emotional letters about how Millie’s journey with her mother struck a chord with you. One reader, Amber Reichley, shares her own story here with us today. It is raw and painful and yet inspiring. She has bravely and honestly told her tale here, hoping her words reach the right person. Whether today is a happy day or a hard day for you, Amber reminds us all to love one another.

A Daughter’s Journey by Amber Reichley

I think most of us read hoping for a connection to the story, finding a little piece of ourselves within a character. Once I began reading Into the Free, I instantly felt like it was my childhood played out in the pages.  Reading about Millie’s Mama seemed like Julie extracted the memories of my own mother right out of my life story.

My mother, Sharon, struggled with addiction as early as her teens and throughout most of her adult life. I think she was only clean off and on in between the birth of me and my brothers. She stayed in an abusive relationship with my step-father for most of my life. They fueled each other’s drug addiction and the drugs only sparked their addiction to each other.

From early on, I remember her being gone for days; whether it be out on a binge or at home “gone” on drugs. I had no choice but to be the “parent”, as much as one can be at 8 years old. I was left to fend for myself, a 5 year old, and a 3 year old. I walked to the grocery store to get food for us, cooked what I could by myself, and rarely went to school. Not long after my 9th birthday, my aunt, Sandie, took me into her home. It was the first time in my life where there was a normal routine of school, dinner, a good night’s sleep without a knock down drag out fight in the middle of the night. It was wonderful to have no cares in the world and be a kid for once.

Over the next two years my mother was in and out of jail. I would get letters from her making promises that she would change, get clean, and we would all be back together as a family. But those were empty promises made to a naïve girl. Soon there were no letters, no visits, and no calls. She just stopped all communication with me. I remember one day finally breaking down and asking my aunt why my mother didn’t love me anymore. How could she live so close and just not care to see me? I don’t know what answers I was expecting, but all I could do was let her go for the time being. I moved on and lived a happy life as a normal teenager.

I excelled in school and worked very hard at my after school job. I had never forgotten my mother; I just learned to live with her at the back of my mind. All that changed when I was 16. She sent a letter to me to tell my step-father was dying. This was the first communication in 7 years.  I reconnected with her and my brothers who barely remembered me at all. It was a strange meeting. Here was my mother that I had missed so much sitting in front of me and all I could think of was how angry and hurt I was for her leaving me. It was not the happy reunion I envisioned in my head.

We attempted to stay in touch over the next year or so, trying to build some sort of relationship. In the summer of 1999, she had a massive stroke and was hospitalized for quite some time. She was lucky to be alive and only suffered mild paralysis on her right side. It would be a long road to recovery for her. But for me it was like time had started all over after her stroke. Here I was in college at the time, and I was taking care of her all over again. I was driving her to doctor’s appointments, paying for medicine, and paying for meals.  I was doing all the things she should’ve been doing for me all those years. Not long after her stroke she had a heart attack. From then on her health declined and eventually her body just couldn’t ignore the years of drug abuse any longer. She passed away on June 15, 2001.

In the book there is a scene where Millie’s Mama makes her a tiara of clover under the shade of a pecan tree. Instantly I put the book down and raced into our spare bedroom. I ripped open boxes of photo albums, voraciously trying to find a picture. I found the picture in a stack of pictures we used at her funeral.  Julie’s words described this picture exactly. It was taken in 1985 with my Mom and my baby brother, Josh, in our backyard.

Once I found the picture, I dove right back into the book.  I read the next paragraph and began sobbing. I read it over and over again: “That’s the other thing I believe without a doubt. That Mama loves me. Always. Not just in spring , when things are golden and bright, and the stars fall to her feet, but all year round. Even when the heavens tease her. I knew it then, as I know it now. Mama loves me even as she is falling apart.”

These words could not be truer. I am not sure I realized this until she passed away. I think there was too much pain and anger hindering our relationship when she was still alive. Once she was gone, it just clicked with me. I could spend the rest of my life being bitter and angry about the past or accept that she made mistakes.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love me or want to be with me, she was sick from addiction and couldn’t see past that. From time to time, I go back and read that paragraph. I fight back tears and try to remember all the good times in the clover under the pecan trees.

Into the Free has allowed me to embark on a journey of reflection, forgiveness, and hope for the future. I hope to continue this journey, sharing with readers my story of acceptance and hope.  I found this quote on my devotional calendar on April 29th, my mom’s birthday: “What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose”- Henry Ward Beecher .  Quite fitting for me; just what I needed to read that day!

 

97 Rapists Walk Free (And that’s just the start of it!)

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and that’s got me thinking.

In my novel, Into the Free, Millie Reynolds struggles to overcome many difficult situations in her life, one of which is a serious sexual assault. This event happens near the end of the book, and Millie leaves us when she is still in shock — numb from the traumatic episode. She reaches an understanding of what it will take to overcome the damage and the pain, which is the first step, but she has not yet completed that journey. (That’s why the sequel will allow readers to follow the next phase of Millie’s story).

Many readers have reacted to the ending of the book. They loathe the man who attacked Millie. They want him to suffer and they don’t want him to get away with what he’s done. They want vengeance. And they want it NOW.

This is a natural reaction because by this point in the book we care about Millie. We don’t want one more bad thing to happen to her, and we are angry at anyone who hurts her.

I could have worked in a fairytale ending. The good guy could have swooped in to save her. The bad guy could have died at the hands of Millie’s loved ones. Millie could have risen up and handled the situation differently. And believe me, I considered all of those options. But reality tells us a different story…and while Into the Free is a novel (which means it’s all pretend), I wanted it to be believable. I wanted the story to be authentic to a character who is so steeped in the flaws and fractions of the human condition that we can all relate to her journey – both the triumphs and the failures.

So I told Millie’s truth. The truth of many victims of sexual assault. The truth of countless readers who have reached out to me with letters confessing the deep, dark secrets they’ve kept locked away for decades – that they too survived a sexual assault, and that they reacted exactly as Millie did, only to feel tremendous shame and anger about it for the rest of their lives. Until…until…they read Millie’s story, and realized they were not alone.

In the real world, more than 200,000 women are sexually assaulted each year in our country. That’s one every two minutes, or thirty every hour, or 720 a day! And one of those has likely been you or someone you love. Maybe even your mother, your daughter, or your wife. Or your son.

Disturbingly, one in six boys and one in three girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

Approximately 2/3 of these assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, which makes it a lot harder for victims to come forward. In most cases, there are real relationships tied into the mess (whether directly or along the perimeter) and victims feel as if there’s no easy answer for anyone involved.

Nearly half of the victims are under the age of 18. As a mother, that makes me shiver. Millie was 17 at the time of her assault. If the same situation had happened to her later in life, would she have reacted differently? I think so. And as much as I wanted her to do something other than what she did in the book, that was exactly what Millie would have done at that point in her life. As much as we hate to see it, it really is her truth. Sadly, it’s also the truth of countless unknown victims around us right here, right now. And that’s why I encourage mothers and daughters to read and discuss Millie’s story.

Maybe the fact that victims often know their attackers and that victims are often very young at the time of the event factors into the fact that 54% of sexual assaults are never reported to police. Victims struggle with shame, guilt, and fear, even though all rational thought tells us it’s not their fault. But they also worry that even if they do report the assault, they will not be protected. Justice will not come easy for them, and that is the other sad truth.

In fact, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) breaks it down for us. I encourage you to take a mental snapshot of these shocking statistics and then visit their website to learn what you can do to make things better today. For Millie. For your loved ones. For yourself.

Out of every 100 Rapes

  • Only 46 get reported to police.
  • Only 12 of those lead to an arrest.
  • Only 9 of those ever get prosecuted.
  • Only 5 of those lead to a felony conviction.
  • Only 3 out of every 100 rapists will ever spend a single day in prison.
  • The other 97 walk free.

Want to make a difference? Visit http://rainn.org/ today AND share Millie’s story with the world. It’s time we stop hiding and encourage all survivors to step out Into the Free.

 

 

How Into the Free is Changing Lives

It’s been exactly one week since the release of Into the Free and man, oh, man are things a-hoppin’! I thought you all might like a behind-the-scenes look into one’s life after a debut novel is released.

First of all, the launch party at Off Square Books on January 31 was incredible. I am still swimming in a haze of extreme gratitude and trying to figure out how to adequately thank everyone for such tremendous support.

The launch was enough. It was more than I ever dreamed of and that joy alone could have lasted me the rest of my life. But the week has gotten better and better. First of all, I’m thrilled to announce Into the Free is already on its THIRD PRINTING by David C Cook! That means, not only has the book sold more copies than we expected – three-fold – it did so before it was even officially released! As I say to my Kindergarten students…Holy Guacamole!

Secondly, I’ve been pleasantly bombarded with requests for interviews. I’ve already conducted three radio interviews, as well as numerous blog interviews and guest posts. I’m also adding author events to the calendar daily. It’s been a bit busy, but I always say…it’s better to be too full than too empty. Bring it!

Much to my surprise, the story has been featured everywhere from Australia to Japan and is slowly trickling out through a grassroots word-of-mouth effort. It’s extremely difficult to break in as a debut novelist, but I sense a bit of a groundswell occurring as more and more readers contact me with positive feedback about the book.

In particular, I’ve been especially moved by letters about how this book has helped readers heal emotional wounds.

Specifically, Millie helped one reader reach a point of forgiveness after being sexually assaulted as a young child. “I appreciated how Millie handled the situation and her honesty about it being a long journey to heal. I cried so much I had to put the book down at times. It brought me back through every emotion I’ve buried for a long time, but in the end I closed the book feeling a sense of relief I have never felt. I am going to read it again, and I’m sharing it with my friends. I wish everyone would read this book and understand how important it is to protect children.”

Another reader wrote that her mother, whose personality was a dangerous combination of Marie’s and Jack’s, made the tragic choice to commit suicide when the reader was in her early twenties. Reading Millie’s story enabled her to face her painful past and reach a peaceful place in her current life. She wrote…“to finally have released all that anger and guilt…you can’t imagine how freeing that is. I am going to make sure my sister reads this book too, for I feel she will get a lot out of it. God bless you, Julie. You are doing wonderful things through your writing!!!”

A third reader wrote an encouraging note describing her concern about her teen daughter who is in an unhealthy relationship. She is giving her daughter the book in hopes of encouraging her to reexamine her choices and to hopefully find a better partner. “I have prayed for answers and guidance, but my hands have been tied. I believe Millie can reach (my daughter) in a way I can’t. Thank you for saying in this book what I have wanted to say for more than a year. I hope she listens.”

All the reviews and interviews and sales numbers don’t mean a thing compared to that kind of reader feedback. Thank you for spending time in Millie’s world and for listening to her story. Thank you for giving this debut novel a chance. Thank you for sharing your honest feedback with me. And thank you for sharing this tale with others. This book has already accomplished more than I could ever have dreamed….it has helped at least two readers come to peace with their past and one improve her relationship with her daughter. To have played some small part in that is amazing, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.

I’d love to hear what you think about Into the Free. Comment here or email me privately: julie@juliecantrell.com

Blessings,

julie