A Conversation with Wendy Adamson

I'm thrilled to share that Wendy Adamson, a former member of the Unlocking Your Story workshop, is coming out with her debut memoir MOTHER LOAD on May 12th from Rothco Press. It is truly soul satisfying to witness a story grow from its tiny seeds into a full-blown narrative that can now be shared with the world. Hers is an affecting story of recovery and triumph from the dark depths of addiction. In our interview she shares how it feels to expose her truth to the world and how having a sacred space early on in the creative process was vital.

With over twenty years of experience, Wendy Adamson is a seasoned professional in the field of mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. She not only has a vast knowledge of addiction, but as a sober woman, she has a deep understanding of the recovery process as well. With her Certification in Alcohol-Drug abuse from UCLA Wendy has been able to help hundreds of suffering individuals get the help they need.

Wendy is also a dedicated activist who has been instrumental in directing the vision of Hav A Sole, a nonprofit whose mission it is to deliver high-quality tennis shoes to homeless and at-risk youth. Using her writing, marketing and outreach strategies, Wendy has helped turn Hav A Sole into a thriving organization that celebrates Los Angeles as a caring and connected metropolis by building community through volunteerism.

As an inspiring speaker, Wendy shares a heartfelt message of hope as she candidly talks about her own addiction, before launching into how she turned her life around. With long-term sobriety, Wendy believes that only by telling our personal stories of recovery can we heal the shame associated with mental illness and addiction. Wendy is a passionate communicator whose goal is to invoke social change by de-stigmatizing the disease.  


In her new memoir, Mother Load, Wendy shows us how a little league, PTA mom can get dragged down the rabbit hole of methamphetamine when she has a psychotic break, shoots her husband’s mistress and ends up in county jail. 

That was over twenty-five years ago and thankfully, Wendy is still sober. For someone who seemed destined to end up a sad statistic of drug addiction, the fact that Wendy not only survived, but is a thriving, productive individual is a testament that transformation is possible.


Karin Gutman: Oh my, congratulations. I am beyond thrilled for you! Tell me, how long have you been working on your memoir — MOTHER LOAD — that will soon be released?
Wendy Adamson: Thank you so much, Karin. Honestly, I first knew I was supposed to write Mother Load 20 years ago. But it took 10 years to actually start working on it and another 10 years to finish it.
Karin: Can you share what it’s about?  
Wendy: In Mother Load, I show how as a little league mom I got dragged down the rabbit hole when in a drug-induced psychotic break, I shot my husband’s mistress in the arm which landed me in the county jail, when I was 38 years old, the same age as my mother was when she had her psychotic break and drowned herself in a bathtub. I was 7 at the time. While I was determined never to be like my crazy mother, it seemed as if I was following in her footsteps. 
Mother Load is a story about my undoing, and what it took to put my life back together again, so I could go on to become the mother I never had when I was a kid.

Karin: You were in the Unlocking Your Story workshop early on in the process. In what way did that writing space support you?

Wendy: Having a safe writing space was critical in my development as a writer. I had so much shame about shooting my husband’s mistress and the mistakes I had made as a mother, that it took me attending several workshops before I started to reveal some parts of my story in the class. Meanwhile, the structure, prompts and valuable guidance, made me feel more at ease as I developed some writing skills.

I remember the first time I shared my pages about the night I went to jail. I was so scared of being judged that my heart was pounding inside my chest. When I was finished reading I could barely look at anyone. But as we went around the room, all the women were so incredibly supportive with their feedback that it ultimately allowed me to become even more vulnerable in the class.
Karin: What were the most challenging aspects of writing your story?
Wendy: I grew up in a household where we were told never to talk about my mother’s mental illness. So, keeping secrets was a behavior I learned from early on. Even though my mother and father were long gone, to break the silence was a constant internal battle for me. There were times I felt like I was undoing the pathways that had been hard-wired inside my brain. I had to commit to sitting down every morning before work and write my truth no matter what.
What helped keep me focused was a deep desire to help others who were struggling with addiction or mental illness. I have read plenty of books about horrible parents written by the children, but I had never read a story of a mother who becomes determined to heal the family’s wounds. Since I work in an adolescent mental health treatment center, I knew it was a story that parents needed to hear.  
Karin: What have you discovered about your story through the writing process, something that you might not have been conscious of at the beginning?
Wendy: When I got sober I was extremely fluent in Victim-ese, blaming everybody else for what was wrong with my life. Through my speaking in juvenile halls or prisons and through my writing, I have been able to assign a new narrative to all the adversity I have been through. Nothing is wasted if I’m willing to use it as a tool to help someone else.
Karin: I believe that writing our stories is transformative. Is that your experience, too? If so, in what way have you been transformed?
Wendy: Sometimes when I was writing I would feel a conviction of being aligned with something greater than myself. It filled me with confidence instead of my usual self-doubt. I think the transformation occurred as I began to discover a deeply committed and focused woman inside me, who would go to any lengths to get the book done.
Karin: They say that writing is rewriting. How did you approach the editing process and getting the manuscript to a place where you were ready to share with an agent?
Wendy: I made so many mistakes along the way and did everything completely backwards. At first, I got an agent with a book proposal before Mother Load was even completed. While some of the publishers said they liked the story, they also said I didn’t have a strong enough platform to sell it. After a year of rejections, I let go of the agent and got busy finishing the book. As I lasered in on the emotional thread, a cleaner, more developed version of the story began to reveal itself to me. When I had a strong enough first draft I hired an editor to help me go through everything and sent pages to her every week. During that process there were entire chapters I had to eliminate because they didn’t move the story forward or it didn’t reveal anything new about the character. After I was done I tried submitting the completed book this time.
Karin: How did you land a publishing deal?
Wendy: After nearly 100 rejections from literary agents from New York to L.A, I was a little discouraged. Finally, I decided to submit my memoir to a small independent publisher by the name of Rothco Press. I was ecstatic when they told me they loved Mother Load and wanted to publish it.
Karin: How does it feel to share your life with the world? How did you get beyond any feelings of fear you might have had in exposing yourself?
Wendy: I still find myself vacillating between excitement, terror and fear. On the one hand, I am thrilled to have completed something that I can share with the world, but on the other hand, I still have some residual fear of being exposed. All I can say is the one thing that trumps any fear, doubt or worry is the deep desire I have to help others. There are so many individuals suffering out there like I did who need to know despite anything you’ve been through, it’s possible to heal your life.
Karin: Did you have to address any liability issues with people in the story who are still alive?
Funny you should ask. It was just last Thanksgiving that I saw my ex-husband and told him he was in my book, but that I had changed his name. He chuckled a bit at the notion that he would be in my memoir, but I’m not sure his new wife (not the one I shot) was quite that amused.  
I changed most of the names to avoid repercussions, but thankfully my two boys have turned into my biggest fans so I left their names the same.
Karin: Imagine yourself way back at the beginning of the process. What advice would you give her?

Wendy: Trust in the process. Find your voice and you’ll find your power.


Hear Wendy read an excerpt from her book at KPCC's Unheard LA.

To learn more about Wendy, visit her website and buy the book!

See all author interviews