unlocking your story

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.  

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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.

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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!

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A Conversation with Cathy Byrd

I have witnessed a most remarkable journey over the last couple of years. In the fall of 2014, Cathy Byrd walked into the Unlocking Your Story workshop. She was hesitant, if not terrified, to share her story. But she showed up. And there was no doubt, she had a story to tell. Over the next two-and-a-half years, Cathy summoned her courage and blazed an unshakeable trail to bring her debut memoir The Boy Who Knew Too Much to life. It was released by Hay House on March 21st and is now a bestseller -- and the subject matter is causing a quite a stir! Read our conversation below to see why.


CATHY BYRD is a residential real estate broker and mother of two young children who never had aspirations of becoming a writer until her two-year-old son, Christian, began sharing memories of being a baseball player in the 1920s and '30s. He described historical facts about Lou Gehrig that he could not have possibly known at the time. Distraught by his uncanny revelations, Cathy embarked on a sacred journey of discovery that shook her beliefs to the core and forever changed her views on life and death. Cathy's powerful and inspirational story landed a publishing deal with Hay House and is now the bestselling memoir The Boy Who Knew Too Much.

A Southern California native, Cathy received her B.A. from UCLA and her M.B.A. from Pepperdine University. Prior to becoming a realtor, Cathy had an exciting 10-year career in sports marketing, working for the World Cup and Olympic Torch Relay Organizing Committees and serving as vice president of the Magic Johnson Foundation. 

The most likely place to find Cathy in her free time is at a youth baseball field.

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Karin:  So, for those who are not familiar with the story of you and your son Christian, why don't you talk a little bit about what happened?

Cathy: At the age of two Christian began insisting that he used to be a “tall baseball player.” I didn't pay much attention to it until one day when he stomped his foot to get my attention and said, “No! I was a tall baseball player-tall like daddy!” From then on he began telling us things about being a baseball player in the 1920's and 30's that he couldn't have possibly known at the time. He told us that he stayed in hotels nearly every night and travelled on trains. This was at a time when he did not watch television and I was sure that he couldn't have learned these things through normal means. Over the next three years he continued to share all sorts of things about a past-life as a baseball player that all turned out to be historically accurate.

Were you a fan of baseball before Christian's obsession started?

Neither my husband nor I were fans of baseball before Christian was born. Christian's father was born and raised in Germany where baseball is basically non-existent. He made his best effort to get Christian interested in playing tennis instead of baseball, but Christian's passion for baseball since the time he could walk was undeniable. By the age of two he insisted on wearing a baseball uniform every day and begged us to play baseball with him for eight to ten hours per day. It was incredibly exhausting!

Then in September 2014, you walked into the Unlocking Your Story workshop. How would you describe yourself - the person who walked into that first group meeting?

When I first joined your writing workshop I was scared to death to share our very unconventional story with complete strangers. It was feedback from you and the workshop participants that gave me the courage to write a book about our experiences. This was my first time writing since college and the drudgery of putting 1,500 words on paper often took me weeks in the beginning. As I found my voice as a writer, the words began to flow and I can honestly say that I now enjoy the writing process. I've realized that the joy lies in the creative process, not in the accomplishment of finishing a book.

How did the workshop help you?

The workshop provided a safe environment where I could stumble and fall without getting hurt. My first attempts at writing felt much like a toddler learning to walk. I started with baby steps and before I knew it I was skipping. The workshop taught me that the nuggets in our writing come when we bare our souls. Never before in my life had I been in a room with people who were so transparent, authentic, and open. It taught me that being true to yourself and your story is more important than worrying about what other people will think.

I know you initially hired a ghostwriter. How did you make the shift to write it yourself?

Hiring a ghostwriter is much like getting married. I knew after just a few days that it wasn't a good fit and I was thankfully able to void the contract. I played with the idea of hiring a ghostwriter right up until my final rewrite because I always questioned my abilities as a writer. What I learned through the process is that nobody can tell your story better than you can. If you can talk, you can write.

Given that much of the story was still unfolding as you wrote the book, how would you describe your creative writing process?

The events in the second half of my book actually took place while I was participating in the Unlocking Your Story workshop. As they were happening, I had no idea what structure the book would take and when it would finally end. I found it helpful to just keep writing the 1,500-2,500 pieces and they eventually formed the chapters of my book. It wasn't until I had to create a book proposal for the writing contest I entered with Hay House that the structure of the book began to take shape. Once I had the proposal and the short pieces I had written in the workshop it was just a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle into place. In the fall of 2015, I attended a 30-day writing retreat in Bali and came home with a 180-page first draft. Exactly one year later I submitted my final draft to Hay House and on the same day received the call that 20th Century Fox wanted to purchase the movie rights. I realized in that moment that I was nothing more than a vessel for a story that needed to be told.

What was the hardest part about cracking the story?

Coming from a Christian background and being very skeptical about the idea of reincarnation provided an extra burden of proof that left me never feeling quite satisfied. It wasn't until the only living people who knew Lou and Christina Gehrig were able to confirm details of our story that I was finally convinced. Cracking the story was definitely the driving force behind my tireless and somewhat obsessive quest for information. The hardest part was not giving up!

What are the three words that you would choose to describe how you wrote a book and landed a publishing deal in less than two years?

Lucky, guided, and blessed.

Now that the book is out, how does it feel to share your story with the world? Be honest!

It took me two years to get up the courage to share our story with the world because I worried endlessly about the negative impact it could have on my kids. What ultimately motivated me to take the leap and let go of my fears was seeing people in the workshop be touched, moved, and inspired by our story. Since releasing the book on March 21st, I've been inundated with reporters asking me, “So, do you really think your son is Lou Gehrig?” People who have read the book realize that it is about much more than that and this gives me solace. The one thing I know for sure as a result of this journey is that our souls survive this earthly existence and love can surpass one lifetime. If people can see each other as souls rather than these bodies that we inhabit, we will begin to see that we are much more alike than different. It is the message of unity and hope that keeps me invested in sharing our story with the world.

To me it is so clear that other, greater forces are at work to bring this story to light. Do you feel that way, too? Why do you think it is so critically important?

Last week I sent a text message to Jack Canfield who wrote the foreword for my book with the news that it had become an Amazon Best Seller and his response was, “It is a divinely supported project.” Both you and Jack have been privy to all of the miracles that have unfolded behind the scenes regarding the book and movie deals. There is no doubt to those of us who know the stories that I've had help from above. I've realized how important it is to listen to our intuition and the divine wisdom that can come from the most unexpected places and people. If you hadn't encouraged me to attend the Hay House Writer's Workshop in June 2015, we wouldn't be having this conversation. For that, I thank you and I thank God.

 

To learn more about Cathy Byrd, visit cathy-byrd.com

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