Elizabeth Garrison is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of Wounds of the Father: A True Story of Child Abuse, Betrayal, and Redemption.
Growing up, Lizzie suffered from physical, emotional and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, and overwhelming feelings of shame and low self confidence.
In today’s show, Lizzie shares her inspiring story along with some words of wisdom for writers and all people to heal, recover from trauma and live a meaningful life.
Here a just a few of the amazing things we talk about on the show today:
- How writing can help you heal from trauma, past hurts and negative emotions.
- How EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can help you heal and recover from trauma.
- How to overcome any obstacle or challenge in life by focusing on a better future (It doesn’t matter where you came from or what happened to you in the past – all that matters is what you choose to do about it and where you choose to go from here).
Learn more about Lizzie’s book Wounds of the Father here.
Check out Lizzie’s Author website at http://www.
Check out the EMDR website: http://www.emdr.com/
Learn more about Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) here.
Tom Corson-Knowles: All right. Lizzie, welcome to the show. Tell us about your background and how you got started as an author.
Elizabeth Garrison: Well, my background is actually in clinical psychology, so I have a PhD in clinical psychology but I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid. My writing has always been my sort of sanity and peace of mind and healing. So, one of the things — my research all throughout graduate school and throughout my career has been looking at the role that writing plays in healing, so how writing about your traumatic experiences is helpful to overcoming them, basically. And given my own background and my own tragic childhood, one of the reasons that I got into the field of research that I did and the work with kids in trauma was initially because of myself, because of what I had gone though and because healing and helpful writing had always been to my process in healing, that’s where it started and that’s where it began and — but as far as being a writer, I have written for pretty much as long as long as I could hold a pencil.
When I was in second grade I begged my mom for a — I was probably the only second grader I know who begged my mom for a typewriter. It was like that was all I wanted for Christmas, the typewriter. And when I got it, I taught myself, she showed me the home row, and then I taught myself how to type and — yeah, and start to wrote stories. I wrote my first book when I was in fourth grade. Obviously, that was not published, but it was like a full — I remember like I wanted to get to a hundred pages, so my book ended at page 102, so that I had officially written a book. So, yeah, and then just recently, I decided — one of the things that I work with kids on is writing a trauma narrative and I had written my own memoir, which is basically my own long trauma narrative years ago, and then just recently decided that I was going to bring it into the world and — until it published, so.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Cool. Right. I know the work you focus on is writing for healing and that’s really fascinating stuff and I’m guessing a lot of it came through from your personal experience, your personal stories, so do you want to share real quick kind of your story of what you went through, all of the trauma you went through and then how you used writing to kind of work through that?
Elizabeth Garrison: Yeah. Absolutely. So, just sort of a brief recap to summarize my story because it’s kind of long and extensive, but I was raised in Midwest and I was raised in a very fundamentalist Christian home and within that home, there was a lot of corporal punishment across the lines into physical abuse. There was a lot of emotional abuse. I grew up my whole life generation in my family, it’s filled with incest. So, I grew up in this very — I would say home that looked very good on the outside, like my parents were very well-known in the church, very active in the church, my mom taught Sunday school and my dad was an elder. We looked very, very good on the outside but in the inside — or on the inside, like, within our house, it was a lot of pain, a lot of hurt, a lot of anger and my dad was very, very controlling.
If you stepped up at all, you were punished, and it was very confusing, very, very confusing as a child, and I actually still have a couple of journals that I wrote in when I was a little girl where some of the pieces that have been found there waiting to my memoir, going back and describing what I felt like at the time, as a little girl, because I actually still have some of those. So that was my — that was just a very brief glance at my childhood. And then I started drinking when I was 12 and by 14, I was hooked on crystal meth and so my teenage years were spent basically in and out of foster homes, treatment centers, living on the streets, sleeping in the car, detox, correctional facilities, bouncing in and out of that.
And throughout that time period, I also, you know, there — I also wrote, like I always journaled, I always — like I said in the beginning when we were talking, writing has always been my form of sanity. It’s always I feel like the thing that’s kept me from losing my mind, basically. I have even notebooks that I had when I was homeless and living in my car that I was writing out of or that I was writing in. And again, pieces of that have worked their way into my memoir, because it was difficult to go back and look at those and know exactly what I was feeling and exactly what I was thinking and really just how insane I was, fast forward to about 18, when I was 18, the courts, you know, because I’ve been in the court system, the criminal justice system as well as the — a child protected services custody for years and they were beginning to process, throw me over at the system.
I was looking at a lot of prison time and it was at that point in my life that I finally got sober. I got sober and that’s sort of where the work began. And since then — it’s been a lot of years since then, but since then I have gone on, you know, I went on to get my GED because I never made it past eighth grade. I went on to my GED. I went in their college, got my bachelors, and then went to graduate school to earn my PhD and throughout all of that, I sort of — I’ve always written, I’ve always journaled my experiences. I’ve done a lot of like trauma narrative work myself because for me, my talking voice is very different from my writing voice. I’m not sure if that makes sense to you or not but the way that I process things though writing is very different than the way that I process things with my words. It’s very hard for me at times to articulate verbally what I’m experiencing, what I’m feeling, what I’m going through, but for some reason when I put it on paper, that’s where it makes the most sense to me, that’s where I get the most clarity, and it’s also where I get the most relief.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah. That does make a lot of sense. I think a lot of — writing to me really personal and you don’t have to share it to anyone but if you have to speak to someone of these things like family abuse and drug addiction, I mean like there’s a lot chain and always negative emotions around that. And I know for me, like, it’s hard to share with anyone but I’m just writing, I can be open and just let it out and let it low.
Elizabeth Garrison: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. And it was for many, many, many years writing was kind of my secret, it was a secret thing that I did that I didn’t tell anybody about because that was where all my pain went, that was where all of my hurt went, was in the pages, because I wanted to kind of keep it separate from the rest of my life. I didn’t want it bleed into all of the other things that I was doing in my life.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah. Got you. So how have you, you know, I mean you have your whole degree and everything in this field, so what have you learned along the way about how healing writing can be?
Elizabeth Garrison: You know, it’s really funny because when I started graduate school, I thought that I was going to be — I had this idea of like — writing has been super helpful for me in dealing with trauma and I thought I was having — I was going to do like groundbreaking research that had never been thought of before. But what I found out when I got into the, like, all of the research and the science of it, is there is so much information that’s out there that actually shows that writing is like a phenomenal way of healing and in fact, with children, like the number one empirically supported treatment is called trauma-focused CBT therapy. I don’t want to get into a bunch of like psychological jargon. But the big part of that treatment is having kids write trauma narratives. And it’s the most well-researched, well-supported treatment for working with kids that have been abused, is that part of the trauma narrative, the telling of their trauma narrative. And you do it — if they’re not old enough to write, you do it through them drawing pictures and things like that. But there has been — all of the research that’s out there actually shows that writing is a very, very effective tool to helping people recover from trauma.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Cool. Can you walk us though that process real quick? I mean maybe not the full exercise but kind of give us an overview of how someone would actually do that process for kids or, I mean, we’re all really kids at heart, right, so how could people listening right now use this as a tool to kind of release maybe past traumas or hurts or whatever is going on?
Elizabeth Garrison: Well, one of the things about trauma is that trauma is not a singular event, right, like we talk about it like it’s a singular event like I was actually abused my step dad, we say it like it’s just a singular event. There are so many other things within that that — or that are just says traumatic, like the telling, the response afterwards, often times, it’s not so much trauma itself that happened but everything that happens afterwards. And so one of the things when you’re working with a kid or I would say somebody just wanted to start is you start with what was the most traumatic moment for you, what was that, because it may not have been A., I was sexually abused by my stepfather.
It may have your, you know, your most traumatic event maybe when I told my mom that I was being sexually abused by my stepfather, she didn’t do anything. So you start where you are, you start with what the most traumatic event for me. And then you just write about it, you’d write about it in a narrative form, almost like you are writing fiction, like almost like you were telling a story, like when this happened and I felt this way, and then this happened, I felt that way, and a lot of times what we encourage with kids or people that we’re doing it with, what were you smelling at the time, what were you hearing at the time, what was going on your body at the time, which is really a lot of the same critiques, like if you share — if you were writing a psychological thriller, if you came to me with a fiction piece, I would say some of the — sort of the same things to you, what were you actually seeing, what were you feeling, what did you smell, what did you hear, because that’s how you describe an event and the same way when you’re doing a trauma narrative.
It’s not just the telling of the experience but the showing of the experience so that you can get in touch with the feelings surrounding the experience, and often times then what it helps with is it helps with triggering a lot of those reactions that you’re having the trauma that you might not even be aware of. For example, like a smell might trigger something and you react to it without having any idea of where it’s linked. And then all of sudden, you’re doing this trauma work and you realize “Oh, I smell –” let’s just say alcohol, I — my stepfather had alcohol on his breath, and you make the connection of “Oh, well that’s why when I’m in a bar, I’m always really, really uncomfortable.” It’s not that I don’t like being in bars, it’s that being in a bar triggers that smell which then reminds me of the trauma. Does that make sense?
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah. That’s awesome. So — and you’re writing this whole narrative in the first person?
Elizabeth Garrison: Yes. It’s much more helpful to write it in the first person. Sometimes when you start out — if it’s something that people are really, really far where I moved from and really scary about, you can write it in the third person as well until you can get to the point where you can write it in the first person. But sometimes, even writing it in third person can be helpful too because you can look at that person that you’re writing about and start identifying like “Oh, that must’ve been really painful. Oh, that’s too bad that she went through that.” And then that’s able to make you start recognizing the connections to your own self and hopefully get to a place where you can write it in first person and be able to identify like how you were thinking, how you were feeling, like what was going around you. And really, the ultimate goal is to see how it’s still affecting your life, like how it’s affecting your current life so that you can move forward and make better choices and know when you’re being triggered.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah. I got you. Yeah, I just kind of asked you because it sounds like a really painful thing to go though and even just listening to you now, I have this like tenseness in my chest or I got thinking about all these past things that happened to me, all the trauma and stuff. And like — so what is the benefit of writing it down, I mean obviously, it’s not to just feel bad about yourself, like how do you actually like you said take those lessons and apply them now in your life to move through that experience and learn from it and grow to become a better, happier, healthier person?
Elizabeth Garrison: Well, one of the things without getting too scientific and too much into the brain and the neuroscience of it all, trauma happens in a particular part of your brain and trauma memories and trauma is stored very, very differently, right? It’s stored in the fight or flight response system in our brain and so one of the big reasons that writing is so helpful is it because it moves it out of that part of the brain that’s like the trauma part of the brain that’s like fight or fear, fight or fear, you know, fight or flee, fight or flee, and it moves it into a different part of your brain because you use a different part of your brain to write, right?
You have to access both sides — your lobes, you have to access both the right and left side of your brain, and so in doing that and in writing you’re making different connections, you’re taking that trauma that — somewhere back here in your brain and bring it out front so that you can process it in a different part of your brain. That’s the time when I’m done with it. And I also want to add too that before you get to the trauma narrative, because it is super intense and it is super emotional, and it is super hard, there is a lot of skills in like relaxed patient and hoping that are tackled before you get there. Can’t just jump right into it sort of like, “Ah!”
You have to have the skills, like you said, like just talking about it you started to get intense. And so you have to have the skills to be able to relax, to be able to breathe, to know that you can call it, to know that you can handle it before you step into those waters. But ultimately what you wanted doing is moving it from one part of your brain to a different part of your brain.
Tom Corson-Knowles: That’s really cool.
Elizabeth Garrison: Which is cool, yeah.
Tom Corson-Knowles: A little bit of knowledge in science.
Elizabeth Garrison: Yeah. Without getting too into the brain and all of the different parts in label that people don’t understand but in a very everyday language, that’s exactly what’s happening, is you’re taking it from back here and you’re putting it up here into a different — to a place where you were able to cognitively process it and emotionally process it. Not from the reptilian part of your brain.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, actually one of the things that I have learned, I think, about a year ago I read a book called trauma releasing exercise and it says really cool set of exercises that people have used after going to war in Iraq or Afghanistan to recover from PTSD and other kinds of trauma. Have you heard about that or is there any kind of exercises that you recommend people to use to release this kind of trauma?
Elizabeth Garrison: Well, one of the forms of therapy that’s really, really effective is EMDR which is the eye movement desensitization reprocessing and that’s within the same line of processing as writing. That does sort of the same thing, it moves it from that reptilian part of your brain into the frontal cortex where you can actually process it. So EMDR actually started with — like you were saying it started with that — I mean that and they started seeing phenomenal results from vets with severe PTSD going through EMDR and seeing significant decreases in their PTSD. So that is a really, really effective tool. I actually myself done EMDR myself — not on myself, obviously, but had another — done it in the therapy myself and it’s really, really effective, really, really, effective.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Cool. Yeah, so we’ll cross the lane to more about EMDR, I mean I don’t know if it shows on the show notes. Yeah. I kind of wonder if a lot of author, if they’re doing this without even knowing about it because I know in so many — especially novelists and fiction writers who write story, and it’s basically about their own life. It was something I see as a fictional element, but I know a lot of people have used writing in that way even just unconsciously to process things in their lives that have done on, maybe hurtful events or people they had arguments and fights with or something like that.
Elizabeth Garrison: I think writers work out their stuff all the time, whether they call it fiction or non-fiction and I don’t think they’re necessarily aware of doing that but when you think of characters, a lot of your characters that you might have in fiction are based on people in your own life or working out conflicts that you’ve had in your own life and maybe you’re working in ought for a different an outcome or a different resolution. But yet — and I don’t think when people sit down and write they necessarily think that they’re doing but I think that you’re exactly right, I think that a lot of writers use writing as a way to process things in their own life even if they’re not writing a trauma narrative per se or a non-fiction.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Uh-hmm, absolutely. Yeah, like you said, it’s like using a different part of your brain and nearly processing ideas and thoughts in a much different way. And I know for me, I’ve read a lot of non-fiction and it’s like — it’s one thing to read a book on like time management and practice it versus you should write a book on time management and force yourself to like, “Okay. I have to be able to master this now.” This is a totally different experience and you’re using — like you said you’re using so much more of your brain. Before I’ve wrote a book in time management. It was like you have to have that kind of time management, and now that I’ve written a book, it’s like, “Okay. Every part of my brain understands, okay, this is time management, this is how you manage it.” It becomes part of your life almost.
Elizabeth Garrison: Right, absolutely.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Cool. Tell us about your books and what you’re working on now and how you’ve got on to your journey of becoming an author now.
Elizabeth Garrison: So I just recently self-published my memoir which is called Wounds of the Father: a True Story of Child Abuse, Betrayal, and Redemption, and that came out almost three weeks ago and it’s already the number one bestseller on Amazon in teen drug abuse and addiction. I wrote it a long time ago, I wrote the actual first draft in — and the second draft probably like 10 years ago. And it’s taken me this long to work out the courage to put it into the world. And because it’s a little bit different when you’re writing your own life story because they’re not just critiquing your writing, it almost feels like they’re critiquing you.
And in addition you’re putting — my book is very — well, it’s not an after school special kind of a book, it’s very real, it’s very broad, it’s very authentic, like I said, I used a lot of my old journals in describing how I was feeling and what I went through at the time. So it’s really tough material, and so there was a significant amount of fear of putting it out there for the world and then having them say, “Oh, that really suck.” Because even though they might be talking about the book, it’s still like, “Well, that’s my experience.” And like I said, my writing voice is very different than my speaking voice. My writing voice is pretty vulnerable but in the outside world, I don’t tend to carry myself really vulnerable. In the outside world, I carry myself very strong, very protective, very put together.
And so this voice then out there in the memoir is very vulnerable and very soft. So that was really scary but the reason that I did it, finally made the lead and did it was that I just want — there’s not really another book out there like mine even though there’s other memoirs that had been written, it deals with a lot of several nuances of abuse that don’t necessarily get talked about. It’s not one that — some of the child abuse memoirs that you read are just like absolutely brutal, I mean it’s just like — I don’t know, A Child Called “It” comes to mind like as in one of the more brutal ones and not that absolutely horrific story. But I think that his experience is not nearly as common as my experience.
My experience in my childhood is a lot of blurred lines, it’s a lot of blurred lines, it’s a lot of murky lines which are much more difficult to call abuse, which are much more difficult to say that was harmful versus being kept in a closest where I think Dave Pelzer was kept. So that’s a little bit about what makes it different. And I think a lot more women can relate to it and I also — from the perspective of a teenage girl, I would have loved — back in my day when I was going through all of that stuff, I would have loved to have a voice that I could’ve read and heard and said, “Oh, my God, that’s me. Somebody is telling my story. I’m not alone, I’m not crazy. There’s somebody else that’s out there.” And then second of all, to have had the horrific beginnings that I had and then to go on to be so successful, all of those labels, that people dump on me. The things that — that I was borderline mentally retarded, that I was basically never going to do anything, that I was either going to die or end up in prison.
And to go on and to now have a PhD and to be very successful and to be working in a field where I’m giving back, to say that it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter where we began and it doesn’t matter the labels that people put on us. Those things weren’t true, those things weren’t nice experience. A lot of what I was going through was the fact that I was so young, I was so confused, I was so lost, and I was on a lot of drugs. Shockingly my brain still works very well and I function in society very well now, but it took a lot work and a lot of hard work, a lot of it I had to do on my own and I just — like I want other teenage girls to know that it’s possible, like it’s absolutely possible. You don’t have to live with those labels and you also don’t have to think that just because you had such an awful beginning it doesn’t mean you can’t have a very powerful ending.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah. That’s such a great point, such a great message. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what happened to you, all that matter is where you’re going. And you can turn your life around any moment, I mean any moment you can totally choose to change to directions and go totally different routes. And that’s so inspiring and I love that. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Elizabeth Garrison: Yeah, you’re welcome.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Wow, I mean you shared just so much awesome stuff this interview today I really appreciate it and…
Elizabeth Garrison: Thank you.
Tom Corson-Knowles: …also I want to say I’m sorry for everything that happened in your life. I feel bad hearing your story, it just sounds like everything is hurt as a person, to hear these awful things that you went through, though. And so I want to say I’m sorry for that and…
Elizabeth Garrison: Thank you.
Tom Corson-Knowles: And I really appreciate you sharing your message with the world. And I think one other thing you talked about was being vulnerable. I think you’re afraid to be vulnerable to get your story up there. And I think with your book, it’s like even more so because of how personal it is and the bad things that happened you get to share with the world. But I think every author goes to that through so many extent, that vulnerability of, what if people don’t like my book, what are people going to think and what if I get bad reviews and what if people hate it. How did you overcome that vulnerability and have the courage to get the book out there?
Elizabeth Garrison: Well, I think one of — because I have pretty thick skin and two, I’ve had people say really bad things, I’ve had negative feedback in the past, so that makes it a little bit easier. And then the other thing that was really helpful to me is like, in real life, just in meeting people there’s always going to be people that don’t like you and no matter what you do there’s always going to be people that don’t like you.
So I think that it works the same way in the writing world, like no matter what you do there’s always going to be people that don’t like it, period. Like there’s no way around it and it doesn’t matter you could write better or change the story or change the ending, there’s always going to be people that don’t like it. Just like in the real world in day to day like, it’s like research shows us, 10% of people that you meet are not going to like you and that’s not your fault, that’s not anything you did, that’s just reality. So if 10% of the people don’t like what I — I just go into it thinking there’s going to be a group of people that aren’t going to like it no matter what. And so for me that’s helpful.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah, definitely. That’s awesome. So, what do you do now today if you have a bad day or you’re in a bad mood, you don’t feel like writing or someone sends you a negative message? What do you do when you’re having a bad day to get over that and be able to past that?
Elizabeth Garrison: Well, I have a son, I have a six-year-old son and he is probably my biggest distraction because he is just like this little bright light and never stops moving, so all I really have to do is — one of the things that I do if I’m really bummed out, if something is at me, I’ll just drag him and be like, “You want to play?” And before I know it I’m immersed in this super hero world and he doesn’t allow your attention to be distracted at all. So that’s a really good thing for me. I also — one of the things that I — I read as much as I write, so for me reading is like a huge escape for me and something that makes me feel really, really good. So if I’m struggling my own — I can pick up a book and just be lost in it for the next two hours and forget about what I was going through, what I was feeling, and what I was experiencing. I am a runner, so I do a lot of running too.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Yeah. What I really get from that is that it’s not about the bad things or how bad your feeling, it’s — like you mentioned, all your submissions are focused on different and, you know, play with your son, read a book, go running, do something that’s going to get your mind off and get focused on something you enjoy doing and playing too. I think playing is like a really undervalued awesome thing in our society. A lot of us don’t have the time to have fun and to play and to be joyful and I think one of the great things of writing is that you can just totally play. You can make up stories about dragons and dinosaurs and whatever you want.
Elizabeth Garrison: It gets you in part with that kid part of you, that as you grow up you’re like I agreed.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Well, thanks, Lizzie, you shared a lot of them with some of us today. Before you go, tell us where we’re going to find out more about you and the work that you’re doing.
Elizabeth Garrison: So if you’re interested in purchasing my memoir you can find it on Amazon, like I said, it’s Wounds of the Father: A True Story of Child Abuse Betrayal and Redemption and my name is Elizabeth Garrison, you can find it under that. You can also go to my website which is elizabethgarrison.info and find more about me there. There’s a place to contact me there if you want to contact me with any question, I’m available there as well.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Thanks so much, Lizzie, I appreciate it.
Yeah, thank you.
Tom Corson-Knowles: Hey, there it’s Tom Corson-Knowles again. I hope you loved the show today. If you want to get more interviews and updates like this, subscribe to the show on iTunes and come and join us on the website at publishingprofitspodcast.com. Leave us a quick review or comment on the site and let us know what your favorite tip and idea is that you’ve learned so far from the show. If you’re just starting out as an author or if you want to learn how to build your author platform and sell more books without a huge marketing budget check out the free training video on how to get started and build your author platform at ebookpublishingschool.com. All right. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you in next week’s show.
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