Publishing Caged Eyes has changed the surface of my life as dramatically as the events of the actual memoir. When you stand in your authentic truth, powerful things happen – hard things, sad things – but ultimately all positive.
I have no idea how many copies I have sold, and frankly, I try hard not to care. As an author, those numbers matter, but as an advocate, they are completely irrelevant. I will brag, however, the highlight of this year has unequivocally been the publication of an OpEd in the New York Times the week of the book launch. I will never forget the pure elation and pride I felt holding the newspaper in my hands that morning.
The biggest challenges and changes have been in my relationships. Caged Eyes has touched nearly every friendship I have in some way – friends either reading it or specifically not reading it, relating to it in more ways than they thought they would or not at all, and reacting with the full spectrum of emotions. Many of my friends who thought they knew the story have been shocked; some of my friends who thought they would be able to read it easily have been deeply affected.
Too many of my acquaintances have told me that they have been sexually abused or raped too. Or they tell me that someone they love has been. Caged Eyes fights a culture of shame and silence, so it should come as no surprise that these conversations are usually in private, and all too often with people whom I never would have expected.
There have been those who have misunderstood. A few friends have reacted poorly either to the attention Caged Eyes has received or to their perception of my actions – one went so far as to badmouth me on Facebook. (Ouch.) There have been the few who think my aim in publication has been healing or something in that vein. Overall though since publication date, friends have understood so much better what I have been trying to do – what I AM doing.
There have been even steeper costs: at least two of the relationships that I have in the past considered my most important ones haven’t survived this process. It’s hard to write about this publicly, and yet I feel like my honesty here is important – both my sister and my (soon to be ex) husband have had major qualms about the ways in which I’ve talked about my story. The most pain has been in the unraveling of these two relationships.
I imagine this publication process has been similar to any major life event in that it has been like taking a sieve to all of my relationships. Some relationships have been exposed for their inability to withstand the telling of my truth; others – the most authentic – have risen to the top.
That’s exactly where I have found redemption: in the ways Caged Eyes has connected me more fully to other human beings.
For instance, my friends in the mountaineering world who have stepped up in surprising ways. A few, for instance, by telling me their own stories. Another by driving four hours round trip with his wife in order to make my initial book reading. These are friends (mostly men!) whom I never would have expected to latch on to my memoir, and yet they have. A few of them cheer for me even harder than those who also write about violence against women or also work in the advocacy world.
Veterans reach out to me often. Women who were raped years ago but still find themselves in throes of PTSD. Other women who are still active duty. A few women current Air Force Academy cadets in the midst of their own hellacious stories.
These current cadets have impacted me by far the most. I find myself wanting to save them in some more tangible way, but alas all I have is my truth and my words and the realization that they don’t need my saving because they are so strong all on their own.
Last semester, a class at Front Range Community College sent a package of personal letters (some pages long!) telling me how deeply Caged Eyes moved, and in some cases inspired, them.
One woman, a veteran, posted two words on my Facebook timeline which almost mean the most because they say everything. She simply wrote, “Thank you.”
At first, I felt like maybe I didn’t need these accolades from readers. But the further I’ve gotten, the more I acknowledge and accept that in many ways, I do. I need to know that my truth – as destructive as it has been in some cases – has in most other cases connected for people and has acted as a force for greater good in their lives. Messages from readers affirm for me that my truth has been worth something. And maybe that has been the biggest lesson in this whole process: Truth is always worth even more than you think it will be.