Write What You Know: Writing about the Hard Stuff

by Ron Vitale

Fighting off the Ghosts of Your Past

My mom kissing me when I was little. 

My mom kissing me when I was little. 

People might wonder why I decided to become a writer and I have a simple answer: If it weren't for reading and writing, I don't believe I would have survived. My story is similar to many others: My father beat my mother and abused drugs and alcohol. Anger, fear and uncertainty litter my childhood memories. My most vivid memory of my father's violence is of being at the kitchen table trying to eat dinner and him coming home from work in an angry mood. He saw what my mother had made him for dinner and said, "I work all day outside in the sun and this is what you make for dinner?" 

I remember the fear on my mother's face. She tried to placate him but he would have none of it. He threw back a kitchen chair that tumbled over and then my memory becomes fuzzy. I was 5 and remember lots of screaming and my mother sending me outside to play. I drove down the block on my big wheel and felt  the weight of the world on my shoulders. I feared for my mom, but didn't know what I could do. Other kids on the block were laughing and playing but I stayed on my big wheel and drove around, wondering why everyone acted so normal. Didn't they know what was happening to my mom? I had no voice then and didn't know what to do.

How to Not Become What You Hate

Being raised in a dysfunctional family where there is emotional, physical and substance abuse, messes you up. I don't know how else to say it. For the longest time, I tried to fight against being like my father, but the tricky thing is that I realized that I started to repeat certain patterns. It might start off simple enough: You are attracted to people who cannot be present for you (emotionally, physically, psychologically). My early relationships were textbook cases of how I seemed to be repeating the patterns of my childhood. Though I didn't drink or do drugs, I had to face my anger and coming to terms that I needed help. And that's not easy. I remember realizing that I would either repeat the mistakes of my past or I needed to do something about it. I chose counseling and joining Adult Children of Alcoholics Anonymous (ACOA).

Was it easy to do this? No. Have I made a lot of mistakes in my life? Yes. I have accepted that I will never be cured of how I was raised in such an unhealthy environment. It's an integral part of who I am. For many, many years, I tried to cut that part out of me and realized that I needed to embrace my past, own it and to not allow it to rule my life. It's not easy. There are times that I fail. But I pick myself up, dust myself off and don't dwell on the past. I choose to walk a different path than my father.

Creativity Saved Me

Before I knew about ACOA or counseling, I realized that I could use my imagination to write stories and that doing so helped me deal with my problems. My imagination and creativity saved me. First it started out with reading and seeing movies, pretending that I could be Luke Skywalker and that I could choose the path of light to do good for the world. But it was Dungeons & Dragons that opened new doors for me: Not only could I create an entire world for my friends to be in, but we could all play different roles and pretend we were someone else. That was essentially the premise for my semi-autobiographical first novel, Dorothea's Song. I found release in my writing and realized that I could convey complex emotions and ideas by creating them on the page. Over time, my writing ability grew and I knew what I had to do: I needed to share my stories with others.

There are many people who have grown up in dysfunctional homes. There are kids right now who are staying quiet and are afraid that they will be hit or abused. Yet there is hope. I believe that by sharing how you feel and what you went through is the path toward healing. Any future historian will find figuring me out rather easy to do: My Master's thesis was a Jungian Interpretation of Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker, showing how the female protagonists in their stories found self-healing by telling their stories of abuse to others. And that's what I discovered as well and why I choose to write my novels. 

Dream Big and Don't Be Afraid

For the longest time, I feared sharing how I grew up because it makes me different. I was afraid that if I shared my feelings that I would be laughed at or misunderstood. Now I am an adult with two wonderful children and I am writing books that not only help me but I hope will help others around the world. My Cinderella's Secret Diaries books are dark and, if you look closely, there are some challenges that Cinderella has to overcome that many readers shake their head wondering why she makes certain choices. Those who grew up in an alcoholic family know better. Cinderella carries a lot of emotional baggage. She's on her own hero's journey to find a way to overcome her past.

When I was little, I started writing as a means to help myself overcome the darkness all around me. Now I write so I can share the light and hope. I am not alone and neither are all the others in the world living in alcoholic and dysfunctional homes. It is my hope that my books can help give hope to those in need. And for that hope to become a reality, is why I keep on writing.

Ron Vitale is the author of the dark fantasy series Cinderella's Secret Diaries who hopes that his children will grow up to find their own voices and not allow others to dictate who and what they can be.