The Long Awaited…A Review of “Who Am I?”

My dearest friends and readers, allow me to introduce to you one of the most amazing women I have had the privilege of meeting virtually.

Megan Cyruleski was one of the first to review my book. She also interviewed me here, and then honored me with the favor of her presence here on Predatory Lies. You can read my interview with Megan here. 

And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for (me more than others–on pins and needles to read the Advance Review Copy of her book) a review of Megan’s soon to debut book, Who Am I?

So, without further adieu…

There are two things that make a book mesmerizing: either I find myself in the story or, I am captured by a narrative so far from my own reality that it’s simply hard to believe.

The second phenomena is something like being a deer caught in the headlights. Life demands that I get up and do something “productive”, (or finally put the book down and go to sleep as the case may be). Reason insists that the book will be there later but I am somewhat in a stupor, living in someone else’s world, stunned into staring at pages as the words get blurry and my eyelids droop.

Megan Cyrulewski’s book, Who Am I?, falls in the second category, and let me be clear—few books ever land in that category for me.

Megan’s story is truly her own, though at times it seems an impossibly difficult story. From the first line of the preface, it occurs to the reader that Megan’s life is not an enviable one. Tearful, in bed, crushed beneath the weight of postpartum depression, her mental mantra is, “Madelyn deserves better than me. I want to die.”

Megan then unfolds an ever more complicated drama. From rising out of the ashes of PPD, to protecting her daughter from her narcissistic ex-husband, to surviving domestic violence, Megan guides the reader with absolute precision. She provides dates, full text letters between attorneys and text messages between herself and Madelyn’s father. Megan’s wit carries the story with small doses of humor lifting the reader’s spirit and restoring optimism at just the right times.

I’ve fought my own battles, but none like those Megan faced. However, I believe that an untold number of women face similar issues. In Megan’s story they will find a seasoned companion. Megan’s story provides insight in a “been there-done that” format. Her humor will brighten the darkest days and allow them to search again for the light at the end of the tunnel. And perhaps, most importantly, as it concludes with resounding hope, Who Am I?, will allow many to see “themselves in Megan’s story and give them courage to reach out for help and find healing.

Dying to read it? Here’s the pre-buy link to Who Am I? 
Get it first!

An Interview With Megan Cyrulewski

Happy Friday, Friends! I have a special treat for you today, an Meganinterview with the indomitable Megan Cyrulewski. I say indomitable and mean it in every sense of the word. She recently posted the first chapter of her book, Who Am I, on her blog. When you read it,  you’ll get it 🙂

I confess, I’ve conned Megan into sharing an advanced copy of her book with me when they’re available, so I’ll review that for you here, too. After slowly reading the delicious first chapter, I’m pining to know the rest of the story.

But for now, without further adieu,

What is your name? And while we’re on the subject, do you have any nicknames and where did they come from?
Megan Cyrulewski.  Friends call me Meg.  My dad calls me Meggie, which was my childhood nickname.  Only my dad can get away with calling me that!

In your book’s teaser, you mention your daughter. How old is she and what’s her name? How did you choose her name?
Madelyne Rose was born on 12/2/10 so she is a little bit more than 3-years-old.  Her name comes from two different places:  Madelyne from the book (and mini-series) North and South and Rose was my grandmother’s name.  She passed away in 2006.

Your other “baby” must be this new book we can’t wait to read. What is the title and how did you come up with it?
My new book is a memoir called, Who Am I?  I came up with the title because in the middle of this traumatic period in my life, one day my dad called me Meggie.  I remember thinking to myself, I’m not Meggie anymore.  Who am I?  

I know your book is your memoir, what convinced you to write your story? What sets your story apart from other life-stories?
I love reading about adversity and the courage people have to rise above.  I was inspired by the book Her by Christina Parravani (who is actually a FB friend now…it’s totally a celebrity moment for me!)  Her words were just so poetic and harsh at the same time.  It’s as though I could feel Christina’s pain reaching out of the pages.  I thought that if I could write my own story half as good as she wrote hers, I hope to inspire people too.

I think what makes my story so different is that there was just so much going on in my life in a 2-year span:  a new baby, divorce, postpartum depression, hospital stays, child custody battle, domestic violence, and much more all while I was in Law School.  To this day, I’m really not sure how I managed to survive that time period.

Is there a message or moral that you want your readers to take away?
There are two very important messages I want to get across:  First, domestic violence is not just physical.  It comes in all forms.  There was some physical violence in my marriage (and after) but my ex-husband emotionally abused me, which is just as bad as physical violence.  To be told over and over again that I am fat, lazy, ugly, a joke, etc. made me feel suicidal because if the person I love feels this way about me, then others must think the same thing.  It took a lot of therapy to help me realize that I am worthy again.  Second, postpartum depression is not about wanting to hurt your kids.  (i.e. Andrea Yates.)  That is a stereotype that I am very passionate about changing.  I felt that I wasn’t a good enough mother for my child and therefore, I wanted to kill myself because I felt that my daughter deserved better than me.  It is an awful feeling.  

What was your writing process? Did you outline your book first or just let it develop as you went? Did the book turn out as you expect it or take on a life of its own?
My wonderful brilliant attorney (who is like a second father to me) advised me to keep a log of everything my ex-husband did right after I filed for divorce.  So when I was ready to write my book two years later, I sort of had an outline already.  

There are parts of the book that were extremely hard to write.  I didn’t like reliving some of the events that had happened.  Those were the days I had to walk away from the computer.  While I was writing the book, I was finally able to write my thoughts down on paper.  There were a lot of times I wanted to say something to my ex-husband and his new wife, but I couldn’t.  Now, I can…and I did.

What was the editing process like?
I have to admit that I am not as good at grammar as I thought!  My book has gone through the first round of edits and it amazed me at how many grammar mistakes I had made.  Thank God for editors!  Authors can’t live without them!

How did you find your publisher, Black Opal Books?
To find an agent or a publisher is extremely tough.  It is a very subjective industry so if you don’t have thick skin, you aren’t going to make it.  I sent out tons of queries and got back 33 rejections before Black Opal Books offered me a contract.  I will forever be grateful that they took a chance on me and my story.  They are a wonderful publishing company and all of us BOB authors feel more like family than clients.  

Do you have any more books “in the works”?
I am working on my first book of fiction, a legal thriller.  (Think John Grisham.)  I have to use that law degree for something, right?!  I’ve only told the plot to one person and the moment her jaw dropped and she gasped at the big “twist,” I knew I had a good story.  Now all I have to do is add more hours to the day so I can finish writing it!

What hobbies do you have or what things do you do when you’re not writing or working?
Most of my free time is spent with Madelyne.  It’s been rough this winter because of the polar vortex here in Michigan.  Right now Madelyne takes dance and gymnastics classes.  But as soon as it starts to get warm, we love being outside.  I take her to the zoo almost every Sunday in the summer.  There is nothing I love more in this world than being with Madelyne.  My second most favorite thing is my girl’s nights!  I have to have non-mommy time and hang with my girls!  (And by hang, I mean put on some yoga pants, head over to someone’s house, drink some wine and eat some chocolate.  Party on.)

And Just a Few Fun Ones:

Coffee or Tea – COFFEE!!!  Must have coffee every morning!

Night owl or early mornings?
Night owl for sure.  But Madelyne is a morning person, so I really don’t remember the last time I’ve slept past 6:30 AM.

Dogs or cats?
Cats.  At one point, my ex and I had 5 cats.  Now I have 3.

Sweet or salty?
Salty.  I’m addicted to chips.

Beach or Mountains?
Beach!  I’ve been to Hawaii twice and want to go back.  Bora Bora is on my bucket list.  I just need someone to go with me!  Any single men reading this??  😉

Thank you, Megan Cyruleski, for visiting Predatory Lies today. I truly am pining to read your book! And I’m grateful for the time you took to interview me as well. Your passion to support other authors makes you one-of-a-kind and a treasure!

Part 3 – Domestic Violence and Eating Disorders

Soon after, I discovered his pornography addiction. Confused and defeated, I wondered when it would end. I knew of a girlfriend who had struggled in her marriage due to her husband’s use of porn, so I sought her out to gain some advice. After a few well-chosen questions from her, she got my entire story out of me.

Help wasn’t hard to come by when I finally reached out. For years, friends and family had lingered in the shadows, trying to help but repelled by my insistence that I was fine and I didn’t want their help. My greatest courage came from the gift of empathy from women that I knew to be beautiful and wise and had also suffered at the hands of an E.D.

It was this friend who finally put words to what I had been experiencing: sexual abuse, rape, physical, verbal, emotional abuse. I began to do research and discovered she was right. After seeking the counsel of other older Christian women who had survived domestic violence, talking to DV advocates, sheriffs, reading books, articles and praying very hard, I knew I had to leave my abuser. I had to protect my son and myself.

I couldn’t see the truth of E.D.’s abuse until I saw how he had abused other women. It wasn’t hard to see their scars; scars through which their true beauty still glowed with all its strength. As I listened, read and learned I finally began to see the truth of their words – that E.D. was killing me, too.

The following year was riddled with divorce proceedings, protective orders, living in a shelter, watching the rearview mirror, legal paperwork and court appearances and many fearful nights of crying out at God. With the finalization of our divorce, my now ex-husband was ordered to graduate from a Batterer’s Intervention Program before having unsupervised visits with our son. Just three weeks shy of his graduation, he took a polygraph test through which he admitted to molesting at least five children. After another year in a custody battle, I received a verdict from the judge: I won sole physical and legal custody of my son with no contact between my son and my ex.

Even once E.D.’s cruelty was uncovered and I knew the truth of who he was, it took years to divorce him. I lived in treatment homes, went through counseling, cried and cried and cried. Several times I wondered if I had healed enough to take E.D. back. Surely I could keep his misbehavior under control. Dabbling with him, speaking to him on occasion only lengthened my recovery process.

The last four years have been a roller-coaster ride. I left my marriage devastated physically, emotionally and spiritually. I felt like I was alone. I felt God was distant. I was angry at my abuser and at God. I screamed at God for answers … I’d decided I wouldn’t let go or let up until He answered me. Finally, God did speak to me and radically changed my heart from one of hatred and bitterness to one of seeking and learning. Now I encourage abuse victims and survivors, as well as educate others on how to recognize and respond to domestic violence.

The last four years, (at least four years) have been a roller coaster ride. I have married a man who loves me, and still once or twice E.D. has come to call. My only solace and hope has been in clinging ruthlessly to the hand of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Even greater still, has been His grip on my hand. He promised that no one, not even E.D. can snatch me out of His hand.

God showed me in real, tangible ways that I am special to Him and didn’t deserve abuse. God took the ashes of my existence and is making a beautiful life out of it.

This is truth. This is where truth is found. It is mined out of the ashes of pain. I heard someone say recently that we are wrong when we associate hard things with bad, and things that are easy with good. Someone else pointed out that Moses had to walk bravely up a mountain into thick darkness to be where God was. (Ex. 20:21)

At Predatory Lies, I long to make truth brighter, more aggressive, louder for the sakes of those who have E.D.’s hands over their ears or the hands of an abuser. Rachelle is working to strengthen the voice of truth. Please, loop a circle of hemp around your wrist, take our hands and SHOUT. Truth won’t be ignored.

The indented portions of this post were taken from Marissa’s post at SheLovesMagazine. Her words prompted the pieces of my own story. Please visit SheLovesMagazine and the site of Marissa’s own ministry Signal on VOICE.

Part 2 – Domestic Violence and Eating Disorders

I read this post on SheLovesMagazine, one of my favorite online Christian publications. As I read Marissa’s story, I heard the echo of my own. Listen:

I met my abuser at church. We were both attending seminary, headed into full-time ministry. I was an ordained elder in my denomination and a Bible college graduate. I’d studied Scripture, debated theology and had been involved in church and ministry for as long as I could remember.

I met my abuser within the walls of a Christian home. I bumped into E.D. in the halls of my church, hung out with him in my youth group. I saw E.D. in safe places and good places and at first his words were mild, gentle, simple advice. “You could be healthier if you ate less. You could be much more perfect if you were a little stricter with yourself. Just work a little harder.”

Being a “Christian” was easy, for the most part. I even knew all the pretty, cliché things to say to those who needed counseling. My life drastically changed when I met … him. He was charming, handsome, smart, funny and going into ministry … everything I ever wanted in a guy. When our relationship turned physical quickly, I was uncomfortable but, for fear of losing him, I went along. Light petting turned into a full-blown sexual relationship and, despite my best intentions, I was fearful of saying that “no” that I’d encouraged so many girls to just-say.

E.D. was easy to follow and easy to love, at first. He made me more admirable and   self-disciplined. When I was with him, heads turned. “You’re so strong! I wish I could be that thin.” When he started to get meaner, I told myself that he was just making me a better person. I was still able to talk about my faith and encourage other people. I was considered a leader.

As we left the parking lot after our wedding, my now-husband was different. He was angry. I did everything I could to help and to make it better. The abuse gradually escalated. The sexual abuse started right away and got to the point where it was happening multiple times a day. Finding out I was six weeks pregnant six weeks after we got married only made the abuse worse.

As E.D. and I spent more and more time together, things began to change rapidly. He pulled me away from friends and family, especially at meal times. He insisted that I workout multiple times per day, even when I began to bruise easily, lose my hair and my thinking became foggy. Like a snowball rolling downhill, things got worse by the day. Soon, I couldn’t even see a true reflexion in the mirror.

Partial bed rest ordered from my doctor was ignored by my husband … I had too many things to do around the house to keep him happy–my homework, etc. No chance to sit still.

E.D. denied the validity of doctor’s orders and my parents’ concern. He demanded clandestine jumping jacks, long walks, white lies about my after school activities (at the gym instead of at work.)

Gradually, I quit classes and my job and became a prisoner in my own home. I begged him to stop yelling at me. I cringed when he raised his hand to hit me and cried when he gripped my arm and blocked the door so I couldn’t pass.

I quit going home to visit during college. Too many people were concerned about me and tried to meddle in my diet and exercise. I quit hanging out with friends. Too many opportunities to eat during social activities. I certainly quit dating. If I were to cheat on E.D., there would be hell to pay.

Eating Disorders and Domestic Violence

This began as one post and grew to much more than you would be willing to read in one sitting. That said, permit me to post three times this week. Don’t miss a day, truth has a long story. 

I had no idea that October was such a popular month. My sister, Rachelle, of WeavingSunshine, informed me that it is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I remembered that it’s Pastor Appreciation Month. I also just learned that it’s National Book Month.

Rachelle, has a broken heart for the lost, hurting and broken in our world. Since she was little, she talked about growing up and teaching in an inner city school. In middle school, she transferred to a school on the poorer “side of the tracks” because she wanted to be a brighter light than she felt she could be going to a Christian school. She has talked about starting an orphanage called Our Father’s House. So when my little sister told me that she was going to donate part of her profits from the sale of her hemp jewelry, it warmed my heart but didn’t surprise me.

I started thinking about domestic violence. I didn’t think that I had any experience with such nightmares. I’m sure I have met a few people with those skeletons in their closets, but I was unaware at the time. However, over half of my life was mauled by E.D. (eating disorder’s) violence. And in treatment, I learned that many of the girls’ stories included years of abuse which led them into E.D.’s arms.

Part 2 tomorrow.