I am on my second go-round of this riveting and relatable memoir, as it is generously providing words for thoughts which previously, I felt unable to put together for myself. To say that Tara Westover’s life was brutal, unbearable, would be an understatement. And still, I feel something not unlike coveting, for her. In addition to the abuse and dysfunction, the Westovers share a rich rural culture, deep religious conviction and practices, and the work of a family business– the family is bound by much more than coincidence of birth, a shared roof, and mental illness. Tara and two of her brothers experience trusting, protective, and lifelong closeness.
Additionally, she is able to discover a joy and talent for singing, learning, reading, and writing, which allow her life to become defined by more than what happened within the family. I often feel as if my rejection and abuse define me, because I really do not recall much more– like it is all I know of myself and my family. Recovery teaches me that I am not what happened to me. I am what I am willing to learn from it. Below are a few, not necessarily, fluid or cohesive thoughts, motivated by the words of Tara Westover, some of which incorporate chunks of words taken directly from her.
I came to see that the truth is this: It was not that I had done something wrong(although I have done many wrong things), so much as that I existed in the wrong way. There was something impure in the fact of my being. There is something different about me and that something, those differences are very bad, unforgivable–wrong at a cellular level. I am a bad daughter, a traitor, and my silence and compliance are the least I should offer– and I will do, not even that.
Not knowing for certain what was true and real, still, I refused to give way to those whom claimed certainty, and presented themselves as the gatekeepers of truth and history. I often thought that shame and alienation were results or byproducts of the conflict, and now I see how those served as both the purpose and motivation. Cruel things said and done were aimed at exactly those outcomes and delivered fortification and pleasure to those whose camaraderie rested on the shared need to reduce me, to gain submission OR to make me pay.
It was of comfort to believe that the defectiveness was exclusively mine, because this allowed me to hope that it was under my power to make US be healed. I wanted to believe that. The family system needed also for me to believe this. When I stopped believing and trying to do the impossible, when they could gain no traction from my reactions, it was OVER, in first my family and then my marriage.
When my own mother consistently refused to listen to or hear me, it made me stop listening to and believing myself. This is surely a contributor to the feckless belligerence, the profanity and the volume, my desperate and reactive attempts to be acknowledged, listened to. Sadly, we know too well that this insane behavior is readily dismissed and steals the show. Leaving witnesses fixated on only the unfortunate reaction to the thing which everyone refuses to speak of.
It both pains and liberates me to recognize that what a person knows and believes of a person, place, or thing, without first-hand experience, is limited exclusively to what they are told by others.
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