A few days ago my book editor, Susan Roxborough, handed me the first real copy of my book, ENOUGH. I had to mark the moment. And then I cried. And then we jumped up and down a bit. And then we went into a shop and bought cupcakes to celebrate. (We met on the street between our two offices.) It was all so lovely and surreal.
This is my fifth published book. I still can’t believe it. Parts of this process have grown easier. Some have not. But I will say that seeing this book in true 📖 form means more to me than any book I have written. My god, I am so proud of this book.
The next day I did my first radio interview for the book, with Marcie Sillman for KUOW, Seattle’s NPR station. She asked me if I thought the people who have read this site, Gluten-Free Girl, will be surprised by how dark this book can be at times. I told her I don’t know.
I do know that people who read this site for years might be surprised at some of the facts of my life. I joked that it should be called Gluten-Free Girl: the Untold Story. Sometimes, after I had published a piece with a recipe, people would leave comments or write me emails to say, “I don’t understand. How can you be so happy and grateful all the time?!” I couldn’t say then that my gratitude came from living in hard, confusing suffering the first 30 years of my life. After I hit 37, newly diagnosed with celiac and finally feeling free, I always felt the darkness I had lived as a counterpoise to the lightness of my life. That also happened to correspond with the time of people starting to pay attention to my writing. So what I wrote on on this site was always honest. But it wasn’t inflected with the understanding of the invective and suffocation I had lived in before. Once you start tasting fresh air, you don’t want to go back to the fetid air from below.
No one required me to tell the entire story. But the longer I went without sharing all of the darkness, the more it felt like I was shutting the door against it on purpose. And that started to feel, over time, like the directive I had to follow as a kid: don’t tell the secret of this family. Emphasize the positive. Don’t talk about the bad parts. Pretend they don’t exist.
I started to outgrow Gluten-Free Girl, both this food blog where people mostly wanted new baked good recipes, and the persona I had unintentionally created. GFG was calm and wise, grateful most of the time, sure. That was part of me. But it wasn’t all of me. When I did write about fear, or even wrote in a sarcastic voice about how crappy things were, well-meaning people wrote me emails saying “Are you and Danny doing okay? You seem a little upset.”
Somehow I had recreated the place I lived in as a kid: unhappy and urging myself in writing, on the pages of a journal with a puffy cover with a teddy bear on the front: “Be happy, dammit. Be happy!” The anxiety and depression I felt as an 11-year-old so terrified me that I used to berate myself for not being grateful for my life. “You’re not living through the Holocaust, Shauna!”
You know things are hard when your template of “It Could Be Worse, So Stop Complaining” is the Holocaust.
But there was no other way for me then. I knew from books that other people didn’t live the way my family did: in anger, in fear, in isolation. But I didn’t know how to get out of it.
Now, as an adult who worked hard to liberate myself from my family home, and then my mind from my old training, I know that lots of other families were living like mine. They still are. At an early event for my book, attended by independent booksellers (some of my favorite people), one woman told me, “I know you feel like this might be a book for women your age. But I know there is a high-school girl somewhere who will get her hands on this book and think, “Oh my god, I’m not alone.’”
I thanked her for saying that. Then I ducked back into the bathroom and cried for a moment. Because, that is all I hope.
That is why my only measure of success for this deeply personal, vulnerable book is that it might help other people free themselves from shame and find the courage to tell their stories. That’s it.
The only image I have kept in my head — after all the loneliness I felt as a kid — is of connection: one person handing my book to another.
The other, it happened to me. That’s why I took this photo. I hope that it happens many times soon.
I no longer keep this site active. In fact, it has been more than two years since I wrote a new post. But I know that people still visit, so consider this my formal farewell.
If you are interested in reading more of my essays, with the occasional recipe, I have a newsletter called ENOUGH.
My new essays now live in this newsletter, which is funded by direct subscriptions from readers. So if you enjoy what I write here, consider subscribing.
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And my book of essays, ENOUGH: Notes from a Woman Who Has Finally Found It, is available for sale, October 8th, 2019.
Thank you for reading.