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The NAMW Virtual Book Club presents:

Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation

by Marilea C. Rabasa | January 2021 Virtual Book Club

Marilea C. Rabasa

Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation

January 14, 2021
4 PM PST | 5 PM MST | 6 PM CST | 7 PM EST

Writing, for me, is self-discovery, and the healing that it has led me to has been a blessing. When I write about the pain in my heart, the mud often sinks to the bottom and I can see things more clearly. It’s a clarification process. But I have to dig down to China to get there. How honest can we be in the telling of our stories? It’s a brave endeavor, but the rewards are great. If memoir is about the truth of memory, not history, then there’s a lot of wiggle room when revealing our “truths.” Others in our lives may remember things differently, and that’s okay. I was careful to confine my story to my own recollections. It’s the memoirist’s perception of events that matter: all the feelings and surroundings are unique to the author; therein lies the story’s inherent viewpoint.

My first memoir six years ago was a grim exposé of how substance use disorder had ravaged the life of my daughter. And in that book, I showed, graphically, my own struggle with eating disorders. But I was still in denial about my drinking. Both of these memoirs are about recovery from substance use disorder. So I had a lot more to discover and share with the reader in Stepping Stones. It’s a fuller, updated picture of how addictive disease has impacted both me and my daughter.

Yet the similarity ends there. This second book has a completely different structure, format, and layout. Also a more varied tone. My writing process has been a form of therapy for me, and much of my depression and what it led to (though I’m still a work in process) has been resolved. I’ve changed; hence, the humorous tone in several of the segments. Since my addictive disease has spanned so many decades, I had a lot to squeeze into a reasonable length and make the book enjoyable to read. My solution to that dilemma will be the topic of this discussion.

  • Many memoirs involve a search. Reach into your mind and heart as far as you can in an honest attempt to find the answers you are looking for.
  • Limit summary. I sometimes slip into hiding my story behind summary out of expediency. But we can’t rush a story that way. Flesh it out with scenes and images that have an emotional impact on the reader.
  • Don’t be afraid to question writing conventions. Experiment with different writing structures and page layout as a means to best serve your story. Adding “white space” to your book can be extremely effective.
  • What we don’t say can be as telling as what we do say. Use of foreshadowing and mystery are tools to keep us reading.
  • Other tools—allusion, allegory, simile and metaphor—are creative writing techniques that add nuance, colors and life to our writing. Use strong, descriptive verbs to paint pictures on the page. Our memoir can be viewed as a landscape. What do we want the reader to see?

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Marilea’s life has involved interfacing with various world cultures on one level or another. In high school one summer, she went to France to study French. That whet her appetite for travel, and she volunteered as an English teacher on a mission in Puerto Rico for two summers. Then she married a man who joined the Foreign Service and for fifteen years she traveled from Nicaragua to Ecuador to Greece to Italy— with three kids and a dog.

She moved on to Chapter Two of her life where she consolidated her cultural experiences with her vocation in the classroom. She was an English as a Second Language high school teacher for seventeen years in Virginia. Toward the end of her teaching career, she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. That journey was critical because it was a Master’s in Reflective Practice.

Now she’s in her Third Act, retired from teaching, with time to reflect back on her fortunate life, continue to learn and grow, and put some of her stories down on paper. Her two award-winning memoirs chronicled the generational substance use disorder in both Marilea and her daughter. Her third memoir, a love story she’s writing with her partner about traveling around the national parks in the U.S., is in the works. She also writes shorter pieces and poetry for various publications.

Writing is a terrific form of self-discovery, and it helps Marilea put her life into better perspective. This has proven to be a valuable right of passage for many men and women in their golden years, and she hopes in the future to teach life-writing to seniors.