Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Coming Clean: A Memoir

Dirty Secrets Exposed

Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller 

"What shames us, what we most fear to tell, does not set us apart from others; it binds us together if only we can take the risk to speak it." - Starhawk

When I taught Creative Writing for 10 years, my students always struggled with what they should write.  I often gave the advice, "Write what makes you feel like you are swallowing glass." These are the stories that we hide, the essence of who we are, how we have become who we are.  Sometimes (and more often than not) these are the ugly truths of our existence that we draw the blinds on, shove under our beds or even rip out of our journals for fear of being found out.  The odd thing about these "glass swallowing stories" are the ones that others need to hear to, just as the quote at the beginning of Kimberly Rae Miller's memoir Coming Clean says, bind us together.  Taking the risk to speak these truths or even more write them down for others to read takes bravery.  Kimberly Rae Miller's memoir showcases her courage and her devout love for her parents.

Miller's father is a hoarder.  She lets us into this dirty little secret (which is actually a dirty, big problem) in the first chapter via the nightmares she suffers from in her adult life because of the way she was raised in a hoarder's pile infested house.  Her mother makes excuses, is plagued by medical issues, and provides Kim with much needed love and fights for her daughter to live some semblance of a normal life beyond the stacks of papers, unopened boxes, and rotten food in her home.

I loved this book (HOORAY!), and I finished it in a day.  I gaped in horror at Kim's descriptions of the house when it was at its worse (flea infestation, animal feces on the carpets, doors that could not be open, unusable kitchen, no running water), and I cried as she nursed her mother to health, and stood by her parents even when they were unable to stand up for themselves.  I cringed when Kim's face burned with shame as she employed the help of friends and even her friend's parents to help dig her parents out when they were moving.

Somehow she emerged from the filth and the bugs and the stacks, and she emerged into a successful, professional woman who has blossomed into a blogging icon who comments on fitness and body image, and as a writer of truth.

What I loved the most about this book was Kim's loyalty to her parents and her furious love for them.  She says, "I do not hate [my mother] or my father.  Sure, I remember the dirt and the rats and squalor, but I also remember parents who loved me.  Doting, fallible people who gave me everything they had, and a whole lot more." The massiveness of the "more" could confound anyone who has never loved a hoarder or had a hoarder as a family member, neighbor, or friend.  Miller uncovers hoarding and those the disorder smothers in this touching memoir about family bonds and growing up despite the dirty, big secrets behind closed doors and drawn curtains.

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