How would you classify your latest work, what inspired its inception?
Ronni and Jennie’s latest book, Healing Begins With Us: Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Abuse and Rebuilding the Sibling Bond, can be characterized as part memoir, part self-help book for survivors of childhood trauma, to help them find healing — particular those who are looking to heal their relationship with a sibling. Many people are writing about childhood trauma, but they’re missing this vital piece. Children who grow up with abuse, addiction, mental illness and other forms of trauma are often pitted against each other and end up either with difficult sibling relationships or estranged from their siblings altogether. Ronni and Jennie wrote this book to help others realize that, if this is true for them, it’s not their fault, and it’s possible to heal their sibling relationships.
How long did it take you to complete Healing Begins With Us?
Because this was a collaboration, it took nearly 18 months. Ronni and Jennie had to talk through their memories in the process of deciding what to include — what was most important — in telling their story as sisters.
Who are some of your top 5 authors or writers you look up to & admire?
There are so many, but in the genre that Jennie and Ronni are writing in, they’ve long admired Oprah Winfrey for tirelessly shining a light on the problem of childhood trauma — for sharing her own story, and for her most recent work (with Dr. Bruce Perry), What Happened to You?, which reframes the question often asked of children with behavioral problems (“what’s wrong with you?”). It examines instead the trauma they experienced in childhood and its lasting impact. Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability helped Ronni and Jennie come out and tell their own story, as did Glennon Doyle’s authenticity and transparency, particularly in Untamed. Trauma survivors often carry the shame of what happened to them; moving through that shame is an important part of the healing process. Other writers, such as Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and Ainslie MacLeod have helped Ronni and Jennie center on what’s important in their lives, and keep them focused on their purpose in their writing — on living their lives out loud and on purpose.
Why do you write?
Ronni and Jennie have a message that they think people need to hear. There are millions in this world who are trying to heal from childhood trauma, yet what’s missing from the conversation is what happens to sibling relationships in these circumstances. When there’s been addiction, abuse, and other adverse childhood experiences in the home, children are pitted against each other, and can end up being life-long adversaries, if not permanently estranged in adulthood. Ronni and Jennie know what it takes to come together and heal that relationship. Having each other for support and validation dramatically accelerated their healing process as individuals. They want others to benefit from their experience and have the tools they need to reach out to their own siblings and begin to rebuild their relationships.
What’s the biggest take away you want your readers to come away with after reading your latest work?
No matter what has happened to you, no matter how old you are, you have the right to heal, to be safe, and to do what whatever it takes to learn, grow, and be happy. You deserve not just to heal and survive, but to be at peace, to thrive, and to live the life that your heart and soul intended. Childhood trauma derails your identity. It distorts so much of who you are by forcing you into a very restrictive role in a dysfunctional family. But it’s possible to get back on track, to heal, and to reclaim all of who you are.
How is the writing/reading scene in your locale?
Ronni and Jennie really aren’t part of their local writing scenes. They live over 1,000 miles apart, and worked on Healing Begins With Us in isolation at the height of the pandemic. Jennie has never written anything before, other than her personal journaling. Ronni has written for academic audiences, but this is her first experience publishing something outside of an academic venue.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
That’s such a difficult question to answer. Ronni and Jennie have loved so many books, for different reasons. For Ronni, the book that comes to mind is the one that had the greatest impact on her thinking as a sociologist: The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. These authors talk about how what we think of as “reality” is simply a way of looking at the world that we have all agreed upon. Ronni finds this very empowering because, it means that we (as a society) can also come to new agreements about how to organize our lives (i.e. reality), which has profound implications for social change and social justice. For Jennie, the most recent impactful book that helped shift her perspective of interpersonal relationships is “What Happened to you” written by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry. For Jennie, the best books help to expand our minds and open our hearts to a greater understanding of our infinite connectedness to each other and the world around us.
When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
Ronni and Jennie had been discussing writing about their healing from their childhood experiences for a number of years. The more they read about families like theirs, the more they realized that there wasn’t anything like their story out there in the recovery literature — particularly about how to heal sibling relationships in the aftermath of childhood trauma. They strongly felt that they needed to share their story, together.
How have you evolved as a writer over the last year?
For Jennie, writing this book together helped hone the information that she wanted to get out into the world, and the rewriting process has helped her to realize that there’s always room for improvement. For Ronni, because this writing is different from what she had done in the past, she had to develop a stronger sense of how to create a compelling narrative — looking for the arc of their story and focusing on the key messages she wanted people to take away from it.
If you could meet, have dinner, have a drink with anyone (writer/non-writer) (dead or alive) who would it be?
Ronni and Jennie would love to meet with every one of the authors mentioned earlier, because each had such a profound influence on them. But to choose one, it would have to be Oprah, because she’s doing such important work in the area of childhood trauma and recovery, and they think they have an important piece (how to heal sibling relationships) that Oprah hasn’t addressed yet. Together, with her platform, they could reach many more people with their message.
What’s next for you?
Ronni and Jennie are working on their second book together, on parenting in the aftermath of childhood trauma, focusing on how to break the intergenerational cycle. In their first book, they talked a bit about how they tried to build their families by choosing loving, kind, supportive partners, as well as how they initially tried to sift through what happened to them as children in order to chart a healthier path forward as parents. They’ll unpack more of how they helped each other through that process in the second book.
End of Interview