My interview this week is different from the genres you generally find on the blog. The Full Catastrophe : A Memoir tells Karen Elizabeth Lee’s journey through abusive relationships to healing. I’m delighted to be hosting Karen and I hope that it may help others experiencing domestic abuse in either talking out about their situations or offer inspiration if you’re on your own healing journey.
The Full Catastrophe has won six finalist awards in the categories of women’s issues and relationships and also one silver award for non-fiction. It is also a finalist for an award to be announced in April 2018.
Karen is an experienced public speaker, workshop leader, instructor and published author. She is a dual Canadian/British citizen who grew up in Southern Ontario, Canada, got her B.A., trained as a teacher and taught school in Toronto. She moved to Calgary, Alberta, returned to University and in 1991 became a chartered clinical psychologist counselling individuals and couples. In 1995, she moved to England. For eleven years, she taught graduate level business students, corporate executives, and worked as a freelance management consultant with projects across Western Europe, the Middle East and Far East. She now lives in Calgary, Alberta.
She loves to travel – in addition to work assignments that took her to many countries, her desire to broaden her outlook on life and the world also led her to Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, the Czech Republic, Peru, and South Korea.
Karen has authored two books, Consulting into the Future, 2002, and The Full Catastrophe, 2016, a memoir of her two marriages, widowhood, Jungian analysis, healing and learning to live again after trauma. She has also authored articles that range from psychology and management topics, journalistic articles and history. In addition to writing, her interests now are teaching memoir writing, upscale abuse and what keeps women in abusive situations.
She has been on the Board of Sagesse, formerly the Peer Support Services for Abused Women in Calgary, Alberta, has led groups for women in the process of leaving abusive relationships and is a member of a federally-funded Women’s Community Advisory Committee, sponsored through the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, that is studying the barriers women face when leaving abusive relationships.
Karen teaches memoir courses for people who have difficult stories to tell, at the Alexandra Writers Centre in Calgary.
Connect with Karen Elizabeth Lee
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
What inspired your memoir?
After my second husband passed away, I knew that I had to heal from my marriage to an abusive man or I feared that I might fall into the same trap again. After four years of therapy and after meeting and marrying my present husband, I knew that I had healed from the abuse I had endured. But I didn’t know why it had all happened.
How did an intelligent, well educated, professional woman marry two abusive men? I needed to answer that question for myself so I started writing, going back through all the journals I had kept while I was married to my second husband and back through my memories. I educated myself in the art of creative non-fiction writing and after seven years my book was published. I also realised by that time that my story was not unique – there are many women who have had the same fate as I did and perhaps I could give them hope and inspiration.
Can you share with us the importance of your journals?
During my second marriage, I kept journals in order to pour out my life, my frustrations, my hopes and dreams and just what was happening on a day to day basis – 14 journals in all. They formed the basis for much of my writing. Even if a particular event was not there in a journal, the journals served as memory triggers.
I went through them with a fine-tooth comb, teasing out significant events, and confirming dates so that my timelines would be correct. I had also kept my business day-timers which also helped with dates and events.
In addition, I went through the music I had listened to at the time, as music is a strong memory trigger for me. Through music, I was sometimes able to re-enter scenes in my imagination to write the emotional truth of different times in my life.
The Full Catastrophe must have been difficult to write.
Was there a particular scene you found difficult to write about Karen?
The difficult scenes for me were the ones where, in hindsight, I could have chosen a different path for myself and my children. I couldn’t see it at the time of course and that was so frustrating to see how much I was under the control of my husbands and how vulnerable I was to their abuse techniques – lying, manipulation, threats, negativity, judgments about me. When I look back now it is almost as though I was a different person back then and it was hard to “revisit” that time in my life.
What inspired you to write?
I hope that my book/memoir is seen as a contribution to uncovering the hurts and problems in our society. I “came out” as a domestic abuse survivor so that things can improve.
People tend to want to appear to others as though their lives are “together,” successful, better than others – we compare, contrast and feed our egos with the thoughts that, while others have problems, we don’t. This tendency can lead to family secrets, hiding things that we feel others would judge. That means that domestic abuse, sexual abuse, racism, poverty are seen as things to be ashamed of rather than problems we need to tackle.
While this is slowly changing, more needs to be done to address the things that keep human beings hurting.
The first thing I did when I decided that I was going to write a memoir was to buy Tristaine Rainer’s book “Your Life as Story.” This book taught me story structure and how that structure relates to real life stories – it is my “bible” for memoir. Then I went to a workshop given by Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico. That was interesting in that I was not impressed by the workshop at all – though I came up with a significant line that I used in my book, I realised that the writing of the book was going to come from within me, not from outside sources – valuable learning!
Can you tell us more about your book cover?
I designed it. My publisher had asked me for suggestions for my book cover and at first I came up with images of women crying on the side of beds, sitting on benches etc. My publisher thought they were too negative and I agreed. Then one evening I got an inspiration to just get some things out that were pertinent to my two husbands and me – a gorgeous wine glass that came from my first husband’s birth country, a necklace that had come from my second husband, a ring from my grandmother and my present wedding ring.
I lay the glass down on the floor and had the jewellery pouring out as though they had been thrown down and everything came spilling out – that is how I felt about my life with my two abusive husbands. My present husband and my grandmothers gave me the courage to write the book.
What have been the best (and worst) parts of your writing journey Karen?
I have been able to learn so much about memoir writing, that, coupled with my background as a teacher and psychologist, have all led to me teaching a course for people with difficult stories to tell. I can contribute to others “uncovering” of their difficult stories so that they can heal and tell the truth. However, I had no idea that others in my family would judge and condemn my efforts to come out about the abuse that occurred in our family. That was my naivety – I should have been more prepared for the fact that not everyone wants to uncover and reveal family secrets.
Finally, what are you reading now?
At the moment, I am reading two books – one is a history of the Irish people – research for a piece I am planning about my family’s history. The other is “Gwen” – a historical fiction book by Carolyn Pogue about her maternal grandmother. I just finished Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz because reading cleverly written murder mysteries is one of my methods of relaxation.
Thank you for sharing with us today Karen.
In 1998, after having been married to Duncan―a bully who’d been controlling her for the fourteen years they’d been together―Karen E. Lee thought divorce was in the cards. But ten months after telling him that she wanted that divorce, Duncan was diagnosed with cancer―and eight months later, he was gone. Karen hoped her problems would be solved after Duncan’s death―but instead, she found that, without his ranting, raving, and screaming taking up space in her life, she had her own demons to face. Luckily, Duncan had inadvertently left her the keys to her own salvation and healing―a love of Jungian psychology and a book that was to be her guide through the following years.
In The Full Catastrophe, Karen explores Jungian analysis, the dreams she had during this period, the intuitive messages she learned to trust in order to heal, and her own emotional journey―including romances, travel adventures, and friends. Insightful and brutally honest,
The Full Catastrophe is the story of a well educated, professional woman who, after marrying the wrong kind of man―twice―finally resurrects her life.
Review by Readers’ Favorite Review
The memoir is direct and honest, and it captures the emotional angst of a woman who had undergone domestic and emotional abuse. Her healing phase tells us how the pain and trauma of emotional abuse lingered on, even after Duncan’s death, and how her will to not give up gave her the courage to make positive changes in her life. The author opens her heart and soul to readers, which is not always an easy thing to do, especially when it comes to one’s personal life. It is not always easy to rise above struggles and difficulties in life and emerge a stronger person. Karen Elizabeth Lee’s journey is relatable and palpable to many readers, and her courage in making a noticeable change in her life is commendable.