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The Writer Behind “Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar”

January 16, 2012

Every so often I read a book that sticks with me for days (and weeks) after I finish. Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar was the first book I read in 2012 and it was exactly that type of book. Michelle O’Neil writes a gripping, personal, sad, yet hopeful memoir, about growing up as the daughter of an alcoholic and the effects of the disease on the entire family.

I first met Michelle when I started following her blog, Full Soul Ahead, where she writes a lot about parenting her two children. When I heard about her book and saw the book trailer, I immediately had to read it. I’ve come to really enjoy Michelle’s blog, her honesty, our blogging friendship, and now, her book. Michelle took the time to answer a few questions about Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar.

1. What made you decide to write such a personal story? Has it been a healing process?

Writing my story was a way to make sense of it. I felt a great deal of shame growing up and it was a way to really look at my childhood and disown the parts that were out of my power. Writing about it definitely gave me more compassion for myself and others. I think writing the story has been part of a much bigger healing process. The healing was well underway before I began writing about it. If it hadn’t been it would have been a very different book. Not to say I’m all healed. I think it’s a lifelong thing; choice by choice, moment by moment. I hope sharing it helps others who were raised in similar circumstances to let go of some of their shame.

2. How do you find time to write with two children? What does your writing schedule look like?

My freelance and blog writing is very patchwork. A couple of hours here, a couple of hours there. But when I was writing my manuscript I was very disciplined. I woke up each day at 5 a.m. and got in a couple of hours before my family woke up. It took about nine months of that to finish my first draft.

3. Tell us a few of the healing mechanisms you learned to help deal with your childhood.

In my early twenties I wound up living in the DC area for a few years where I attended a wonderfully empowering martial arts school. I worked out my anger four or five days a week through sweat therapy!  I became an assistant teacher of a full contact self-defense class and was immersed in a very therapeutic community where I could stand up to my demons in a big way (kicking them and knocking them out) on the mat.

Finally I made the decision to move back to my hometown to attend nursing school, and met my husband Todd and wanted to be a truly full, healthy partner in our relationship so I did get therapy for several years before our daughter was born. I also delved into spiritual studies, believing when you get down to it every problem is a spiritual one, requiring a spiritual solution. We fear we’re not good enough or somehow separate from God, and that is what truly needs to be healed.

My father suffered horrible abuse as a child and no one protected him. When my son was born, I could not deny my father had once been just as innocent. Something lifted in me and I could no longer hate him. The more I found out about his life as a kid the more I was able to see his behavior wasn’t about me. Although feelings of unworthiness come up from time to time as they do for most people, especially for those raised in homes where addiction rules, I have a lot of tools to deal with them.

4. Why did you chose to self-publish? What has that process been like?

The publishing industry has been hit hard by the economic downturn and I think celebrity is often taking precedence over good stories and good writing. At the same time opportunities have exploded for the self-published author. It is easier than ever to publish independently and it seemed like a good time to try it. That being said, it is a lot of work! Having to deal with all the details on my own has taken a ton of time away from my actual writing practice.

5. What have you learned most about yourself through writing your book and blogging regularly?

I’ve learned I love to write! I’ve learned I will forever be a work in progress and that’s okay. I’ve learned that I process my feelings best by writing them and when I do others seem to connect with it.

6. Do you have plans to write more books?

Yes, I am in the process of writing a book about forgiveness geared toward special needs parents. I also tinker with writing a second memoir that picks up where the first one left off and chronicles my years in DC as a young radio news reporter.

Michelle has graciously agreed to give away a copy of her book to one Leah’s Thoughts reader. Simply leave a comment to be entered. Read more about Michelle and Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar on Full Soul Ahead.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Cyndi permalink
    January 16, 2012 1:32 am

    That sounds like an amazing book!!!! I would LOVE to read it!

  2. January 16, 2012 3:47 am

    Consider me intrigued! I love a good read … thank you for the heads up and interview as well.

  3. January 16, 2012 4:41 am

    A wonderful interview — and having grown up in a family riddled with alcoholism, I know only too well what a powerful affect it has on how life is approached. It’s clear from this post how far you’ve come, so your book must be absolutely amazing, Michelle! Thanks for this post, Leah!

  4. January 16, 2012 4:56 am

    Nice interview! Sounds like a lovely read. And inspired about the self-publishing boost.

  5. Lena permalink
    January 16, 2012 5:24 am

    Wow! I love the title and subtitle.. very gripping, sad, yet hopeful that such a talented girl rose from this and is succeeding with her own family. Just goes to show that even the toughest circumstance don’t turn all of us into the featured cast of America’s Most Wanted! Kudos to Michelle for writing and thriving (and self publishing — wow!) and thanks for turning me on to another blog Leah!

  6. January 16, 2012 5:26 am

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  7. January 16, 2012 6:50 am

    Thanks for yet another introduction to an interesting writer and blogger. I love how she started fighting her demons by actually fighting when she took those self-defense classes. It’s not a typical feminine response, but it seems like it opened the door for other ways to heal. A good lesson.

  8. January 16, 2012 7:09 am

    Wow, this lady sounds amazing! I would love to win a copy of her book for a friend of mine who often rescued her father from bars in Florida growing up. Awesome post Leah.

  9. January 16, 2012 7:29 am

    Thanks, Leah, for a wonderful interview. What courage it took for Michelle to write this book and provide this gift to so many others who suffer the same family circumstances.

  10. January 16, 2012 7:44 am

    I took a creative nonfiction class in college during the hardest time of my life, and I found such forgiveness and understanding for a family member who I had been angry with for years. It’s incredible how writing it out can be the best therapy that money cannot buy. So glad it worked for Michelle, too. What a beautiful job she did with the cover–truly captivating!

  11. January 16, 2012 8:36 am

    Wow, difficult story from one who knows. Congratulations on working out your demons in such a therapeutic, and helpful, way for other who have been down the same road. Leah, your interview was so fascinating and makes me want to read the book!

  12. January 16, 2012 10:36 am

    Great interview. I’d love to read this and hear more of her story.

  13. January 16, 2012 10:38 am

    Thank you so much Leah! And thank you to your readers for their warm encouraging comments!

  14. January 16, 2012 11:06 am

    “We fear we’re not good enough or somehow separate from God, and that is what truly needs to be healed.”

    Your answers to Leah’s questions make me want to go read your blog, Michelle. You are so very honest and open. I was drawn right into this interview.

    Best of good fortune with your wonderful debut novel…and all those to come.

  15. January 16, 2012 11:17 am

    “disown the parts that were out of my power…”

    Such a key point! I think many of us, for as many reasons, repeat the pattern of wondering what blame we had in the role our parents played. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we blame ourselves until we’ve been doing it for years.

  16. January 16, 2012 8:05 pm

    A terrific interview, Leah! I have always been amazed at how many people say how healing writing is. Then I had a disappointment and sat down at the computer and WROTE! You know what? They’re right!

  17. January 16, 2012 10:07 pm

    This book is now at the top of my reading list. As the daughter of an alcoholic, the title could be the story of my own childhood. My father started drinking when my brother was killed in an accident at the age of 11 and I spent much of my young adult life with a lot of anger. Like Michelle, though, once I had my own children I realized exactly how deep that pain must have gone and the anger was replaced by an understanding. I cannot wait to read about her experience because I believe I will be able to make such a connection with it. Thank you so much for sharing this book with us, Leah!

  18. January 17, 2012 10:07 am

    Sounds like a good read.

  19. January 17, 2012 1:05 pm

    Great interviewed Leah and Michelle! And I’m intrigued by the book!

  20. January 17, 2012 2:05 pm

    Your interview definitely makes me want to read this book. Great post.

  21. January 17, 2012 4:22 pm

    Leah, this was a wonderful interview! It was insightful to read about this author’s decision to self publish and the effects that had on her writing and family life. It sounds like an interesting read and the title just grips you!

  22. January 17, 2012 8:01 pm

    Sounds like a great book. Very interesting interview. There is a gal in my writer’s group who is wondering whether to write a painful memoir. I’m going to link her to this post.

  23. January 18, 2012 6:36 am

    Loved you interview, Leah, and I’m dying to read this book…thanks for posting it

  24. January 25, 2012 12:18 pm

    Hi Leah, the book just arrived along with a beautiful card from Michelle, and I am truly moved. A brand new book, hot off the press, ready to be devoured and savored; this is as good as it gets girlfriend! Thanks you a hundred times for facilitating this Leah.

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