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

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.

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