Hippie Boy is the story about how I — as a teenager — found my voice and the inner strength to save myself from the circumstances I was desperate to escape. But it wasn’t until I gave myself permission to write my story and share it with others that I was able to fully reclaim my power from a stepfather who used religion as a weapon to oppress and abuse my family. Though I’d wanted to tell my story for years, I struggled because I didn’t want to hurt my parents and didn’t want people to think I was attacking the Mormon religion. Beyond that, the pain and emotional trauma was so great that I cried every time I opened my computer to write. Then, in late January 2004, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an incurable eye disease that is slowly stealing my eyesight.
In my quest to save my vision, I sought treatment from a doctor who focuses on whole body health. He started off the appointment by asking me to tell him about my childhood. Within minutes, I was sobbing. The doctor told me it was clear I was carrying around a huge negative energy charge over something that happened so many years ago. He pointed out that I was still giving this former stepdad my power, even though he’d been out of my life for twenty-five years. Those words stung. But they were nothing compared to his next words. He said, “If you don’t think that carrying this inside of you is impacting your physical health, you’re crazy.”
The idea that holding onto the anguish from all those years ago could actually be causing me to go blind was a huge wake up call for me. I finally gave myself permission to write my book. I also started openly sharing my story through essays and podcasts, and discovered the immense healing power and validation that can come from personal storytelling.
Even before publishing Hippie Boy, I knew I wanted to use my story to help teens who were struggling with similar issues. So when Marjie Bowker, an English teacher at an alternative high school, approached me about using my story to help her students, I felt like I was being handed a huge gift. We immediately began brainstorming on a month-long unit that used Hippie Boy as a guide to help her students find their voice and claim their power by writing their personal narratives. Our partnership was supposed to end with an in-class reading of the students’ work. But by the time the reading rolled around, the students were so charged up by the power they had found within themselves that Marjie and I realized we had to keep going. During an intensive weeklong mini-course that spring, we helped interested students publish their personal stories in a collection they titled We Are Absolutely Not Okay. This, in turn, has led to the launch of an ongoing writing/publishing program at the school and a second student story collection, You’ve Got it All Wrong. Having experienced and witnessed the life-changing power of personal storytelling, Marjie and I have developed the Hippie Boy Teaching Guide to help educators everywhere transform the lives of their students by writing and sharing their personal stories.
For more information about our student storytelling program, please visit: www.weareabsolutelynotokay.org