024: Larry Ruhl – Writing a Memoir to Heal From the Past

Writing in a Monastery with Monks

Larry Ruhl is the author of a very powerful memoir, Breaking the Ruhls: A Memoir, a beautiful story about going through trauma from sexual abuse, living in shame and guilt, and taking the courage to stand up and speak out.

Even during the editing stage, Larry was still rattled by his own story. It wasn’t just any other story. It was his personal journey. Ultimately, the message he wants to come across is that you can shed shame and that healing is possible. Now, he’s ready to stand up, speak up, and share his story!

[01:10] Writing Breaking the Ruhls at a Monastery

Larry grew up in a family where writing wasn’t encouraged. When he decided to start using writing as an instrument for shedding shame and dealing with his past experiences, he remembers feeling nervous. Since he didn’t feel safe writing at his own home, he ended up going to a Russian Orthodox monastery, which resonated with him. So he spent 3-4 nights there at a nominal fee. He was also helping out with the chores during his stay. There were 11 monks in the monastery. Following their structure, gave him some time to clear his head, using three hours each day to just write in the safety of his room.

During his first night, he was having a conversation with the monks over dinner and told them about writing as his purpose of being there. Then he began asking questions and each of them was sharing something that showed him he was in the right place and that he was safe. Not only did they provide safety, but they understood different components of why he was there and what he needed to talk about. That’s when he knew he made the right choice.

[04:23] Fears in Writing the Memoir

Larry shares there were many fears, looking like different monsters. And since writing his book, he has unfolded those fears, which have morphed from different places. One of his biggest fears, when he was starting to write the memoir, was knowing he was going to put himself in a vulnerable spot by exposing things like sexual abuse, his sexual identity, and addiction. So putting all this out to the world made him made him think about his safety and people judging him. He also wondered whether he’d be able to shed some shame, which was what he really hoped for that’s why he wrote the book in the first place.

As a result, Larry has gotten great feedback about his book. What was more moving for him was his grade school friends promoting his book. He also got a moving message from a next-door neighbor.

[08:30] Choosing Which Things to Write About

Larry explains he included so many stories at that time he was in the monastery which he thought were really important. But when editing came, the first round of decisions was based on whether it was relevant to the message he was trying to get out or would just distract the reader instead. Plus, working with an editor has forced him to look at those things.

Next, the selection process came from a place of re-reading the story and assessing whether a particular part was hurting anyone or whether he was putting anyone in a difficult position. He was looking at whether he has chosen his language carefully. He was again asking himself whether it was necessary for the message of the book. Ultimately, his message was to shed shame and that healing is possible.

[11:11] The Hardest Part About Writing the Memoir

Larry describes writing those parts of his life was tough. So much of that time, he was trying to move on, forgetting that he was still taking it with him wherever he goes. And every time he’d make a move or thought he had made progress or he was shedding something, he still found his way there. He remembers going through this back in New York City – running, moving, and trying to do something. Then he would succumb to moments of depression without understanding where it was coming from. Larry says living through them is one thing, but then writing the book and having to go back into the mindset of what it felt like and trying to find the words to say what that felt like was so hard.

[14:00] Making the Final Decision to Write the Book

When he first sat down to write, it was his way to tackle Father’s day, which he describes as a tricky holiday for him. So he used the said occasion hoping he’d be able to shift those feelings that kept on coming up each year. Three and a half years ago, he just sat and purged for a few hours. The challenge, however, was that he felt compelled to drink right after. So he put his writing down for about six months until he entered the monastery to go and write. The bulk of the story came out initially but when the process started setting, his friend suggested he had to work with an editor to help him pull everything apart and look at it.

Working with an Editor

Working with an editor, he would get a 12-page report on the rough draft of the manuscript. He took the criticism well but at the very end, the editor told him he although he told a very good story, he needed to go back and show readers how it felt. At that time, he wasn’t really sure he wanted to do that. For him, this was the turning point for him to make the decision that he was going to pursue this as a book. In his ego, he really thought he had done the hard part of writing 90,000 words. He thought he was ready.

Taking It Chapter by Chapter

So the editing became a 6-month process where the editor worked with him one chapter at a time. They didn’t move on to chapter two until chapter one was finished and polished. And this helped to curtail his impatience and this allowed him to really focus on the particular chapter. The downside of this, however, was re-living and re-experiencing those moments of the chapter. For him, she was the first person to really talk to him about his parents, including the loving parts. And this was a real shift in terms of having to talk about how it really felt as she was asking him to connect to the love he felt for his parents. This was very emotional and difficult for him considering he had a mentally ill mother and a sexually abusive father. So he needed to shed light on where he came from and what the good moments looked like, which were also a very important part of his story. Gradually, he began to untangle the threads of his story and be able to talk about those now.

[19:35] The Next Step of Sharing It to the World

Larry had signed with an agent who was talking to him through the whole process. In fact, she was the one who introduced him to the editor. So when he finished the first manuscript with the editor and gave it back to the agent, things took a shift. It took her a long time to read and when she called the meeting, Larry was actually uncertain that she had read the manuscript because the suggestions coming up didn’t relate to what he had given her. This was an awakening moment for him being able to stand up for himself. The agent wanted him to add humor and so he terminated things with her. A few months after, he finally got another agent. He made a plan of what he saw for his book and where it would land and how it would unfold. Finally, he got the book sold in just a few weeks.

Publishing the Book

Larry signed the contract with the publisher in November 2016 and the book came out in January 2018. For him, the waiting game was agonizing. He still kept mum about the book, not telling friends about it. The tricky part for him was that each time the publisher made an edit, or suggested a change, they’d send it back to him and ask him to read the whole manuscript. And it was difficult for him to re-read his own story each time. He would still end up getting emotional and had to put down the book several times. Larry says there would still be times that he would get rattled by his own story. In this whole process, Larry learned a lot about patience, trusting, and for letting people do what they’re meant to do.

Larry admits not having shared the bulk of his story until he wrote the book, although he did share some bits and pieces here and there. But the comprehensive story of what happened all throughout, no one really knew except for his partner, which came in fragments for him. His partner read the first draft and he had a hard time as well, but he never faltered.

[26:35] Talking About Intimacy and Relationships

Larry says intimacy and his relationship with his partner continued to evolve and change. When he was writing about his struggles, he couldn’t be inside his house. And he found that even in the editing process, he needed to get out of his home. He felt it was the only way he could get a clear perspective of what he needed to say. And to really go deep into how his experience has affected intimacy and relationships, this has thrown him off a bit. Even just being able to say out loud that he was a gay man who was sexually abused by his dad would throw him off a bit.

[28:25] Being Ready to Tackle Tough Questions

Larry shares having his first book reading and there were a lot of people that showed up. In fact, he admits it was the first time he would be face-to-face with a crowd of people. There were a few questions that he found challenging but he felt ready for those tough questions. He says it was partly because he was ready to share his story in the hope of showing people that you can heal, shed shame, and recover. He felt ready to tackle all the tough questions. It was tough but he felt ready in his heart to stand by his story.

A Feeling of Empowerment and Maturity

He shared once whether people would believe him and unless you’re a victim of abuse, you don’t really quite understand the feelings of guilt that come from abuse. Having spoken up, Larry feels empowered in some ways. But at the same time, he admits feeling having matured and settled into his adulthood. He feels as if his entire childhood experience is in this container. And he now has this place where all of that can reside and he can stand outside of it now. He felt prepared and ready to do that.

A Sense of Fortification

Moreover, every time he hears from other survivors and told him they went through the same thing too, Larry says this fortifies him and that he had made the right decision. Right before he signed the publishing contract, he had a real moment. He couldn’t find the contract and went back to this “young” place and asked himself whether he was doing the right thing. He found himself weighing out whether he should continue to protect his pedophile father or does he put the story out in the hope of helping other people. And then he had that real shift.

[32:10] The Future of Writing

Larry felt that it was his job to get the book done and to put it out to the universe and be a resource for anyone who might need it and get something from it. Now that it’s out, he feels it’s his job to support it in any way he’s called upon to do. And this is where he’s at right now. He did think he was ready to write another book and that it was speaking to him. But he’s not sure if he’s really to jump in but he’s hoping to start it this year. Being a creative guy, he also continues to explore different forms of artwork. Creating spaces is part of who he is.

An idea for his next book as this was often asked to him was how the day-to-day would look like for somebody who has suffered trauma or abuse. How would one survive and navigate through their day?

[35:15] Impacting Other Survivors

People expressing how the book impacted them was very powerful for Larry. He also loves how his story resonates with both men and women. Another new yet powerful thing for him too was people coming up to him and sharing how they’ve also been sexually abused by their fathers. And for him, having those conversations and connections is just so powerful.

Finally, Larry lists down some resources for people seeking support:

Episode Resources:

Breaking the Ruhls

Larry recommends these for those also hiding in shame and seeking out help:

For men: 1in6.org

For women: Taking Back Ourselves

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network)

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024: Larry Ruhl - Writing a Memoir to Heal From the Past024: Larry Ruhl - Writing a Memoir to Heal From the Past

024: Larry Ruhl - Writing a Memoir to Heal From the Past