WHAT MY BONES KNOW rating: four stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.
CW: child abuse.
Got deep trauma? Feel like true healing is impossible? You need to read this stunning memoir, WHAT MY BONES KNOW, by radio producer and journalist Stephanie Foo (Ballantine/Penguin Random House, February 21, 2023). She explains how she ended up with complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and the myriad therapies and tactics that she tried for many years to stop falling into trigger traps and sabotaging her own life.
The author trying to meditate is so me.
I think about something simple…a block of fresh, soft, white tofu. For twenty seconds, I succeed….Mmm, tofu. What should I eat for dinner? Wait, damn it! Okay fine. I’ll focus on my breathing instead. Out. In. Out. In. Was I able to breathe as much as I should? Why did it feel like I didn’t get enough air into my lungs? Why did it feel like I was wheezing? Was I wheezing? Is something wrong with my lungs? Do I have lung cancer? I must be dying. That’s the only explanation for it. I never had my will notarized. I should probably get it notarized. Am I okay with dying? I never got to scuba dive in a coral reef. Now all the coral reefs are dying because of global warming. If I have lung cancer, there’s no way they’re going to let me scuba dive.Stephanie Foo, What My Bones Know p. 120.
Buddhist monks train the “monkey mind” through meditation. I am not a Buddhist monk, and my monkey mind is on cocaine or something because the gray matter chatter never stops.
Like a true journalist, Foo researches the heck out of her own trauma and the generational trauma of Asian immigrant families. Like a true podcast producer, she puts lots of smart people in front of the microphone to see what they can teach her. Her findings are fascinating and, for me, a revelation on many levels. Some of us may never fully heal, but Foo is a great communicator determined to learn to cope creatively in those areas where full healing may not happen. In order to do that, she must learn to let go of her perfectionism (me too, girl, me too).
The modern magnum opus on trauma is THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE: BRAIN, MIND, AND BODY IN THE HEALING OF TRAUMA by Bessel van der Kolk (Penguin Random House, 2014), which is referenced in this book. This was the first book that made me think I could actually grow and thrive despite the deep grooves that trauma had worn into my brain.
Lauren Hough was abused in a cult as a child, and her memoir, LEAVING ISN’T THE HARDEST THING (Penguin Random House, 2021), shares many themes with this memoir. Hough tends to be hard on reviewers who don’t give her five stars, so I’m not telling you what this book rates in my opinion.
For more on growing up as a child of Asian immigrant parents, the impact of complicated relationships with those parents, and being very, very driven, I recommend actor Simu Liu‘s book WE WERE DREAMERS (HarperCollins, 2022). Liu is Chinese and Foo is Malaysian, but Foo examines a range of Asian immigrant experiences, and many of Liu’s insights came back to me as I read WHAT MY BONES KNOW.
What I’m reading right now:
What I’m listening to right now:
DEMON COPPERHEAD by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Audio, 2022) because I heard that Charlie Thurston’s narration was great. Boy is it ever, but talk about triggering some personal trauma! Reading the text was much easier–and yet I can’t stop listening. DEMON COPPERHEAD will be out in paperback in February 2024.