For over a year now, I have had the good fortune of calling Thelsuice Gonzalez a friend. In early 2015, Thel reached out to my university in search of a writer to help her with a memoir she had started. We got connected, and so began our friendship and collaboration.
Since we started working on her memoir together, I have been blown away by the depth of this woman’s experiences. It’s hard to believe that one person could go through so much hardship and come out on the other side—smiling and strong. It has been my honor to help Thelsuice tell her story, and I am grateful for the trust she put in me throughout this project.
The Purpose of Fear: A Survivor’s Memoir of Breaking Free tells the story of a happy childhood gone wrong. The abuse that Thelsuice endured in her younger years has been a dark shadow on her life, and it has taken many decades for Thel to learn that she did not have to live in fear any longer. But just when it seems like life is beginning to get brighter for Thelsuice and her daughter, tragedy strikes again.
In this interview, Thelsuice talks about the emotional hills and valleys of a long-term writing project, and what she’s gained from the process.
What made you decide to take on this memoir project?
When my oncologist told me I wasn’t going to have to go through chemotherapy, I was so relieved. Because of my pre-existing conditions, the doctor thought chemo was going to wipe me out, and I was responding well to the oral medication so she didn’t think it was necessary. I felt like I had a new lease on life. I thought about how to be productive and give back to the community, so I went to the Centre for Women in Hyde Park to speak to someone about opening a business. I sat down with a consultant and when she heard my story, she told me that I should write a book. From there, I dug in and started writing the earliest foundation of the book.
What did you expect from the process, and was anything different than you expected?
Honestly, I thought I did a good job before I met you. I went in thinking what I had written was enough. But you made me see how incorrect I was. You opened up a whole new world, and I learned so much working with you. It was good before, but there was so much material that I hadn’t thought about expanding on. You saw every single thing that could be expanded on, whether it was going to be used or not. When we were done, I realized how it was all important. I needed someone to pull it out of me, and that’s what you did. I needed someone to pull the information out of me, but I had no idea how much work that was going to take. I didn’t know what it really meant to explore and expand an area of my life story. Really, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
What was your favorite part about the process?
You made me think. That was one of the best parts. I had to sit down and think and remember. I wanted to be as accurate as possible with the information. The questions you asked brought so much more to the surface. I started to remember a lot more with you than when I was on my own. The more you pulled out of me, the more I remembered and the more content we had for the book. You pulled so much out of me that there’s enough left over for short stories or maybe even another book.
What surprised you about the process?
I didn’t know it was going to be so emotional. I expected it, but it became really emotional, especially towards the end when I was wrapping it up and making sure I had included everything I wanted. It had become something really different towards the end, and it was more emotional than I imagined. I have a love/hate relationship with writing now. It tugs at me now and makes me want to do more.
What do your friends and family think about the memoir?
Everyone thinks it’s really good. They know I can help so many people with this story, and they want other people to hear it. There are so many important themes and topics — breast cancer, abuse, the writing process.
Do you think writing this memoir helped you emotionally? Has writing it helped you get through and process some of the events of your past?
Most definitely. I have to honestly say that it helped me become more serious about other goals. This whole process taught me that I know how to get organized and be serious. I didn’t even finish college. Other than raising my daughter, I’ve never really followed through on anything, so this means a lot. Now I know how to complete a goal. I followed through with this. This is an accomplishment. Other people see that I finished something. That’s not who I was before.When we first met, I was a mess. I was still spiraling from the cancer and trying to recover. I felt very vulnerable. I thought it was going to be easy, but it pulled a lot out of me. There were times I wanted to quit.
What’s next for you?
I’m really, really excited about life coaching. I’m ready to spread the word about how happy I am. I’m ready to help someone, so they don’t have to go through what I did. I don’t feel the same way I did back then. I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve the way I used to. I handle things much differently now. I feel liberated. I still have my concerns but I don’t obsess and worry about the small stuff anymore like I used to.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I would encourage people to write. I never thought I would say that. I was all about going to work and making money so I could pay my bills. That was always my main goal. Of course, I still want to be stable, but now I think about doing other things — meaningful things. It’s not just about doing stuff for the sake of being busy.
Of course, I take care of my daughter and go to the store. But I do other things with my time that I enjoy, like creating a website, reading, researching. I cater to the other side of me that I’ve been neglecting all this time. I am doing more meaningful work. We shouldn’t mistake activity with achievement. I used to be really busy, going to job fairs, redoing my resume, taking extra training. I always stayed positive. But all of that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I had great skills but I still didn’t get a full-time job. I still got cancer. Now, all of this — working with you to write this book — it helped me to see that there’s another way. Instead of always taking the straight and narrow path, now I feel strong enough to veer off and be creative. And I still get things done.
Top photo: Flickr/Kymberly Fergusson
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Carmella de los Angeles Guiol is a writer and educator living in South Florida. She has traveled to five continents and has worked as an artisan baker, organic farmer, and deck hand on a luxury sailboat. You can often find her kayaking the Hillsborough River, but you can always find her at www.therestlesswriter.com / @xRestlessWriter.