MELODY BEATTIE'S son died in a skiing accident when he was 12 years old. This was in January 1991. For a long time, Beattie hurt. She hurt so much, she says, it felt as if someone had taken a shotgun and blasted a hole in her heart.
Sometimes she wanted to be with Shane in death. She just couldn't stand being so far away from him. But always she was torn, because she has a daughter, too. She didn't want to leave Nicole. There seemed no end to her despair.Beattie didn't know how to help herself, which is ironic because in some circles her name is synonymous with self-help. She has become known for working on personal problems and solving them.
Before Shane died, Beattie had built a career out of recovering from unhealthy relationships. Her first book, "Codependent No More," defined the problem of codependency for many Americans. Codependency means being addicted to someone who is in turn addicted to a substance, like alcohol or drugs, or being emotionally involved to an unhealthy degree.
As Beattie was busy defining unhealthy relationships for her readers, she defined the problem for herself, too. While writing the book she realized it was time to give up on her marriage to an alcoholic husband.
For a time after her divorce, she and her two children lived on welfare. Through her writing, Beattie eventually was able to support her family. She repaid the welfare department. She and her children grew stronger and closer together. The late 1980s were the most peaceful years she had ever known. It was a peace she had pretty much created for herself.
Now, Beattie is on tour promoting her latest book, about what happened after Shane died. Called "Lessons of Love," its subtitle illuminates the changes she has gone through: "Rediscovering Our Passion for Life When It All Seems Too Hard to Take."
Beattie spoke with the Deseret News in a telephone interview just before coming to Salt Lake City for an appearance at A Woman's Place Bookstore. She talked about why "Lessons of Love" is a departure from her previous works.
"Lessons of Love" is not a self-help book per se, she says, because while there is self-help for addiction or for codependency, she has no methodical guide for grief.
To cure yourself of dependency, you can follow a logical 12-step program, she says. When grief hits, however, you can no longer control your path through life. You are suddenly on a madly careening roller coaster. "You can't even hold on to the edge. You have to just put your hands in the air and go."
"Lessons of Love" details each twist and turn and plummet in her life. The reader, just as she did, often wonders where the dismal tale is leading.
After her child died, Beattie couldn't work, couldn't manage her finances. Nicole began abusing alcohol and drugs. Mother and daughter fought. For a long time Beattie thought her hard-won peace, the contentment she had found before Shane's death, would elude her for the rest of her life.
But what is encouraging about her story is that it didn't. She found peace, and something even better. While the gaping hole of her heart opened her up for unbelievable pain, it also opened her to love and appreciation for life.
Beattie found she was helping herself, but not in quite the way she did before. She was helping herself by being more open.
After Shane died, Beattie started dating a man named Scotty, a man who wanted to be a knight for her, and who was for awhile. When they broke up, Beattie reacted by angrily throwing away all the gifts he'd ever given her. But in the midst of her housecleaning project, she thought of Shane and of the unconditional way she loved him the moment he was born. She thought, "Maybe it's time to stop throwing away gifts." For Beattie, love became more of a gift, less of a problem to be tidied up.
Today, Melody Beattie is a more mystical, less determinedly rational person than she used to be. In "Lessons of Love" she writes about wizards and talking birds and whispered messages. Today, Beattie is telling her readers, those codependents who have slogged their way through a recovery plan, that it's OK to relax. That if the worst happens and they find themselves back in a troubled relationship, they have the skills to rescue themselves.
Meanwhile, people should take more risks, welcome love and live in more magical ways.
"We are on a very rich emotional and physical journey on this planet," Beattie says. "So many of us have worked on ourselves so hard. It's OK to open up. We don't have to