Interview with Kathy Pooler, memoirist of Just the Way He Walked: A Mother’s Story of Healing and Hope

Thursday, November 14, 2019
Interview by Dorit Sasson

A faithful partner for WOW! Blog Tours, Kathy Pooler is a retired family nurse practitioner. Her mission is to give hope to parents and caregivers struggling with an addicted child.

She blogs weekly at Memoir Writer’s Journey. She already published one moving memoir and if you haven’t done so already, check out her second soon-to-be released memoir Just the Way He Walked in our chat below about her journey parenting an addicted child.


WOW: What was the biggest takeaway from writing your memoir about parenting an alcoholic son?

Kathy: Because this was a very painful story, I had to take frequent breaks to write the most truthful memoir. It was not a story I could stick with consistently. Earlier versions started with vignettes of different moments and scenarios and I decided to share them with my son, Brian.

In this sharing I found the courage to keep going and discovered the gift of healing. As hard as it was to face those difficult memories, I was heartened by Brian’s responses to my storytelling version. His response was affirming and deeply healing.

It would take many more years for him to accept his story in published book form. He would grapple with that and I grappled with that too because I did not want to jeopardize the relationship with my son. But I also didn’t want to give up on this important story the world needed to hear.

The biggest takeaway was that I never stopped loving and believing in Brian. No matter how far down in the abyss we had gone, I clung to hope through my faith that things would be better—that he would one day, find sobriety and I would find peace of mind.

WOW: Your insights into your mother-son journey are profound and powerful. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while writing a memoir?

Kathy: I got in touch with my tenacity and learned to use it to my advantage. I was determined to survive and thrive as a mother to an addicted child. I didn’t know how. During my son’s twenty-four years of active addiction, my biggest mistake was being in a state of denial which delayed my ability to educate myself about how to rise above the disease of addiction.

Education and support groups are critical. In my writing, I’ve challenged myself to dig deeper to face the hard truths and I found the courage to face recovery.

WOW: What a gift the writing process was for you both. How did you manage to stay the course of memoir writing once you started experiencing self-doubt especially in light of the painful and difficult memories?

Kathy: As I’ve mentioned, I had many starts and stops along the way of writing this memoir. I decided to take as long as Brian and I needed to get the memoir ready for publication.

It would take many years to discover my compelling story. But for that to happen, I had to let the story evolve naturally. How does a single mother cope with seeing her son spiral downward from addiction? When I experienced self-doubt, I tried refocusing on my purpose for writing the story—to share the hope with other parents of addicted children. Being fueled by the hope, became my “WHY” for pushing through with the writing. I had also set the condition that Brian had to be totally on board with me publishing my story.

When I was in the throes of Brian’s active drinking, I felt isolated and alone. Now I know there’s a better way through community resources and support groups.

WOW: It just goes to show you how much we can accomplish when we get out of our way and rally the right support—makes a huge difference. Curious to know how your background and career in nursing helped you cope with your son's alcohol abuse and recovery.

Kathy: Interesting question as one would assume that my master’s prepared nursing background would guide me through this. But in my case, I was so overwhelmed by the circumstances of being a single parent and having an addicted son that I lost all objectivity.

Despite overwhelm, I eventually learned to reach out and take advantage of available resources. There was so much more I needed to learn so I could cope in a healthier way.

"This memoir started with writing vignettes in 1999—twenty years ago ... each revision forced me to dig deeper into the heart of the story."

WOW: Good for you for recognizing your need for support! What was the revision process like and how did it differ from your first memoir? Were you drawn to reading other memoirs on alcoholism?

Kathy: Unlike my first memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead, this memoir went through many revisions. And while this memoir was difficult to write, in many ways it was easier because it was just about me.

I did fear repercussions from my ex-husband and his wife but that never materialized. He died of cirrhosis two months after my first memoir was published in 2014. The sensitivities related to my son and his acceptance of the story delayed the writing process with the second memoir.

Brian wanted to be helpful, but he also had to face his truth to the story. Up until just four months ago, I honestly did not even know whether we’d be able to move forward with publication. We spent endless hours on the phone poring over sections he had issues with. In many cases, it was a word or description that stymied him. It was a fine line for me as I wanted to be open to his suggestions without losing the intent of the story. Together, we negotiated and even compromised. In some cases, I removed or changed the wording or a sentence. I wanted him to feel his input was valued but in the end, he proclaimed, “I see that this is your story, Mom. I’ve been so caught up with my own issues that I didn’t see it. Now I do. Go for it!”

What a relief, well-worth the long wait. (This memoir started with writing vignettes in 1999—twenty years ago.) I will add that each revision forced me to dig deeper into the heart of the story.

WOW: Twenty years is a long time to wait, wow. What advice would you offer writers who are drawn to the genre of memoir yet experience difficulties when it comes to telling their painful yet important stories?

Kathy: Probably the single most important factor in being able to plow through the pain of telling a difficult story is to be clear on your purpose for writing it—this will provide the fuel for the long journey. My “why” for writing this memoir constantly surfaced and evolved.

Here are some suggestions:
  • Self-care – a necessary essential for the long haul. This includes breaks including counseling, or even permission to work on another project in the interim.
  • Courage to expose your vulnerabilities. Authentic sharing of your vulnerabilities will align your truths with the right reader.
  • Professional development including a memoir writing class. There are many opportunities online. Join a critique group in your area or online to receive feedback on your writing.

Writing a memoir is hard work. Knowing that information upfront will help set expectations. Take the necessary time to set yourself up for success from the start.

"Authentic sharing of your vulnerabilities will align your truths with the right reader."

Find out more about Kathy by visiting her website at


Dorit Sasson is an award-winning author of the memoir Accidental Soldier and the upcoming Sand and Steel: A Memoir of Longing and Finding Home. As a book marketing and writing coach specializing in nonfiction, she helps authors use SEO more effectively to get the word out about their books and build their platforms effectively. She hails from Pittsburgh. Email her at sassondorit[at]gmail[dot]com.

Dorit also teaches for WOW! Women on Writing. Check out her upcoming class, Polish Your Memoir in 5 Weeks.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Dorit ~ Thank you for doing this interview. :)

Kathy ~ Congratulations on your latest memoir! You're such an inspiration. I cannot believe you started writing it twenty years ago, and I applaud you for persistence and tenacity. It sounds like it was extremely tough to write, and I can't imagine having to clear it with someone. I'm so glad your son came around eventually and encouraged you to go for it. I'm currently writing a memoir, and I struggle with telling a difficult story and am constantly reminding myself of my WHY. I was nodding when you wrote that. Alcohol memoirs are my favorite--I've read them all, and have a personal interest in the topic--but yours is written from a unique perspective, and one that is as important as the alcoholic. I can't wait to read your memoir! :)

kathleen pooler said...

Thank you, Angela! I appreciate your interest in my memoir and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Thank you for sharing your memoir perspective. Last spring I attempted an essay which turned into a memoir, now stalled. Remember the WHY. Definitely what I needed to hear. Thank you!

Evelyn Krieger said...

Congratulations, Kathleen on not only publishing your memoir but on overcoming the struggles and doubts along the way. Your honesty, integrity, and tenacity are admirable and inspiring. I write memoir and persona essays--no book in mind--but find fiction, particularly novels, a safer way me to wrestle with those true experiences.

Linda K. Thomas said...

Kathy! I'm celebrating with you! Rejoicing! WoooHOOOOOOO! I knew you'd get this memoir published! Since I've already read your book, I can assure others that you have an important message for so many people and families today. You share your HOPE, your wisdom, your love, and your faith. Your memoir is a real treasure.

kathleen pooler said...

Hi Sue,, thanks for sharing your story and congratulations on bringing your memoir to fruition. As I mentioned, I had many “stall” times. I thought of it as letting the story marinate until I could revisit it with new eyes. Best wishes plowing forward. Memoir writing is hard work but so worth it!

kathleen pooler said...

Thanks, Evelyn. Fiction is a very reasonable option and can eventually lead to a memoir. But only if that’s what feels right to you. Best wishes with your writing.

kathleen pooler said...

Oh, Linda, you have accompanied me on every step of this arduous journey and I am deeply grateful. So happy we can share in the publication of both our memoirs! I loved your memoir too. Truly gifts we give to one another.

Jackie Rod said...

Kathy, I was touched by this beautiful, poignant story of your struggle and your son's struggle to make this memoir so honest. Addiction is a horrific way of life. It can destroy the addicted and the loved ones. Kudos to both of you for sharing your path out of darkness into light again. I'm buying the book today.

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