Elizabeth HeiseDiscover the truest version of you.

I am a writer who believes in the healing power of telling our stories. The physical act of getting your past out of your body and onto the page changes you. Lightens you. Even if you choose to share it with no one at all. It’s out. And that’s huge. It takes some courage to walk straight into the weeds of your past and pull them out at the root. When you do, you will have cleared ground upon which to grow a joyful life. Discovering who we are beneath what has happened to us allows us to fully inhabit ourselves and find authentic connection with others. By sharing my story, I invite you to write your own. Find your true self again. Be set free.

Growing up, I had the distinct impression that I needed to hide who I was and what went on in my family. We were so different from everyone else in Albuquerque. And to a little kid, different equaled bad. As the child of Jewish hippies from San Francisco, we didn’t do anything like our Catholic, mostly Mexican-American neighbors did. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches on ten pound brown bread remained in the paper bag at lunchtime while my classmates ate the normal food: frito pie hot lunch or bologna rolled in homemade tortillas. When I noticed my favorite sparkly beaded vest was drawing stares at school —and not in a good way—I chucked in in the bathroom bin. My first order of business was to figure out who I needed to be to fit in.

So I learned to hide in plain sight. Any child of hippie parents knows you don’t go around telling people your mom gave birth on the living room floor with your dad as the only labor attendant. And you definitely leave out the part where four year old you served as the entire neonatal unit for your newborn sister. I learned to keep our life secret, tossing out the worst of my groovy wardrobe and hatching a plan to go mainstream as soon as I could break free from my parents. I set about becoming the perfect student and popular kid who teachers praised and peers respected. Then, I would feel worthy, right? All I had to do was bury my wacky home life and act like everyone else.

Education became my way out and stories about other kids’ controlling their own destinies inspired me. Watching Bugsy Malone in the theater had me jonesing for my own whipped cream filled machine gun and a gang of fearless kids to run with. It’s a sad fact that our parents’ split trickled down to my siblings and me. We couldn’t be that gang for each other even though we faced similar struggles. Instead, the four of us fought like dogs. But when we all hovered around Mom as she read us stories on our mustard colored couch, there was no better place to be. The snowy fantasy world of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the gripping suspense of A Wrinkle in Time had us spellbound.

One evening, I was so wrapped up in Meg’s frustration at being ostracized by her peers and longing to conform that I ignored the churning in my stomach after a dinner of cheddar walnut loaf. I threw up all over the couch and everyone scattered and screamed.

“Why didn’t you tell me you felt sick?” mom asked as she tossed a towel over the mess.

“I didn’t want to miss anything,” I said.

Later, as a teenager, dysfunction spun our unconventional family into chaos. I stayed up all night, consoled by the hardship of those boys in The Outsiders. Mourning the unfair treatment Ponyboy suffered from not belonging and the heartache of losing his parents made me feel better. Books were my refuge from a home life that deteriorated more with each passing year.

During solitary moments, I journaled, smoothing down the first page of a series of blank, flowered-fabric books, feverishly detailing the events of my life. I always ended with the same question: “what is the meaning of all this?” The answer didn’t come and my story stopped cold.

And then, after half a lifetime of attempts to belong, having reached the apex of conformity as a highly compensated business litigation attorney, getting married to the perfect guy and becoming a mom to three gorgeous kids, I realized that no matter what I accomplished, I still hadn’t tapped my true potential. I looked the part of a successful and found that it didn’t suit me. I wasn’t doing the work I was meant to do. It was only when a dear friend dragged me to a writing workshop that I truly understood what Joan Didion meant when she said “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

The instructor gave us a simple prompt which became a doorway into my story. After a few minutes, she asked who would like to share their piece. My heart raced, my skin grew hot and a smile spread across my face. This is what it meant to be alive. I was a writer.

I tore through as many writing classes and workshops as I could, soaking up the genius of talented authors around the country and Central America (thank you Joyce Maynard!) to convert my style from legal to creative. My first manuscript, Scrappy, was completed during the interminable summer of the pandemic. Each week, I share a new story with subscribers to elizabethheise.com. You are invited to join us.

I live in Miami with three witty teenagers and a sweet lawyer husband who still manages to delight in the rigors of litigation.