If I Could Just Make It Stop: Alternatively Titled “The Hardest Year of My Life, but Not the Worst.”

What is the distinction between “hardest” and “worst”?

Hard often equals some kind of progress that will follow.

Worst equals bottom.

My bottom in my life was Christmas Eve 2009.

Still, even the word bottom implies that an ascent must follow.

We either move in a straight line,  we move downward, or we move upward.

These are the only options available to us.

For a long time, I was moving down, down, down.

I was living this song.

“If I could just make it stop, I could tell the whole world to get out of the way.”

I keep thinking of Roxane Gay’s review of my book. She wrote, “Sundberg’s honesty is astonishing, how she laid so much of herself bare, how she did not demonize a man who deserves to be demonized. Instead, she offers a portrait of a broken man and a broken marriage and an abiding love, what it took to set herself free from it all. In shimmering, open hearted prose, she shows that it took everything.”

I keep thinking of the way she described me as “open hearted.”

My heart is still open.

One of the things that people tell me the most is how stunned they are that I am still so open hearted.

I want to say to them, “Why shouldn’t I be?”

My heart was at its hardest during the most painful parts of my marriage. There is an entire chapter of my book titled “A Hard Heart.” The hardness didn’t save me. It only made me immune to the pain that I would have otherwise fled.

A hard heart stays.

An open heart feels enough pain to know when to leave.


If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop.

My dissertation advisor took me out for a drink to celebrate the arrival of my book ARCs.

I told him that during the worst of the book, I could only write at night because I couldn’t bear to articulate the words in daylight. I was constantly fatigued from lack of sleep. He seemed to understand, and I realized how comfortable I am telling him about my life. He has been a stable and consistent male mentor in my life.

If my heart is going to be open to men, I have to be able to trust some of them, and I’m grateful for the friendships with men that I have cultivated in the past few years.

I have had to grapple with a lot of anger in the past year. Anger at our country. Anger at Caleb. Anger at abuse enablers. Anger at myself.

Writing my book was hard. I had to sit in my own anger and try to turn it into beauty.

I was living in darkness.

At night, while Reed slept peacefully downstairs, I wrote, and sobbed, and wrote, then crawled into bed exhausted. I woke up in the mornings-—a shell—drove Reed to school and taught my classes, then came home and fell into deep naps in the afternoons.

In Vermont when I was at my writer’s residency, I wrote in my studio with the Gihon River flowing outside my window in darkness.

I walked back to my room in the dim early, morning light. The silence was such that my heart cracked open at the beauty of it.

I stopped crying so much. I started sleeping again.

And then the book was finished.

I spent some time this past summer outside of Seattle with a friend of mine who is a therapist. She does exposure therapy, and she said, “In a way, you’re doing exposure therapy to yourself with your book.”

Reliving trauma is not the same as living through trauma, but it’s pretty damn close.

If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop. If I could just make it stop.

And then I did.

I made it stop.

I hit “send” on the final document, and I cried again, but for a different reason this time.

And my heart cracked open.

I am no longer so angry.

I know that joy, like suffering, is transient, and in some ways, joy is bittersweet because of its inevitable loss.

But for now, I’m just going to sit in this joy. I don’t even have to try and transform it into beauty because it already is.

My heart is open to all of it.




Book Stuff

I’m updating my website in bits and pieces, and I’m planning on writing a more thoughtful post about turning 40 (my birthday was yesterday) while my book publication is on the horizon.

Unfortunately, I spent my 40th birthday sick with food poisoning, but as a friend pointed out, it can only go up from here, right?

And shortly before my 40th birthday, my book received this review from Roxane Gay. I can’t imagine a better way to turn 40 than with receiving an endorsement like this for a project I’ve thrown my entire being into.

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Some other early praise:

“Goodbye, Sweet Girl is a breathtaking gut-punch of a memoir. Real talk: the story is hard. We spend so much time pretending that domestic violence doesn’t exist. We spend so much time doubting women. Enough. Sundberg gives us the truth in all its complexity; fear and hope and fury in gorgeous, near-cinematic prose that made me weep, and cheer, and understand. Here is how we save ourselves. Here is how we survive.”— Megan Stielstra, author of The Wrong Way to Save Your Life

“In her stunning memoir, Kelly Sundberg examines the heart-breaking bonds of love, detailing her near decade-long marriage’s slide into horrific abuse. Sundberg shares her own confusions, fears and empathy for her violent husband, even as she comes to realize he will never change. This is an immensely courageous story that will break your heart, leave you in tears, and, finally, offer hope and redemption. Brava, Kelly Sundberg.”—Rene Denfeld, author of The Child Finder

“A fierce, frightening, soulful reckoning—Goodbye, Sweet Girl is an expertly rendered memoir that investigates why we stay in relationships that hurt us, and how we survive when we leave them. Kelly Sundberg is a force. She has written the rare book that has the power to change lives.”—Christa Parravani, author of Her: A Memoir

As a reminder, the book will be released on June 5, 2018, and is available for pre-order here.


Here is my publisher’s book description copy:

In this brave and beautiful memoir, written with the raw honesty and devastating openness of The Glass Castle and The Liar’s Club, a woman chronicles how her marriage devolved from a love story into a shocking tale of abuse—examining the tenderness and violence entwined in the relationship, why she endured years of physical and emotional pain, and how she eventually broke free.

“You made me hit you in the face,” he said mournfully. “Now everyone is going to know.” “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

Kelly Sundberg’s husband, Caleb, was a funny, warm, supportive man and a wonderful father to their little boy Reed. He was also vengeful and violent. But Sundberg did not know that when she fell in love, and for years told herself he would get better. It took a decade for her to ultimately accept that the partnership she desired could not work with such a broken man. In her remarkable book, she offers an intimate record of the joys and terrors that accompanied her long, difficult awakening, and presents a haunting, heartbreaking glimpse into why women remain too long in dangerous relationships.

To understand herself and her violent marriage, Sundberg looks to her childhood in Salmon, a small, isolated mountain community known as the most redneck town in Idaho. Like her marriage, Salmon is a place of deep contradictions, where Mormon ranchers and hippie back-to-landers live side-by-side; a place of magical beauty riven by secret brutality; a place that takes pride in its individualism and rugged self-sufficiency, yet is beholden to church and communal standards at all costs.

Mesmerizing and poetic, Goodbye, Sweet Girl is a harrowing, cautionary, and ultimately redemptive tale that brilliantly illuminates one woman’s transformation as she gradually rejects the painful reality of her violent life at the hands of the man who is supposed to cherish her, begins to accept responsibility for herself, and learns to believe that she deserves better.

And finally, though I didn’t get to spend my birthday drinking cocktails with umbrellas in them, I was able to suck down a Sprite today, and now, I’m feeling mostly recovered.

I think 40 looks pretty good on me.


39 was the year that I hunkered down and really wrote this book; it was a shadow year.

A period of gestation.

I’m ready to bloom now.

Please join me.