My name is Tyra Manning and I am a grateful survivor. My story is one of recovery redemption and love. My new memoir, Where the Water Meets the Sand is that story. It is the story of my own personal journey, the story of falling in love with 1st Lt. James Larry Hull when we were young college students in Lubbock, Texas, marrying Larry and my struggles with mental illness after he deployed to Vietnam in 1970.
I feared I would lose Larry, like I had lost my dad who died of a heart attack when I was nine years old. My struggles grew worse. I struggled to take care of myself and our one-year-old daughter. I was drinking and cutting and binging and purging. Shortly after Larry left, I checked myself into the famous Menninger Clinic for long-term treatment in Topeka, Kansas, and was diagnosed with clinical depression.
While at the Menninger Clinic, my worst fear came true. Larry was killed in Laos and I was heartbroken even more when I learned his remains were not coming home. Somehow, I learned to get through each day and get better.
I fulfilled my promises to Larry to finish school and raise our daughter. I became a teacher, then principal, earned my doctorate at the University of Kansas and went on to become a school superintendent.
In 2006, Larry’s remains were recovered and I was able to keep my last promise to him. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The gifts of treasured stories
It hasn’t been easy. But, I have worked hard. I have taken the time to appreciate my journey along the way. I have listened carefully to the stories of others who also struggled.
I have been telling and listening to stories since childhood. When I was two years old, our family moved next door to a couple who had no children. They were like family. Our neighbor, Ida Mae, a former school teacher, taught me the gift of storytelling. Ida Mae not only told stories; she insisted that each time she told a true story, I had to tell one. Our shared storytelling was one of the most important and lovely gifts anyone ever gave me. It has continued to impact me to this day.
Writing as a Life Process
After Larry died, I promised myself that, one day, I would write about that time in my life. I wanted to be sure that our daughter, and others, knew about Larry and his amazing presence. As the years progressed, I wanted to share my story and give hope to others. I wanted to show the impact that amazing mental health treatment and getting sober made on my life.
This year, July 1, 2017, I will celebrate thirty-six years of sobriety, primarily because other recovering alcoholics welcomed me and, through their stories, gave me hope that I, too, could get sober.
Over the years, I developed a habit of writing things down that were lovely, shocking and sometimes just awful. Writing them down, seeing the words in black and white, often made it easier to get it out of my system. At times, I’d say a prayer as I burned my writing notes over the BBQ Grill in my own simple ritual of owning a situation, claiming it and then letting it go.
I’d write memories of Larry and notes to him if something troubled me or if I just missed him, after listening to his voice on the cassette tapes he’d sent from Vietnam. When Laura was going through her teenage years and I questioned my parenting skills, I’d write Larry notes seeking advice. The very act of writing Larry notes and questions often inspired answers in my mind’s eye.
I still have a yellow computer document about losing Larry that I wrote in 1984. It became the beginning of my book. Those were difficult days; it was thirteen years after Larry was killed. I was three years sober and our daughter was fifteen. Each time I read that document, I am grateful for where I have been and for when I am headed.
The most important thing I have learned through the years is that we all have stories, healing stories. The smallest and most insignificant stories, at the time they occur, can become some of our most important life lessons.
While writing my memoir, I included numerous stories about family, friends and even strangers. Many I had written earlier and kept in a cardboard box; some were childhood stories, others were written when I was a young woman, I haven’t stopped; I still write down true stories.
I have been humbled by the many strangers who comment on my book and tell me it has encouraged them, lovely people who have reached out to me after reading my memoir.
Everyone’s stories have value. When we share them, we come together. It diminishes the space between us. We learn that, regardless of our backgrounds, race or gender or age, our stories teach us we are more alike than different. We all have healing, loving, sad, courageous, happy and hopeful stories.
We all have important lessons, “aha!” moments and memories that our children, family and friends will cherish, if we write them down.