Cheryl Strayed, a New York Times best seller and author of “Wild,” spoke about losing loved ones and self-discovery in a talk on campus Wednesday.
During Strayed’s childhood in Minnesota, she said she grew up with a love for reading and wrote her first poem when she was 6 years old. She was on campus as a part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
Strayed’s father was abusive, and she said she and her mother went through many difficulties, including financial hardships, but were always happy.
She described her mother as a vibrant person.
“We are not poor. We are rich in love,” Strayed said, quoting her mother.
One of the benefits of attending the University of St. Thomas, Strayed said, was parents could take classes for free. Strayed paid for her own education until she could not afford the private tuition and then transferred to the University of Minnesota. Her mother transferred to a different school as well.
In 1991, Strayed’s mother passed away from lung cancer. After her death, Strayed said she thought about dropping out of school and tried to figure out a way to live without her mother. Strayed said she felt like the world was over and there would never be a person who loved her as much as her mother.
“After losing significant ones in life, people either bond in the sorrow then move forward, or they fall apart,” she said. “I fell apart. I started to self-distract. I met a guy in Portland and started to use heroin.”
While she was using drugs, Strayed said she felt she could live without her mother, but after time she realized drugs only made her life worse.
Strayed said she began to realize she was not paying tribute to her mother’s memory and was only ruining her life, not making it better.
“After three years, I started to think about how profoundly I failed,” Strayed said. “How could I bear the way I was living? I realized that I was ruining her life.”
A single novel changed Strayed’s life as she went from drug addict to published author in “record time.”
While waiting in line to buy a shovel in the store to dig her truck out of the snow, Strayed said she saw a book, “Pacific Crest Trail California” and decided to take a long hike and become a backpacker.
“I shut down my life in Minnesota and found myself in the Mojave Desert,” Strayed said. “It was the first time I was alone sitting in a motel room surrounded by people I didn’t know.”
After her travels, Strayed said she was ready to begin again. She kept a journal about her travels, but did not think to write a book until 2008 when she said she decided, “I have a life worth a memoir.”
Strayed said she slowly began to figure out a way to live in a world with herself and the mistakes and decisions she had made. She said her memoir is about a woman moving forward and finding her way back home when she was lost.