Toby Dorr: Hello and welcome to Fierce Conversations with Toby. The show where we talk about the hard things. I’m Toby Dorr. In today’s episode, we’ll experience the journey of overcoming childhood abandonment. Our guest today is Moira Dadd, author of the international bestselling memoir, Cherishing Me Letters to a Motherless Child. Maura is passionate about helping people make a deep loving and healing relationship with themselves and to connect profoundly with their inner child. She also believes that through healing our own traumas, we help heal the trauma of humanity and the entire planet. Welcome Moira. I’m so delighted to have you here with us today.
Moira Dadd: Thank you, Toby. I’m thrilled to be here.
Toby Dorr: You’re welcome. I’m glad to have you. You’re my first international guest. Maura lives in the UK. And she’s joining us in spite of a big time difference. So I’m pretty excited about that I like to ask all my guests a question that gives us a peek into who you are What’s your favorite color and what does that tell us about you?
Moira Dadd: Yeah, this was a hard one, Toby, because I just love all colors. So I’m wearing this lovely green
Toby Dorr: I love that green.
Moira Dadd: I feel that this represents nature. It’s Easter time, it’s new growth, new beginnings, new season. And this is like nature and, you know, all sorts of new growth and blossoming. And I love it.
Toby Dorr: Good. I like green too. It is. And that’s a beautiful green. There are so many shades of green, but that’s a really happy, bright color.
Moira Dadd: Thank you. It’s great, isn’t it? And because I’m passionate about growing and new beginnings, fresh opportunities.
Toby Dorr: And that’s definitely green for sure. So can you tell us about a crossroads in your life that pushed you in a different direction?
Moira Dadd: Yes, I can. I can remember after the birth of my first son, so 42 years ago, I can remember having postnatal depression. Do you call it postpartum depression in the US?
Toby Dorr: Yes, I think we call it postpartum.
Moira Dadd: Postpartum, yeah, and it was, it was pretty severe, so my mother had killed herself with what we assume is the same postpartum psychosis, we think, and I remember feeling so bad. I was standing in the kitchen of my home, and I remember saying to myself. I just don’t want to follow my mother. I am going to get some help. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. And that was one of the biggest crossroads ever in my life.
Toby Dorr: It is a big step to reach out for help because there’s kind of a sometimes a stigma to it like you feel you can’t do it on your own and you should be able to, but I know I was in counseling for quite a while myself and it really does help to reach out and get that help that you need. And that’s an important step. So I can relate to that. You had mentioned, uh, briefly about your mother, she did commit suicide when you were just an infant. And your father took you to an orphanage for the first, was it six years of your life? Seven. Okay. Those formative years though. And your book is about the journey you’ve taken to move past those childhood wounds. What was it like to be in an orphanage? I mean, most of us have no idea what happens in an orphanage.
Moira Dadd: Well, I actually had six foster homes, Toby,
Toby Dorr: Oh, really?
Moira Dadd: To the orphanage, I don’t have any recollection of those at all.
Toby Dorr: Six foster homes? That’s a lot.
Moira Dadd: Between ten months old and three, like, why six foster homes? I have no idea.
Toby Dorr: That’s so interesting. I didn’t realize that and why didn’t any one of them stick? I mean what’s so hard about a little baby? That’s just strange.
Moira Dadd: I have no idea at all why I was sent away and I had a sister who stayed with my grandparents. I’ll never know the answer to that. But when I arrived in the orphanage, it was very clear that I had to conform. So it’s a loveless institution.
Toby Dorr: It’s not a very nurturing environment with lots of hugs and kisses,
Moira Dadd: Nothing. Absolutely zero. Lots of rules. Um, disobey the rules at your peril. Rules are very strict.
Toby Dorr: That almost sounds like a Charles Dickinson story. I mean from the time it sounds like something out of one of Charles Dickinson’s stories, and those were written in the 1400s. And here we’re in the 20th century, and they still have these draconian orphanages. That just kind of blows my mind. I would think that people need to know how much that needs to change.
Toby Dorr: So that had to be a really tough thing to overcome. And a lot of your work is about healing the inner child. And so I can see where that took root. And you share so many experiences that have such a correlation with some of my own experiences, you know, and I too have a wounded inner child. My inner child happened to be five years old when she was wounded. And so I’d like to talk more about those because I feel like I can really relate to those with you. One of the themes of my book is sharing that I found freedom behind bars. When I realized that I had really created my own prison before I ever went to prison. And you talk about the realization that you’d built your own prison too. How did that realization come to you and how did it free you once you saw that?
Moira Dadd: That’s a really good question. I pondered deeply on that question. Well, I think that it was in relationships more than anything else. I began to realize that I was not emotionally mature. That I took everything that people said personally. I was feeling rejected. Just all the time, when there was no intention of rejection, I would find rejection in everything. And so I realized that I was separating myself. I was isolating myself from the world, really. I had a perfect mask on. I could smile. I could cope. I could be very independent. Nobody could see beyond my mask. Many people have told me that since. So,
Toby Dorr: Yes, I can so relate to that because you know, I projected this perfect white picket fence life because I wanted to believe that that’s what I had and I would never let myself admit that it wasn’t. And I think that’s one thing that so blew everyone’s minds when I committed the crime I did because it was so out of character. And I don’t think we do ourselves a service by, you know, having a perfect life or pretending to have a perfect life or not admitting that there’s something wrong and things that we need to fix. And I know that takes a tremendous amount of courage to recognize that. You also share that you never gave yourself time to grieve. Well, you know, you lost your mother as an infant and. That’s not a normal thing. Children should grieve for their parents. And I know you know, I lost a baby just after her birth and I never allowed myself to grieve that loss. In our family, what we decided to do was never mention her name, never talk about it, just move on. And that was so detrimental. So how important to our emotional health do you think the grieving process is?
Moira Dadd: Gosh, yeah, I think it’s essential. It’s so essential. Um, do you, do you, do you know what I mean by a pressure cooker in the kitchen?
Toby Dorr: I do. Yes. Yes.
Moira Dadd: So, you put the food in the pan, and you put the lid on and you turn the heat up and then when the pressure has built inside the pan, there’s a little valve pops up. If you don’t turn the heat down, eventually, there’ll be a shooting up of steam, taking all the food with it, and you get food all over the ceiling, it makes a horrible mess. That’s my analogy of unexpressed grief. Huge, painful emotion that’s been pushed down and pushed down and pushed down, not expressed, not expressed. Bearing in mind nature provides us with tears and the ability to express emotion. We’re created that way, aren’t we? So… When we’re in the pressure cooker mode, it just feels terrible as that pressure builds up. And well, I can only speak from my own experience, but working with lots and lots of clients with similar pressure cooker moments, it can just explode. Feelings can explode in inappropriate ways, or it could be self-harming, we can upset all the people in our family. It could be a million and one different things, but it makes a mess.
Toby Dorr: It certainly does, and I think you can’t – I certainly don’t acknowledge that grief by keeping it hidden and you have to acknowledge it and set it free in order for you to move past it. And when you just continue to hold it in then I kind of – in my particular situation – I found that I was in a situation where I was just desperate for some kind of change and it was an unhealthy change but It seemed better than the place I was stuck in. And I think if I had let that grief out and dealt with it and talked about it, perhaps that would have never come to fruition in my life. So, it really is important to talk about grief.
Moira Dadd: Absolutely. And, and releasing it creates a space, a new space.
Toby Dorr: A space for love, a space for peace, a space for joy.
Moira Dadd: Yes. And the other thing, Toby, that I think is really important and often overlooked is that any kind of really painful emotion like that fills our body with survival energy with cortisol. And that is acidic, it’s corrosive, it’s not good for us, it can make us ill, so we can make ourselves very, very ill when we don’t express emotions.
Toby Dorr: That’s really interesting. I never thought about it from that area – that it’s physically unhealthy.
Moira Dadd: Yes, it is.
Toby Dorr: Wow, that’s interesting, and you talk about this huge secret black hole that you never acknowledged, and I had one too. I think we all have them, and those black holes are so dangerous because you know -like you said they can affect you physically and affect your health. I think they affect our decisions I just think we aren’t our best selves as long as we have some secret dark hole we’re keeping from the world and it’s so freeing. So, what do you think is a good way to take the first step to at least acknowledge that you have some hidden dark hole that you need to release
Moira Dadd: Well, I think the first acknowledgment has to be to ourselves, would you agree?
Toby Dorr: Yes, I
Moira Dadd: Waking up. How do we wake up? I don’t know. I found myself waking up and recognizing well, like, my crossroads moment. I explained I didn’t want to feel like this anymore so I was going to have the courage to ask for help. Asking for help is scary, it can’t be as bad as the way I’m feeling now.
Toby Dorr: That’s so true. And I think you know admitting to yourself that you have some secret dark hole that you’re keeping from the world doesn’t have to be something you’re ashamed of. It has to be something that you recognize that makes you human and that there’s something you need to discuss in order to become healthier. It really is healing to admit that you have that and start to begin the process of letting it out.
Moira Dadd: Yeah, yeah. But you know, when you say that Toby, I don’t mean but, and when you say that it makes me think that that’s an adult conclusion that you. Our emotions come from our inner child, from all those thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that we developed, we programmed them into our subconscious brain when we were very young. And so waking up to how we feel is very much, a part of allowing the adult to recognize that and being able to step back and observe the child and for the adult to cultivate an attitude of loving acceptance towards the child.
Toby Dorr: Yes.
Moira Dadd: To say, we need to go and get help, you and I.
Toby Dorr: Yes, I so agree. You know, and I remember telling my therapist, she said, what are you worried about? And I said, well, that I’m going to lose that five-year-old child because I love her and I don’t want her to be lost. And she said you aren’t going to lose her. You’re just going to love her. And you’re going to tell her “You are five years old. You just be happy. I’ll take care of this problem because this is an adult problem. It’s not yours to solve.” And I think that was so freeing to me because I realized I didn’t have to let go of my inner child. I just had to embrace her in a healthy way and let her be a child. And not try to save my adult life for me, which is what she was trying to do in very immature ways.
Moira Dadd: Yes!
Toby Dorr: I think that was so interesting. And you mentioned that you realized that you were immersed in doing. And not in being and that that was an eye-opener, and I can so relate to that. My entire life was a life of duty and a life of checklists. When I went to bed at night if I couldn’t check 17 things off my checklist for the day it was a failed day in my mind. I don’t know where I came up with 17, but that was my number. I wasn’t taking a bit of time to smell the roses along the way. I was just doing, doing, doing. And so how can you move from doing to being? How can you realize what you’re doing and not being? What’s the biggest eye-opener?
Moira Dadd: Yeah, gosh, that’s a big question, isn’t it? It comes back to this waking up, doesn’t it? Recognizing what makes me do that? What makes me have this tick list at the end of the day?
Toby Dorr: Yeah.
Moira Dadd: I feel very blessed that I discovered yoga.
Toby Dorr: Yoga is a good thing.
Moira Dadd: And it’s so great for slowing everything down. So… I do believe that when we can quieten our mind, even just for five minutes, practicing breathing for five minutes, just anything at all, that is being. Well, two minutes even, because five minutes is an eternity when you first start, that’s so true. Yeah. How can I do my 17 things if I wasted five minutes? You know,
Toby Dorr: That’s so true that just to be aware and just to take a minute, you know, my husband and I have developed this habit, which I just love. We just get in the car and go for a ride, and we drive for two or three hours and we never have a plan of where we’re going. We just explore neighborhoods and towns. During that whole time, we just talk about profound deep things. And I can’t do that in our house because, you know, there’s the phone, there’s email, there’s things. But when you get in the car and you go somewhere, you’re kind of locked in this capsule with your other half and you’re not distracted by things around you. For me, that has become a really healthy way of just slowing down. And just, you know, learning.
Moira Dadd: Absolutely. I guess that could be very different for people on their own, or people, I dunno, who don’t drive or, you know, there could be other challenges, I guess, for that. But I think there are always ways, if we make a decision, I wanna take care of myself more, I wanna enjoy life more.
Toby Dorr: One of the things I found when I didn’t have a husband – and this is when I was in prison – was journaling. And I found when I write with a pen and it’s connected to my hand I write from my heart, but when I type on the computer I’m typing from my head. So, I still think it’s so important to just take a pen and just sit there and write whatever comes into your mind. And you will tell yourself the things you need to contemplate, and they’ll come out. I think that’s a great way to start when you don’t have someone to talk to.
Moira Dadd: Yes. I, I absolutely agree. That was the basis for my book because I’m writing letters, uh, to my own child.
Toby Dorr: Yes. that’s right. Your book was unique because it is a series of letters that you wrote to your inner child. And there are different letters for different types of feelings so that other people reading the book can take those same letters and use them. And I think that was such a unique way to structure a book. I think that was pretty interesting. You have said that you are your own harshest critic. And of course, that’s one of the things I can relate to, too. And I actually named my critic the Shame Dragon. And I pictured it as this dragon with these gnarly, dirty teeth and and big spiky tail. And when when somebody said something that I felt I should be ashamed of that dragon slammed her tail into my chest and knocked me off my feet. And when I pictured it as this shame dragon, then I could picture myself drawing this sword and slaying the dragon. And so, for me, having an image to fight kind of really helped me approach that critic. What method did you use to attack your harsh critic?
Moira Dadd: Do you mean, what method am I still using?
Toby Dorr: Yes, that’s right because it’s never over. My shame dragon’s here now, you know, I just always know it’s a never-ending task.
Moira Dadd: Well, we’re all different, aren’t we? We’re all unique. And I don’t know why, but for me, when I used a visualization like that, a monster type You know, image my inner critic got worse. So it kind of just came back with more engines. So, what I discovered over the years was setting boundaries for myself, uh, feeling that I was getting stronger in myself and able to challenge my own inner critic. I have this image of a faceless person, really like being horrible to me, you know, like a slave driver. And I just kept saying no to them. No. No, thank you. Thank you so much for taking care of me. I don’t need you anymore. And I imagine tussling with them sometimes, but I’m, I’m a superhero now.
Toby Dorr: I love that you thank them for being in your life, but now they could leave. You don’t need them anymore. You know, I love that. I love that. I think that’s so interesting. And so one of the themes in your book is that the first few years of life are so critical and impactful to the person we become as an adult, and you suggested challenging those experiences. But how does one go back in time and try to rebuild negative childhood experiences?
Moira Dadd: Yeah. It seems so impossible,
Toby Dorr: It does at times. It certainly does.
Moira Dadd: We truly can. Neuroplasticity, the experts call it, is when we can reprogram our brain. Isn’t that exciting?
Toby Dorr: It certainly is.
Moira Dadd: So the first thing is what we’ve talked about, uh, waking up, acknowledging that there’s something we want to change. I mean, we don’t have to change. It’s only if we want to. And I mean, if we’re talking about connecting with the inner child in, in the way that I do, you know, by talking to her and writing her letters and embracing her, there are many, many other ways I’m sure. It’s recognizing that it isn’t her fault. So, it’s telling that child inside, it’s not your fault.
Toby Dorr: Oh yeah. I think that’s so critical.
Moira Dadd: You have learned to become the way you are because of other people’s expectations of you, other people’s opinions, other people’s words, you know, all your experiences have made, this is me talking to me, has made you conclude that you are bad, you are wrong, you are full of shame, you are unlovable. So that is, it sounds so easy to say that’s the first step, but it really isn’t.
Toby Dorr: Yeah, it is.
Moira Dadd: Looking in the mirror is a good one.
Toby Dorr: And you know, we reprogram ourselves all the time. We learn new tasks. You might learn to bake a dish you’ve never known how to make before. And you’re reprogramming yourself to learn this new skill. Or if you decide to play an instrument, you have to learn how to do it. Every day we do things that we didn’t think we could do before. So there’s no reason to think that you can’t go back and reprogram those negative childhood experiences and free yourself from the burden of carrying them around and just be able to let them go.
Moira Dadd: I love that. That’s wonderful. Yeah.
Toby Dorr: So you talk about fear of failure and fear of success, and those two seem exact opposites yet. They often occur in the same person. What do you recommend to listeners who want to face those fears?
Moira Dadd: Yes. Well, I feel on this that there may be two sides of the same coin. I mean, I’m not giving you a scientific, answer to this. It’s from what I feel, but the fear of failure is emic. It’s like, oh, I’m not from all those beliefs. I can’t do this. You know, I’ll never succeed. So that’s usually. about, certainly in my life, it’s about the anticipated or even assumed rejection and judgment from the world around me. So if I mess up, well, it’s my fault. And I’m full of shame. And, I deserve to be rejected, et cetera, et cetera. But also if we think about the fear of success, that’s also singling ourselves out. For judgment. And we don’t want the judgment, but the fear is that we’re going to get it because that’s what we’re programmed with. I’m going to be judged. The failure and the success, they’re opposite ends, aren’t they, of the spectrum, but in a way, I think they’re pretty much the same.
Toby Dorr: I think they are because if you’re afraid of success about something, I think one of the reasons is because you’re afraid, now they’re going to expect me to do something even bigger and I’m not going to be able to. And it is tied to that fear of failure. Yeah.
Moira Dadd: Yeah, yeah, it’s a fragile place, isn’t it? Success.
Toby Dorr: It certainly is. And, and there are so many ways to measure success. You know, a lot of times my idea of success on some particular project will be totally different than my husband’s idea of success. And one of us may not even come close to what our idea was, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t success in there. I think maybe what we need to do is to celebrate success at any level and celebrate even steps forward, even if that’s just on some final destination, and not set ourselves things that are just almost unattainable, you know, just be happy with moving forward.
Moira Dadd: Yes. Oh, gosh. Definitely. I couldn’t agree more. Yeah. I was only going to say, it’s, it’s not just success in doing things, is it? Back to doing and being. It’s success about being, being who I am.
Toby Dorr: Yes, that’s so true. Yes.
Moira Dadd: I was just thinking that as you finished up there.
Toby Dorr: That’s so true because you know, I believe I tell people this all the time I mean I can write a memoir you can write a memoir. But our memoirs are so different. I wrote a memoir about rebuilding my life while I was in prison. And then some other woman could write a memoir about rebuilding her life in prison, and it would be similar to mine but her book might reach someone that my book didn’t reach. Which is why I think it’s so important for all of us to tell our stories. Because there’s someone out there that our particular story will reach. And if we decide not to tell our stories because it’s already been told by somebody else, we won’t reach that person who is just waiting to hear from us. And there’s no limit to the amount of books the world can hold. So, I love that. So, one of your topics is titled, I Am Enough. And that really drove home to me because when I was in counseling, my therapist asked me once, what would you tell that five-year-old child? And I my immediate answer – without thinking – was I would tell her you are enough And so for a long time that was one of my theme messages. And I think ‘I am enough’ doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and grow and be more but it means you are enough – you are accepted just as you are and I think that is such a worthy and valuable message. How did you come to that thought and how did you approach it?
Moira Dadd: I think I approached it, Toby, through recognizing that my childhood traumas had given me a sense of needing to be perfect.
Toby Dorr: That’s one of my vices too. Yeah.
Moira Dadd: Yes. And of course, we know this, we can say it easily enough. Oh, there’s no such thing as perfect. Most people say that. Oh, there’s no such thing as perfect, as if we accept any less. What I found though with my inner critic is that I would always move the goalposts. I would never be good enough, whatever I did. attain it. I would always say, well, when I do this, I’ll, I’ll be okay. When I do that, et cetera, et cetera. So, for me, it was accepting, deeply accepting that who I am is good enough. Of course, I’m not perfect. And what does that mean anyway? I’m good enough for me.
Toby Dorr: Right, right. That’s right. I think that’s so important. And I think when we recognize that we give ourselves permission to be and to stop doing so which is, you know, one of the big objectives, I think, and bring joy into your life. I love that. I went to a women’s retreat once and they put, they had these little cabins and you’d go in each cabin and there was a word in that cabin and you were to sit there and reflect on that word, you know, and we moved around. And when I got to this one cabin the word joy was on the wall. And when I sat there and looked at the word joy, I just started sobbing because I realized I had spent my whole life blocking joy because I’d never thought I deserved it. And, so now, you know, I try to find joy and I still struggle with believing that I deserve to be joyful, but you know, it’s such a, it’s made such an imprint on my mind. And I think, you know, when we let go of this perfectionism and we tell ourselves we’re enough, then there’s room for joy to come in. And I think that’s what builds our souls. So, I love that.
Moira Dadd: I believe, Toby, that joy comes from our deepest, deepest inner child, our soulful self, the innocence, of that newborn infant. And when she or he gets her emotional needs met, joy naturally flows.
Toby Dorr: Yes.
Moira Dadd: It’s when we get covered up with all sorts of negativity, that’s when the joy gets stuck and pushed down.
Toby Dorr: Yes, I agree. I agree. And you know, so joy has, I still don’t think I’m to the point where I just automatically let it in and embrace it, but at least I’m aware of it and I look for it.
Moira Dadd: Yes. Yes,
Toby Dorr: I think that’s an important word. I know you really had to sit down and rip into so many facets of your life and your emotions. How hard was it for you to write about those? And how long did it take you to finish the book?
Moira Dadd: It took me about six months. It was fairly quick, I think. I worked with a writing coach. So, I kind of wrote the book and then had to do lots of editing, and polish it. I think by the time I got to the stage of writing the book, it wasn’t like it was a new raw pane. I was familiar, with my pain. But having said that, of course, it was painful because I revisited all of it, in one go.
Toby Dorr: Yes, yes, I can relate. You know, I worked on my book for about 15 years.
Moira Dadd: Oh wow.
Toby Dorr: I was muddling pages around because I didn’t know where to start. I just knew I was going to write a book, but I had no idea. What it was gonna be. And so when you read my first versions of my book, it was kind of like reading a patient’s chart in a hospital. It was just a bunch of facts. There was no emotion, there was no insight. It was just lists of things that happened. But once I figured out where the book was gonna start, and where the book was going to end, which came with my writing coach, it took me like five months to write it. So, I really think that, you know, it just comes.
Toby Dorr: And I know sometimes, you know, my husband would say to me, where are you today? And I’d say, Oh gosh, I’m on suicide watch in prison. He said, Oh, that’s a bad place to be. I’ll be glad when you move on from that place because when you’re reading it or you’re writing it, you’re putting yourself right back there. But I found it to be a very healing process. Did you find it that way to write?
Moira Dadd: I did. Toby, is very healing, very cathartic. And there was something about the orderliness of it. It was my entire life. Very, contained and helpful about that. It wasn’t scattered. It was, it was all there, all in one place.
Toby Dorr: I love that. I love that. So, what’s one question you wish I’d ask? Is there something you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?
Moira Dadd: Oh, wow. I guess I think you touched on it earlier. What possible gifts I have gained from a childhood such as mine?
Toby Dorr: Yes. I love that.
Moira Dadd: Growing up without a mother and a father really, so growing up, almost like an orphan, not quite. Um, yeah, uh, I think that’s my question.
Toby Dorr: love that question. So how would you have answered that? What gifts did you gain from your childhood?
Moira Dadd: Well, gosh, I mean, of course, it’s still painful. Never ever to have known the love of a mother. I know, of course, not everybody has a loving mother, I know that. Um, but in a fantasy, what I call a Disney-type sense, I imagine what it might have been like. And, of course, I will never know that. What it’s given me is a profound empathy. And understanding of other people’s pain and loss trauma. I mean, I just get it. There’s very little that I come alongside another person with. And I find that validating.
Toby Dorr: That is really an important skill. And you know, I found I think it’s when we’re in the darkest places that we have the opportunity for the most growth because if everything’s beautiful, there’s no need for anything to change. We just kind of skate on through. So, I kind of look at some of the darkest places in my life almost as blessings because they gave me strength, courage, and resilience. So yeah, I love that question. That’s a great question. I’m glad you brought that up. I
Moira Dadd: Oh, thank you for asking.
Toby Dorr: Thank you so much, Maura, for being on my podcast. I’m so delighted to have you here and, um, I’m going to wrap things up.
Moira Dadd: Oh, thank you so much.
Toby Dorr: You’re welcome. Remember, none of us is our worst mistake. We all have so much more to offer the world.
Toby Dorr: And those so-called mistakes are blessed opportunities to learn and grow. Next week, we’ll continue to bring you inspiring stories by people who’ve identified a need for change and are working to make a difference in the world. Subscribe to our Patreon channel, Fierce Conversations for special access and behind-the-scenes info. Go to patreon.com/fierce conversations, or click on the link in the show notes. 10% of the Patreon proceeds are used to provide workbooks to women in prison. The show notes will also provide a link to purchase my book, Living with Conviction, and a link to Maura’s book.
In my memoir, Living with Conviction, I recount a conversation I had in prison where my friend Lisa told me. In here, we can talk about all the hard things. In fact, I think we must, and so we shall. This is Fierce Conversations with Toby. Until next time.