Inspirational personal narrative: ‘steal back your life’, overcome trauma, and heal from narcissistic parenting

Advocate, teacher, and author Bridey Thelen-Heidel pens a raw and immersive account of growing up alongside an abusive, narcissistic mother. Bright Eyes (She Writes Press, September 24, 2024) is an astonishing narrative of Bridey’s tenacious spirit, commitment to optimism in the face of unspeakable trauma, and dedication to breaking cycles of abuse. 

Bridey is tethered to her mom’s addiction to dangerous men who park their Harley-Davidsons in the house and kick holes in all their doors. Raised to be her mother’s keeper, rescuer, and punching bag, Bridey gets used to stuffing her life into black trash bags, hauling them between Alaska and California, and changing schools every time her mom moves in a new monster—or runs away from one.  

Desperately seeking the normal life she’s observed in sitcoms and her friends’ families, Bridey earns her way into a fancy, private college, where she tries to forget who she is—until her mom calls with a threat that drops Bridey to her knees. Watching doctors and police interrogate her mother at the hospital, Bridey realizes her mom has become a monster herself… and she doesn’t want to be saved. But Bridey does. 

Bright Eyes is about the indomitable spirit of a young girl forced to be brave, required to be resilient, and conditioned to be optimistic, and how she ultimately uses the same traits that helped her to survive her mother’s chaos to create her own happily ever after. 

Bright Eyes: Surviving Our Monsters and Learning to Live Without Them

Bridey Thelen-Heidel | September 24, 2024

She Writes Press | Distributed by Simon & Schuster | Autobiography, Memoir 

Paperback | 978-1647427382 | $17.95 

E book | 978-1-64742-739-9 | $12.99

Bridey Thelen-Heidel’s chaotic upbringing meant changing schools between Alaska and California more than twenty times. A Lewis and Clark College graduate, she lives in South Lake Tahoe with her husband and daughter and teaches at her alma mater. 

A TEDx speaker and frequent podcast guest, Bridey performed in Listen to Your Mother NYC and has been published in MUTHA Magazine. A fierce youth advocate who’s been voted Best of Tahoe Teacher several times by her community, Bridey’s work with LGBTQ+ students has been celebrated in Read This, Save Lives by Sameer Jha and the California Teachers Association’s California EducatorFind out more about Bridey at her website.

Follow Bridey Thelen-Heidel on social media: 

Facebook: @bridey.heidel | Twitter: @BrideyHeidel | Instagram: @brighteyesauthor 

In an interview, Bridey Thelen-Heidel can discuss:

  • How Bridey found the courage to break family ties to heal, pursue her dreams, and salvage an unshakable sense of self
  • The difficult, but important, decision to go no-contact with a parent 
  • Advice for people considering going no-contact with a narcissistic family member 
  • How she broke the cycle of abuse when she became a mother 
  • Her deep connection to Duran Duran and how their music profoundly inspired her and helped her heal in adulthood 
  • How her adventurous spirit and inspiration to share her story with others ultimately led to her meeting her heroes: Duran Duran 
  • How her upbringing shaped her career as a teacher and compelled her to become a staunch advocate for students, especially LGBTQ+ youth
  • How her motto “ROB the trauma and steal back your life” turned into a widely viewed TEDx Talk 

Advanced Praise for “Bright Eyes” 

“At once tender and fierce, Bright Eyes is an astonishing story of perseverance and the power of hope. In clear, sharp prose, Bridey Thelen-Heidel reclaims the narrative of her life from the monsters who shaped her early years. Bright Eyes is engaging, essential, and impossible to put down.”

–Jen Bryant, Editor, MUTHA Magazine

“This incredibly written, immersive memoir is a heart-wrenching and ultimately uplifting journey through the author’s chaotic childhood, marked by neglect and abuse. Bridey’s vivid and evocative writing style makes you feel like you’re right there with her on the ‘constant crazy train’ – never knowing what’s coming next…With unflinching honesty, she shares the raw, vivid details of her childhood and the long-term effects of trauma on her physical and mental health…Bridey’s story is a beacon of hope, reminding us that no matter what we’ve endured, we have the strength to overcome and rise above.”

–Stephanie Thornton Plymale, Author of American Daughter, CEO of Heritage School Of Interior Design 

“Thelen-Heidel’s vivid, vulnerable prose contains plenty of hard-fought wisdom—among other things, never underestimate the solace provided by Duran Duran’s music—and pragmatic inspiration driven by her traumatic experiences. In the end, Bright Eyes asserts that betting on yourself is a powerful move, one that can even lead to forgiveness, healing and new beginnings.”

 –Annie Zaleski, music journalist and author of the 33 1/3 volume on Duran Duran’s Rio

Bright Eyes is Bridey Thelen-Heidel’s compelling account of surviving a chaotic childhood with a cruel, narcissistic mother who has a penchant for beer and violent boyfriends. Although the understory of Bright Eyes is one of trauma, the greater narrative is about mustering the courage to break family ties to salvage a sense of self and daring to dream big, seemingly unreachable dreams—that eventually come true. Honest to the bone, this memoir will keep you turning the pages until its final, hard-won, uplifting moments.” 

–Suzanne Roberts, author of Animal Bodies: On Death, Desire, and Other Difficulties

“Bridey Thelen-Heidel’s thousands of fans begged Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon to meet her even before she became a debut author. In her unputdownable memoir BRIGHT EYES, Thelen-Heidel mends the shards of a shattered childhood, forging a glittering gift for readers and survivors. Fans of MAID and Tiny Beautiful Things will devour Thelen-Heidel’s pages full of her gripping storytelling, enduring strength, and “Duranie” heart.”

—Ann Imig, LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER founder/editor

“With warm, tender guidance, Bridey Thelen-Heidel invites us into her story, painting the portrait of extraordinary resilience in the face of searing trauma. Music has always been a comfort in times of chaos, and while I relished how Bridey seized control of her own destiny, it was a personal joy to see Duran Duran light up the darkness when Bridey needed it most.”

—Andrew Golub, Author of Beautiful Colors: The Posters of Duran Duran

An Interview with Bridey Thelen-Heidel

1. Why did you decide to write “Bright Eyes?” In what ways did writing about your experience impact your healing journey? 

I wanted to not only share what I survived but how I severed ties and managed to heal myself enough to become a loving mother and wife, which I know is a fear for many of us raised in similar chaos because we are scared to have kids for fear we’ll be the same kind of abusive parent or scared we won’t be able to have loving relationships because we didn’t grow up knowing how to love or be loved in a healthy way. 

2. How has your abusive childhood impacted your career as a teacher and advocate for students? 

As a kid, I appreciated being held to the same standards as all the other students because expectations made me feel “normal” and gave me a sense of pride and dignity that I didn’t necessarily feel from well-intentioned family members who’d somewhat written me off as becoming “just like her mother” and ending up as a young mom on welfare. 

Advocating for students who are scared to speak up because they’ve been taught to stay quiet and small and teaching students who have yet to find their voice how to advocate for themselves is something I’m most proud of in my teaching career. Even at my age, I’m still learning the power of my own voice and telling truths that I’ve kept secret for too long because it gives permission for others to do the same. 

3. Duran Duran provided comfort during your tumultuous childhood, tell us about your relationship with music and why you connected so deeply with the band. 

I was twelve when I discovered Duran Duran’s music, and I think at the time it was an escape into a world that felt my age—a world I had rarely been part of because I was burdened with adult responsibilities and worries. Giggling and screaming about cute British boys was joyful, and something my mom couldn’t take away because the band’s music followed me when I moved—songs I knew by heart and lyrics I sang myself asleep to—turning up the record loud enough to drown out whatever was happening on the other side of the wall. 

As an adult who made her own money and decisions, I was able to recapture some of those teen experiences I missed out on by attending Duran Duran concerts as often as I could, and because memories are in the present tense, their music and lyrics whisked me back to being a scared, lonely teenager who could now heal those parts of myself.  

4. How were you able to leave your abuser, what helped you stay away, and what decisions did you make to ensure you broke the cycle of abuse? 

The decision to break the cycle of abuse and sever all ties took many false starts and failed attempts. I didn’t leave when I could have or should have because leaving was hard. Staying was hard, too. When I finally chose my “hard,” it was the least popular decision I’ve ever made—and I am someone who likes being liked. I got called selfish, inconsiderate, ungrateful, a pain in the ass, rude, high and mighty, dramatic, and—of course—a bitch. But what I didn’t get called was back. No one asked me to come home. No one called to apologize. No one admitted there might be a reason I left. No one wondered why I wasn’t answering the phone because they knew.     

5. What do you hope that readers take away from reading your memoir? 

I hope readers who need to will find their own way out—their own path to leave, to heal, and to forgive themselves and anyone else they feel deserves it. What I learned by leaving is that you’re going to have to accept that you might lose everything and everyone you’ve known—including the person you’ve known yourself to be your whole life—but you’re also going to find yourself and the life you deserve. Your real self. Leaving is hard, but not leaving might kill you—if not physically, mentally and spiritually. But surviving it all has given you a resilience, optimism, and bravery that are superhuman strengths you get to use because you’ve earned them and they’re yours—forever. 

Leaving is hard. Staying is hard. But not leaving means the bad guys won. Not only did they own your past, but now they’ll control your present and, undoubtedly, will predict your future.  

6. Is anything else on the horizon for you as an author? 

Odd as of departure as it seems, I’m working on a set of children’s books titled MAD MARTHA AND GRACIE based on me and my Irish Setter and all the weird anxiety/dissociative disorder I developed as a kid who whose mind was trying to explain to her mind how to survive life with my mother—writing in the air, leaving my body and flying up and away from the danger, and watching myself like scenes in a movie. It’s Junie B Jones meets Pippi Longstocking’s therapist 🙂 The young girl is nine years old, long red hair with bangs, bucked teeth, scrappy clothes and mismatched socks. Her name is Martha, but the neighborhood calls her “Mad Martha” (like my grandmother’s racing nickname) because she seems a bit crazy to them—all the writing in the air and wacky behaviors—and the only one who can read the words she writes is her trusted friend, Gracie, her Irish Setter. 

Download press kit and photos