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Abused in ‘Happy Valley,’ this Utahn found hope, relief and power in telling her own story

SHARE Abused in ‘Happy Valley,’ this Utahn found hope, relief and power in telling her own story

SALT LAKE CITY — For author Keira Shae — who, as she put it, grew up as “the child of an uneducated, meth-addicted prostitute” — escaping her home life would require nothing short of a miracle.

“I told a youth leader (about my situation), and she said, 'Oh, let's pray,’” Shae said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. “… And I'm like, 'Oh lady, if prayer solved everything, I wouldn't have been homeless, I wouldn't have had nothing, none of this would have happened. You're going to pray right now?’”

Shae, who at the time had never before prayed out loud, knelt down on the floor as instructed and spoke to a higher power whose nature and existence she was unsure of.

Keira Shae is the author of "How the Light Gets In."

Keira Shae is the author of “How the Light Gets In.”

Nathaniel Ray Edwards, Provided by Keira Shae Scholz

“I just opened my mouth and (did) the thing that the Mormons always do, where they say, ‘Heavenly Father,’ and that was it — I don't even remember what the rest of the prayer was,” she said. “I said, ‘Heavenly Father,’ and I felt the most peace I ever had in my life. All that peace that I felt in the Mormon homes (that had taken me in), I had my own version of it inside of myself for the first time. … It was just totally clear. Everyone else around me was in chaos, but I knew that I was OK.”

This incident, which gave Shae the intuition to leave her mother’s home and put herself in foster care, came near the end of her challenging and seemingly godless youth. Shae’s childhood, plagued by the difficult whims of an abusive parent, involved poverty, homelessness, molestation, constant moving and regular humiliation and harassment from her mother and the men she brought home. The path to well-being, it seems, was paved by Shae’s own decisions — and, the kindness of many, many strangers along the way. (In 2012 Shae wrote a thank you letter to taxpayers that went viral — and, as expected, received a range of responses.)

Rather than seeing a traditional therapist, which she couldn't afford, Shae wrote down her story to help her process and cope with her memories of her abusive childhood. Her work led to the eventual publication of her deeply personal memoir, “How the Light Gets In,” (BCC Press, 268 pages) taken from the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem."

The book gives an honest, detailed depiction of Shae’s difficult childhood through her early adulthood and sheds light on some of the “dark undersides” of Utah’s suburbs. On April 5-6, Shae will visit local book stores in Salt Lake City and Provo to read from and sign copies of her memoir.

“(My mother) had been married and divorced, I think about seven times — some of them were to the same man twice, so I'm not exactly sure,” Shae said. “(She) suffered from extreme mental illness that was definitely untreated. And part of that might have been because she was in poverty — it’s just more difficult to get the resources that you need when you are poor, or a mother, especially a single mother."

Shae's mother also had little formal education. In fact, Shae was the first high school and later college graduate in her family, and she's made good use of her education: After graduating as an Outstanding Student with cum laude from Utah Valley University — and carrying the flag at her graduation ceremony — Shae started a foundation, The Provo Promise, to help fund and support the secondary education of kids, such as herself, who lack the resources to go to college.

"How the Light Gets In" is by Keira Shae.

“How the Light Gets In” is by Keira Shae.

Provided by Keira Shae Scholz

Additionally, Shae’s memoir educates the general public on the extraordinary challenges that children of abusive parents endure — unseen difficulties that could easily be happening to children in Utah's neighborhoods or local schools.

“I think my memoir shows a side of Utah or Provo that we don't really know about — people don't really understand that there's a meth problem in Utah, especially in the early 2000s, ” she said.

Shae isn’t wrong about Utah’s meth problem — particularly among women. According to data collected by the Utah Department of Health from 2004 to 2014, nearly 28 percent of addicts admitted to treatment facilities were addicted to meth, with 75 percent of those cases being women.

Methamphetamine addiction, which played a large role in landing Shae's mother in prison, created an incredibly turbulent home environment. To manage, Shae found support in kindly strangers, her local community, and most of all, generous members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Luckily for me, I didn't know much about what they were all about,” Shae said about the group who invited her to summer camps and dances. “But they seemed to naturally have an imperative to protect innocent people, or to lend a helping hand however they could.”

Shae recalled her Latter-day Saints neighbors doing “whatever it took” to help her and her family in times of trouble, such as when their family car broke down, or when she needed a choir dress, although her family was not involved with the church at the time.

“Just thinking about these people — at my worst times wanting them to be near me, thinking about how they would be different than the way my mother was and the way she was treating me — was enough to calm my heart when I was sad,” Shae said.

Keira Shae, author of "How the Light Gets In," graduated with honors from Utah Valley University.

Keira Shae, author of “How the Light Gets In,” graduated with honors from Utah Valley University.

Provided by Keira Shae Scholz

But while her mother’s addiction lead to an extremely chaotic childhood, Shae, who is now married with three children, has done as much as she can to prevent others from enduring the same adversity she’s been through.

“I'm starting my master's degree to become a school counselor because so many teachers and school counsellors helped me,” Shae said. “I'd be able to see these children for what they are. I know the signs of abuse and neglect, (and) I know what to do. … I also know that children are really strong, they're very resilient and they will overcome.”

If you go …

What: Keira Shae book signing for “How the Light Gets In”

When: April 5, 7-9 p.m.

Where: Anthony's Antiques, 401 E. 200 South

How much: Free

Web: anthonysfineart.com

Also …

What: Keira Shae book signing for “How the Light Gets In”

When: April 6, 7-9 p.m.

Where: Writ & Vision, 274 W. Center, Provo

How much: Free

Web: www.writandvision.com