Speaker, activist, and founder of the women’s empowerment organization, (B), Keele Burgin joins Zibby to discuss her bestselling memoir, Wholly Unraveled, and share how she ended up at this current moment in her life. Keele tells Zibby about the methods and experiences that helped her overcome the trauma she endured growing up in a religious cult, and the generational wounds she tries to heal as she raises her own three sons. The two also talk about (B)Tribes and how coaching women through telling their own stories inspired Keele to finally tell her own.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Keele. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Wholly Unraveled and everything else.

Keele Burgin: I’m so excited to be here. Thanks for having me. I love your pup in the background.

Zibby: Thank you. She’s shaking herself around and wants to be a part of this.

Keele: Like a good dog should, right?

Zibby: Like a good dog should, yes. Would you mind telling listeners about your memoir, why you even decided to write this memoir, and the crux of it and why it’s become this best-selling book that everybody needs to read?

Keele: I can tell you the process was difficult. Just even deciding to put your own story in the world is one decision. Then to put in all of the family secrets that you really aren’t supposed to share into the world — at least, that’s what I was taught. It was a long journey. My agent who’s in LA, after she read it, she said, “I want you to go away for six months and think about if you’re ready to put this in the world or not.” I really appreciated that question because my immediate was, of course, I am. Let’s go. Let’s go. Instead, it gave me a lot of time to just think and say, what could the repercussions be? At the end of the day, I realized that — I’ve been traveling the world helping other women tell their story. I worked in Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia, all over. Watching a woman tell her story, it’s just this beautiful opening of her heart and her soul and her mind and the amalgamation of all of that. I realized at the end of the day that I can’t ask other women to tell their story if I’m not going to tell my own. That was the reason I decided to tell it. I want everyone, man, woman, child, I want them to feel free to tell their story, and especially the stories they don’t want to say out loud. For me, those are the ones that unlocked me, that released the shame and the guilt and the fear and made me realize we’re all really humans and we can help each other through our story. That’s how Wholly Unraveled came to be. It took me seven years to write. When I went back and counted the days — that’s how I saved the document over time — it was really only eighty-nine days.

Zibby: Oh, that’s interesting.

Keele: The writing process, I allowed it to be what it wanted to be and take the pieces that I could write that day and write those and not force myself into anything, which was great.

Zibby: When you were debating whether or not you felt ready to put this out into the world, what parts of it were holding you up the most? Which parts did it take the longest to come to terms with and decide to include? Did you end up taking others out?

Keele: It’s a great question. As a child, you grow up and think whatever you’re growing up in is normal. I did. This must be the way people are, but it isn’t the way. We all have such a unique upbringing. I mean, not all. Some people say, oh, gosh, I grew up, and I had a great childhood. I had great parents. I celebrate them. There’s going to be some along the way that makes you who you are, whether it’s a capital-T trauma, small-T trauma, an emotional something. You hated high school, whatever it is. I would say the hardest part for me was definitely writing my childhood, to go back and visit. My dad was a leader in a Catholic cult. To just go back and visit that and see how women were really repressed, and still are in a lot of ways, that was really difficult to go see. It was also a beautiful journey to say, it really did make me who I am. I really wouldn’t be the woman I am today and doing the work I do today if I hadn’t been through a lot of the things I went through, which was, your voice doesn’t matter. You don’t matter. Women should just get married and have babies. That’s it. I got married and had babies, so I love that part too. Also, I wanted to bring other women into that fold and support them in whatever they wanted to do.

Zibby: The scene with your dad when you were hiding from him and having to choose the stick and the bleeding when he — that was so intense. For a child to go through, just as one minor example, but just even that terror, having someone you trust turn against you in that way, the place you’re supposed to be the safest suddenly becomes the least safe, it’s a lot to navigate life before and after that moment. I’m putting words in your mouth here. I would imagine from what you’ve written.

Keele: I think the hardest thing to me is if you grow up and your mom and your dad don’t nurture you and love you and care for you and make sure you’re okay in the world, then why should anybody else care? The worthiness piece was probably the hardest one for me to finally get to. It took me decades to say, I am worthy. I am worthy. I had to say it over and over. It’s in my statement. It’s in the book. I had to come up with, who am I? and then move into those words slowly but surely about the positive side of who I am. I’m so happy I’m there. If I could give any gift in the world, it would be to let everyone know their worth and to have hope. No matter what you’ve been through, whether it’s happy, sad, miserable, tragic, there is hope on the other side for a really happy life.

Zibby: What got you to that realization?

Keele: Being alone, I would have to say. It’s in the book. The book is broken out in three segments. The first is in my childhood, as we talked about, crazy and charismatic renewal and Catholic stuff and abuse. Then the middle part was me trying to escape all of that. I left my family. I moved. I was on my own and all of that. It’s like I was chasing adrenaline to try to make sense of it all. There was no person to put a boundary on me anymore, so I just kept escalating until I was really making very, very poor decisions and breaking into drug dealers’ houses, bad decisions. I woke up and thought, I might not live. I have to make a decision. Do I want to live? I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know how to live. I was in this juxtaposition of life and death kind of thing. It’s funny to think back. I just hitchhiked to Canada. I didn’t have much money. I didn’t have many belongings. I remember that there was a priest there that I trusted. I thought he was there. He wasn’t there when I got there, but I did end up seeing him again. I went to this, it’s called lay apostolate community, a Catholic community in Canada where I lived in silence with a hundred and fifty other people. We spoke during meals and things like that.

I think it was, again, that juxtaposition of Catholicism on one side, which was my dad trying to be God, really, and there was Catholicism on this side in a lay apostolate community of just love. They just loved me. I showed up on their doorstep. They took me in. I worked. I sheered sheep and killed chickens and milked cows and picked strawberries for days on end and washing handkerchiefs. It’s in the book. We all helped each other to live. While I was cooking a meal, someone else was cutting down wood. Someone else was milking a cow so we could have milk. It was just this beautiful synergy of life. That taught me love. It taught me that we can care for each other in the smallest of ways. One of their mantras is, do the little things exceedingly well. I loved that. I might be cleaning someone’s handkerchief, but I’m going to do it really well. I’m going to do it with love. I think that’s what healed me, the silence to go deep inside myself to figure out who I was and that I was loveable, and then these people surrounding me with that same love, that same acceptance.

Zibby: Wow. You wrote about your journey so beautifully. It’s not easy. Some of the paths are just so — you wouldn’t expect, necessarily. I was even telling my kids this morning when I was talking about the books I was covering. I like to keep them in the loop about books, also to show them that books are not just boring, black-and-white things. You open them up, and you crack open someone’s story. Anyway, I was discussing this whole silence retreat situation. They were like, “What? How did she do that?” I’m like, “I know. It’s amazing.”

Keele: She doesn’t know how she did it either. A year was a long time. I thought maybe I’d last a week or so. It was over a year. It was a thing, for sure, to be quiet that long. To live in community, that part too, a hundred and fifty people, it’s not like we all had our own room. There was one dorm for all the women. It was challenging, but I loved it. I loved it.

Zibby: Then what has it been like as a parent getting the opportunity to sort of rewrite history with your own kids?

Keele: That’s a beautiful question. Thank you. I have three boys. I know that they know they are unconditionally loved. They’re so loved. They are allowed to make mistakes. They are allowed to have their opinions. They’re allowed to disagree with me respectfully. They’re amazing boys. I think that’s what can come out of a lot of trauma sometimes. I have three beautiful gifts to give the world. I watch them. Now I have a twenty-one-year-old and two fifteen-year-olds. I watch them move in the world in such a safe — they’re safe. They know they’re safe in the world. They know they’re loved. They know that they can ask for what they need. Obviously, they’re my three greatest gifts, probably, my book being my fourth, not to mention my boyfriend and my puppy and all of that. Birthing that story gave me so much of myself back.

Zibby: How did they feel about the book?

Keele: They’re not allowed to read it until they’re eighteen. There’s just a lot in there that I don’t think any son wants to hear their mom went through until they have a certain level of maturity. My twenty-one-year-old decided not to read it at eighteen. He started to read it last year and said, “I can’t read it. I’m too mad at your dad.” No one’s read it yet. I have one son who said, “I can’t wait to turn eighteen.” I’m like, okay. I got three years.

Zibby: Wow, I’m impressed by your ability to enforce that rule. I feel like I can’t enforce any rules anymore. I shouldn’t admit that. That makes me sound like a bad mom. Any rule I can enforce feels like such a major victory.

Keele: That’s awesome.

Zibby: Tell me, then, about (B)Tribes. That’s so fascinating, too, that you started this whole other area. Tell me about that.

Keele: My dream for the rest of my life is to write and run (B), my company. I love it so much, Zibby. It came out of all of this work I’ve done with women around the world. I kind of put it together. It’s all about local empowerment. It’s about transformation. It’s about igniting whoever you are on the inside. Bring it to the world. It’s about making a profound impact. What do you want your impact to be? Do you want it to be raising your kids? Do you want it to be a business? Whatever you want to be, that’s why I named it (B). Be in that. Be in that moment, even. You can be happy, sad, mad, pissed off, angry, passionate. Wherever you are, be there. You will have a group of women surrounding you to hold you in that, whatever that is for you. We put together small tribes of women about twelve to a tribe. We kick off a six-month curriculum together. It is the most transformative thing I’ve ever been a part of, to watch these women for six months hold each other, support each other, both professionally and personally.

One of the major tenets is that we’re all the teacher inside. We’re all a student inside. It just depends on the topic. If you put that many women together, twelve or so, there’s such wisdom, that collective wisdom that happens. Then when you put the sacred circle around it to say, “We’ve got each other. We’re not going to share what you share. We’re only going to hold you gently accountable to be the best woman you can be –” We do that over and over again. We kick it off in Mexico, which isn’t terrible. We get an amazing beach trip out of it. We have four days in Mexico. Then we start our six-month curriculum doing a lot together. We meet on Zoom every other week because the women are all over the country. Then we come together at the end of six months for another retreat up in the Rocky Mountains where we just celebrate each other. I just feel blessed I get to watch these women grow and change and trust and become who they were really meant to be. It’s fantastic.

Zibby: How do you pick the women?

Keele: It’s been going for four years. I stopped during COVID, obviously. We went online for a little while. They come from Wholly Unraveled. They come from word of mouth from the other (B) people. Really, that’s all it’s been right now. The curriculum is now really solidified. My pivot during the pandemic was to make sure that we are exactly who we say we are, and we are. The curriculum supports that. Now we’re going to start expanding. We’ll be doing a lot more tribes moving forward. We’re going to do four next year. I want to hold onto this as long as I can in the closeness of it because it could go big fast. I want it to be really just all ours for a little while, this team of women and myself. It’s been really great. We’re kicking off one at the end of September. Then we have another one kicking off in January, and then subsequent. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to go to Mexico.

Zibby: Where are you going in Mexico?

Keele: I rent a whole place, Riviera Maya. We have this big sixteen-bedroom home. It’s very insular because I want the women to feel as safe as possible. I tell them, we’re going to spoil you rotten and crack your heart open at the same time. It’s great.

Zibby: Wow, oh, my gosh. I wish I had time to do something like that. That sounds amazing.

Keele: I would love it.

Zibby: It really does. If people listening want to be in one of your tribes, how do they sign up? Where do they get more information and all that?

Keele: Please come to It’s K-E-E-L-E, and the Burgin is You will see (B)Tribes right on there. My creator of opportunities is waiting to hear from you. Then I’d love to chat with them as well. Everyone that works at (B) has been through (B), which is really cool too. They’ve all been through the process and have changed themselves. Now they want to give back. It’s a beautiful circle.

Zibby: So you obviously have (B) alumni stuff?

Keele: Yes, a lot.

Zibby: That’s great. How wonderful to not only record and share your experience in the book, but really turn it all into something that helps other people. You could’ve continued down these other paths so easily or just not even been here. There are all these times. It’s such a blessing. It sounds ridiculously hokey, I’m sorry, but it is, what you’re doing and then to connect other people and all of that. I just interviewed, right before you — I don’t know where in the schedule everything will come out, but I did just interview this other author who wrote a book about how to be sad. Part of the blessing of sadness and trauma is an increased ability for human connection. I feel like this is case and point. People who have gone through stuff, there’s this need to band together. You’re literally doing that with your business model. That’s what you’re doing. It’s great.

Keele: It’s amazing women. It doesn’t have to be someone went through trauma either. It can be someone who just wants to be happy.

Zibby: Yeah, who doesn’t want to be happy?

Keele: A woman said that — I interviewed her for a position on this (B)Tribe. I said, “What is it? What’s the thing?” She’s got a great career. She’s a chief marketing officer, publicly traded company. She’s like, “I just want to learn how to be. I just want to be. I want to be happy and just be able to be wherever I am.” It’s all walks of life, which makes it even more special. I feel blessed to be able to watch it and see the partnerships and see how people’s lives change and to see what could’ve been a really, really awful life for me to be so happy. I just feel so grateful. I want people to share that. There’s so much hope through trauma.

Zibby: That’s amazing. What are your future writing plans? Do you have any? Are you going to do more books?

Keele: Yes. I really need to get on my second book as I launch this next tribe, I keep telling myself. I don’t know. Any motivational tips that you have?

Zibby: Everybody else would say, just do it. I don’t know. Motivational tips, you keep talking, and I’ll think if I have tips.

Keele: I just need to get to doing it. I need to remember that it was really eighty-nine days. I just had to sit down and do it. It’s just, there’s so much I want to do in the world. Writing is so close to my heart. Some of my favorite days of my life were staring out the window of my writing studio and being able to have that freedom to just write. I won’t really pick up where I left off. I had the outline and the chapters. What I really want to talk about is the things that people don’t want to say out loud. I want to talk about what it feels like to be cheated on. I want to talk about what it feels like to lose a child. The hard subjects that I believe can really bring us together is where I want to spend my time and my energy. I want to write about things that have happened to me that have most likely happened to others and have that dialogue and have that conversation and talk about how I got through it. Hopefully, they can help them get through it.

Zibby: This is going to sound overly simplistic, but it seems like most books and most people’s desire to reveal secrets is the major propulsive force in narrative, somehow working through something they’re ashamed of, something that they hadn’t told before. Then the flip side of that is making sure it’s seen. I don’t usually talk about other interviews, but I happened to interview yesterday, this man, Jesse Thistle, who wrote From the Ashes, which is this beautiful Canadian memoir which you should totally pick up and read. Actually, the two of you should really meet. I’ll connect you. His whole thing, and he’s from an indigenous people, is that for collective trauma, it has to be witnessed for it to be overcome in some way. For everyone who keeps the secrets, you cannot heal until you share it and have it be seen and tended to to move on.

Keele: Yes. I see you, and I hear you. I see you. I hear you. People need to hear that. I work with the Mayan culture in Guatemala, so I really understand that. Like you said, who doesn’t love the hero’s journey? There was this call to adventure. Am I going to take it or not take it? My call to adventure was to write this book. It changed my whole life. I mean, my whole life. It changed my marriage. It changed where I lived. It changed my work. It changed so much, to sit in gratitude for that and to offer that to others as a gift, hopefully, that they pick up and run with.

Zibby: I think that might just be the real use of literature in addition to intellectual stimulation and teaching, or at least for memoir and some narrative fiction. I think that’s why, as a culture, it’s so important.

Keele: We don’t talk about it. The worst trauma would be if we didn’t talk about it. It’s saying it out loud. I agree.

Zibby: These are very deep thoughts this morning. People talk about, why is reading important? and all this stuff. You’re witnessing people’s pain. That makes them able to live. There’s nothing more important than that.

Keele: Turning it to medicine. You can take your own things and give it to someone else as medicine. I got through this. You can do it too. I’ve had thousands of people reach out and say, that happened to me, and I hadn’t been able to tell my mom. That happened to me, and I finally said it out loud. I always tell people, make sure you have the support when you say it out loud too. I don’t want you to just scream it out loud and then not have that support when it’s over, when you go home. Find those people that you can say all those things out loud. Say them in the time that you’re ready, in the time to heal. For me, I did a lot of EMDR therapy. That’s what allowed me to really be healed. There’s always going to be scars from childhood, but they’re not prevalent in my life at all.

Zibby: I really want to explore that EMDR therapy. I’ve heard so much good stuff about it recently from trauma experts and grief counselors. It keeps coming up. I feel like it’s the only therapy I haven’t tried. I might as well add it to the list.

Keele: It’s life-giving, for sure.

Zibby: Awesome. Amazing. Thank you so much, Keele. This has been awesome, really inspiring, truly. Oh, my gosh, the idea of these women in Mexico and all of you guys sharing stuff in this house, that’s so nice. You should film it. It should be a show, honestly.

Keele: If I could make everyone feel safe on the camera, I would do that. When we go deep, I don’t think they want it on film, but you never know. That might be a good idea. Wholly Unraveled‘s in development to go to the screen.

Zibby: Is it? That’s so great. Tell me about that. What else can you share?

Keele: I don’t know yet if it’s going to be a TV series or if it’s going to be a movie. I’m working with the people that brought Eat Pray Love to the screen. It’s really, really exciting. I’m thrilled about it. We’ll see. To be continued. Stay tuned.

Zibby: It was so great to connect today. Thank you so much. I’ll be following your journey. It’s so cool.

Keele: I’ll follow yours as well. Congratulations with all your success. It was great to meet you.

Zibby: You too. Take care.

Keele: We’ll do it again. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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