“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how old we are, we still all have that little child inside of us.” Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, global explorer, activist, and founder of the non-profit Courageous Girls, joins Zibby to talk about her debut memoir, In the Shadow of the Mountain, which was recently optioned for film by Selena Gomez. The two discuss how Silvia got to a place where she could be so open about her experience with childhood sexual violence, as well as why she wants to break the stigma for others who have endured similar traumas. Silvia also shares what she plans to do on tour in her home country of Peru once the book is translated into Spanish.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Silvia. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss In the Shadow of the Mountain: A Memoir of Courage.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado: Thank you, Zibby. What an honor. I have been looking forward to this conversation. I’m so thrilled. Thank you.

Zibby: I don’t know if you got my note, but when I finished this, I was just sitting — I read it right in this chair here. I just had my hand over my heart. I was like, oh, my gosh. I went on DM, Instagram, and I was like, this is the most powerful memoir I’ve read in so long. This is amazing.

Silvia: Thank you.

Zibby: Seriously. I finished reading it, and I just felt like, oh, my gosh, the intersection of your — you know what? I should let you talk about what the book’s about. I was just going to say this intersection of the climbing and getting through all that and all the stuff you’ve gone through in your personal life and how it all intersected and came together beautifully at the end. I feel like I just went on such a journey with you. It was amazing.

Silvia: That was my dream. That was the goal for me when putting the story out. It is funny, but even though the book hides as a climbing journey, it’s not really a climbing book, per se. It is a story of us. That was my dream, for me to put the story out there. As you were asking me, what is the book about? It is a very personal, real intimate journey about trying to — it’s actually — oh, my god, it’s a little early in my side. This book, it’s this almost open circle about going through this journey of what happens when you isolate yourself when you’re not able to really rely on community, when you actually allow shame to try to overtake your life, and when you feel you’re alone. For me, the dream of this book was to totally shatter all these notions and actually what we do to ourselves when we fester by ourselves with just all of our suffering and to understand the beauty of what happens when we can reconnect with others, especially when we are willing to hear each other out, support each other, the community that we can create, and even when we are able to be out in nature, the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful gifts of transformation that can happen. It is this really raw, vulnerable, very human story. It’s a story of all of us, especially what we have gone over the last couple of years. Who hasn’t dealt with shame, addiction, loss in one way or another? Not particularly, maybe, affecting to you. I think this was the biggest gift I was able to give myself, to allow for once and for all, liberate myself. I went at it with everything, not holding anything back.

Zibby: The response as a reader who didn’t know you before and now feels like I’m so invested in your life, I was like, I want to hug this woman. Starting with what you went through as a child and the way you wrote about J and all of the sick stuff that you didn’t even realize and remembering the hopes that you had that it would all make sense at some point and that you could even remember and then articulate it so well, that this is how you made sense of it at the time, and yet there was this thing happening to you that was — what I was trying to say is all of that as a child and the way that you tell it — you were his age. My son is here in the background. The innocence met with what happened, I don’t know if you feel comfortable even discussing it. I know you wrote about it.

Silvia: It’s out there. Absolutely. That’s been the purpose of it. I know it’s made many people uncomfortable. To me, the aspect of it is to be able to bring it out. It was so tough even for me. If anything, this whole writing of this book has been possibly the hardest mountain I have ever had to climb in my life. I now have been four years sober, so I had to do it. I really was embracing all these emotions for the very first time in my life, but I really needed to do it. It was heartbreaking to be able to go back to that innocence. I just know that I am not alone. I know this resonates with a lot of people. Even, we’re making so many strides right now in society in general. There is still so much stigma to it, even in my own community, many families. Even for my own family, it was even hard. It’s almost like you don’t want to touch. You don’t want to be able to face that things like that can happen and how can it affect. What you just said, Zibby, right now, my whole dream — I felt I put myself out there. To get the sweet reaction that you’ve gotten as if you want to give me a hug, that is how I’m receiving this book. It’s such a beautiful gift. This is more than a dream come true for me.

Zibby: I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy. If I were writing these stories, I don’t even know, I think I would just have tears. I feel like my keys on my computer would just be drenched going through it, especially the loss. Oh, my gosh, the part about the — I don’t want to give things away, but the bridge, that day, the way you told the whole story, I could literally cry just thinking about it again. It was so emotional.

Silvia: What I was doing a lot is — I love it because I kept having to take my own medicine when writing it. Luckily for me, one of the most beautiful tools that I have learned that helped me stay strong and sober through this experience was to develop a lot of compassion, meditation. I was able to learn that way ahead of writing the book. A lot of it is to have to give yourself that space if things are getting really hard. God, I hope people don’t take it the wrong way, but the pandemic, on that degree, was a blessing in disguise for me because I really needed to be alone and centered and just simply focus. There would be times when getting through these scenes would be so hard. I would be crying my eyes out. I simply would be practicing self-compassion. I would be putting my hands on my heart. We were talking about community. We were talking about family. This is what really matters.

Zibby: My whole show is moms don’t have time. That’s my whole brand. It’s very on-brand for me.

Silvia: Guess what? Here right now, this conversation couldn’t be any more perfect. I’m serious. As we’re connecting and as we’re talking about, the hardest thing for me as an adult — this has been the gift, liberating myself. I had the shadow of that pain of that little innocence being stolen, and really rekindling with my own little girl. Actually, it is something that as we grow older, especially when things get in our way in life, I think we sometimes tend to undermine that importance, what can make us happy. It goes back to that essence. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how old we are, we still all have that little child inside of us. If some of us have had to endure some things, it’s a matter of living with it together and reconnecting to all of it.

Zibby: It’s so true. I have to say, I love memoir. Memoir is, by far, my favorite genre to read. I could read memoirs all day. There are so many stories — not to the extent, necessarily of yours. Not to compare, but just similar stories of child abuse, child molestation, all of this that I’m actually feeling more distrustful of men. I’m like, how can there be so many men who have done this? For every writer who shares, there are so many stories that are unspoken to anyone, or certainly publicly. The magnification of that when you think about a society in which this has happened to so many young people, what does that do when people grow up? You’ve overcome this in such an amazing way. You can see the emotional work that you’ve done. You’re very open about the times when you weren’t handling it and that your life was sort of falling apart, not because, necessarily, of this, but just as life can do. Sometimes I’m just like, oh, my gosh, how could there be so many awful, awful men out there, so many to do this to kids? It blows my mind.

Silvia: I feel that is one of the other dreams for me with this book, is to bring shame out of the forefront, just keep bringing it out of the shadows, keep bringing this notion that, yeah, maybe we no longer have this kind of issue. More than anything, it’s to be able to give power to other survivors, not just women, a lot of men as well, little boys.

Zibby: It’s true. It’s just children in general.

Silvia: Just in general, being able to bring it out in the forefront, being able to cross through that stigma, the more that we can share those stories, those hard journeys, that is what creates a change. Especially me being a Latina, within my community, it’s a lot of — the number of sweet notes and reaches out that I’ve received of people telling me, god, this happened to me. I couldn’t tell my family. My mom doesn’t want me to say anything. We just need to break through that. That, to me, is part of the bigger conversation. The dream is, we can end this as a global society. I am so grateful as well of all the work that we have done even from the time that I had to endure through this to now. We can’t stay discontent. We have to continue further. That’s something that excites me about being able to bring — for me, for example, when I’m bringing the book down to Peru — we’re translating it into Spanish.

Zibby: That’s great.

Silvia: Yes, we are. This stigma, we have to break through. I’m going to Peru. We’re translating the book in Spanish, which is, for me, it’s a gift. We’ll have it here in Spanish, in the US. In Peru particularly, the way that it’s been received, or at least this whole idea, we’re going to be able to develop almost this workshop to be able to bring this around where we do a little book tour in the country and be able to work with actually how to break and overcoming the shame and the stigma. The percentages, even though here, we’ve made so many strides, in so many places still, it is forbidden. This is, to me, part of my work for the rest of my life, being able to continue bringing this journey. The first brave step for me was to totally be as raw, as vulnerable, as open, and being able to invite others and tell them, we’re not alone. We still are intact. We still are beautiful. We still are whole.

Zibby: Wow. I hope this wins all sorts of awards and all of that. I’m serious. It’s so — I don’t like using the word brave because everybody always talks about memoirs being so brave, but it is brave. It’s also just such a generous act. It’s so generous of you to share this much of yourself with the world and also to write in such a beautiful way. This is not a diary just thrown down here. It’s literary. Your sentences are really well-crafted. I don’t know what to say. I’m a fan.

Silvia: Zibby, what an honor. Thank you.

Zibby: Tell me a little more about the writing as a craft for you and how you honed that skill and if there were books that you feel like were really instrumental in your journey or other huge influences on your writing.

Silvia: I feel that, for me — my agent disagrees, but I tell everyone, we all have a book in us. We all have our own stories. That is true. We all have our own journeys. Just as you were mentioning, memoirs are my favorite read. There’s something really personal. I remember as a kid, I always was drawn — we didn’t have a lot of the genre of memoir in Peru. Even some of the traditional fiction stories would be nice, but I wasn’t ever really drawn to it. I almost wanted the facts and just stories. I was a huge fan of Reader’s Digest. That used to be huge down there. Overall, stories, to me, just felt like, wow, these that people are taking. I’ve always been very moved by people being able to be open and sharing, especially some of the historical memoirs of journeys that people have gone through. I love that aspect of the reinvention. Especially when I was struggling even with my drinking and with my addiction, I kept always looking for the light. In terms of those, memoirs have always been my biggest inspirations. Just going through them has been very sweet. Over the last several years, I think I’ve done a lot of self-examination work. The Body Keeps Score was pivotal because I had to rely so much on my own body to remember. For me particularly, this book was very structure. Coming through the memoir aspect of things, it almost felt as a business project. It was very much, I knew what was going to be the very beginning, what was going to be the very end, what would be the chapters or structure. I had the opportunity to explore through this, every particular chapter, all the different scenes. It gave me the opportunity to just dive deeper into trying to bring all the elements.

Especially for me, the hardest chapters were the early ones, as if trying to reconnect to so much information that I hadn’t even faced in decades. That was really hard. I had a lot of therapy help for that. I think that was really pivotal, being able to kind of being held back. Through this whole journey, just because it was so hard to put it out, I was lucky that I wasn’t alone on that sense. I had a lot of support, a lot of hand-holding that would be able to allow me to get out a lot of those emotions. Luckily, for the mountain part, I’ve always kept a journal. Just the sights of all these different expeditions, that was something that was always so spectacular. I remembered to take as much information. I never imagined when I was climbing, this is going to be for the book. It was just for me. I remember eventually, I felt, hopefully, if I’m old, I can be able to reopen this and remember this particular sight and this emotion that you were feeling. It was definitely a whole combination of being able to reawaken. For anybody who gets into a block, just trust that the information is inside of us. We are these walking encyclopedias. We just simply have to know how to reactivate this information and trust that what comes out is our own truth, and then being able to play around with it and being inspired by everything and being able to bring it forward.

Zibby: I love it. That’s awesome. Silvia, thank you. Thank you for coming on. Thank you for discussing your book, for being so open, for just letting me rave about it to you directly, for dealing with my son behind me the whole time.

Silvia: This is part of the everyday. It’s been such an honor. You’ve said exactly what has been possibly the most special feedback or just a reaction of the journey. I want people to know that they’re not alone. I want people to know the beauty that we have in all of us. Especially when there’s the opportunity of going out, I’m sure with your family — we’ve been locked in. I can only imagine the last two years, how they were for you especially. When things get back to normal, I feel nature can give us so much. It’s almost like this love story to nature too.

Zibby: It’s so true. Actually, I started a publishing company myself. We have one book that I feel like you would respond really well to. It hasn’t even been edited yet, but I feel like I want to send it to you just to —

Silvia: — Please.

Zibby: I feel like you would really get a lot out of it. I’d love to introduce you to the author, who’s very young. I just think you guys should talk. Maybe I can get your —

Silvia: — If anything, to me, this is a community effort. This has almost been my introduction, this line of, hello, I’m Silvia from Peru. I’m like, hi, I’m Silvia from In the Shadow of the Mountain. We need to keep bringing stories out. We need to continue. I think this is what creates a change. This is why we all are here, in a way.

Zibby: I agree. Amazing. Thank you. Big hug.

Silvia: Big hug. Who knows? Maybe we’ll meet, but I’m sure we’re going to .

Zibby: I would love, love to meet you in real life.

Silvia: Where are you?

Zibby: I’m in New York. Where are you?

Silvia: I’m actually in San Francisco, but I’m just doing a quick visit. I’m going to come back in August, so maybe we’ll coordinate.

Zibby: That would be great. I’m in LA a lot too, so maybe one of these times.

Silvia: We’ll stay in touch.

Zibby: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Silvia: Bye.


IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAIN by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

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