By Leslie Lindsay
A powerful and almost unbelievably true account of one woman’s dysfunctional family, her experiences in detention, foster care, the streets of Hollywood, and how she made it through.
~MEMOIR MONDAY|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
HINDSIGHT (2018) by Sheryl Recinos, is one of those stories that will absolutely stay with you. Sheryl is a your typical eight-year old when her mother has a psychotic break. Along with her next-closest-in-age brother, she takes them to a trailer home to stay warm, leaving them with nothing but uncooked pasta and raisins. And then she vanishes, but returns. The family struggles. Eventually, the parents divorce, but the father receives custody. When Sheryl is eleven, he remarries a woman who wants nothing to do with kids, who struggles with her own mental health issues.
To summarize this harrowing story in a succinct manner almost discredits the author’s pain and struggles. Here, we delve into a deeply dysfunctional family of origin, involving children sent away to foster care, the ones that remain, and the frank abuse that follows. HINDSIGHT is not for the faint of heart. It chronicles Sheryl’s life from the age of about eight through twenty, revealing dangerous obstacles including rape, murder, stalkers, pregnant teenagers, miscarriages, drugs, alcohol, homelessness, hitchhiking, and more. There’s parental estrangement and so many truly challenging situations that will pull at your heartstrings.
But there’s hope here, too. After her first baby, and then marriage, a college education, and then an eight-year career teaching high school biology, Sheryl acts on her dream and becomes a family practice physician.
I found myself deeply worried for Sheryl and urging her forward, even cringing at some of her decisions, but she does come out better in the end.
HINDSIGHT is about resilience and tenacity. It’s about the fight and rewards that come after.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Sheryl Recinos, M.D. to the author interview series.
Sheryl, thank you so very much for taking the time to chat. I am so taken with your story—because really, it’s one of immense struggle. You could so easily have slipped through the cracks, gotten lost in the system, or worse. But first, let’s start with your inspiration to tell your story…why now?
Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:
This is the hardest question for me to answer, because it cuts me so deeply. I had always considered telling my story, and I’d been trying to write this book for ten years. But in 2017, I lost my oldest brother to suicide. I realized that I needed to share my story, because I felt a compelling desire to try to help others with my words. I knew that if I didn’t share my story, it would ultimately die with me.
On top of that, homelessness is surging. I live in Los Angeles, and we’re busting at the seams with people who have fallen through the cracks. I needed to give people insight into what it meant to be homeless, and how the struggle for daily survival impacted every single choice in my own life when I was younger.
The prologue has you as a physician treating a woman you are sure is being trafficked. Others want to know how you know, you do because you witnessed this life. I think that is so powerful, how you are now about to recognize this and step in. Your past has become a gift in helping others. Can you talk about that, please?
Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:
Probably the most shocking aspect to me of my medical training was how quickly patients “knew.” It wasn’t a word that I said or some secret handshake. Patients intuitively recognized that I understood them and poured their hearts out to me.
I didn’t understand what was happening, but my Pediatrics attending in fourth year of med school figured it out for me. I was perhaps three hours into my first shift with him when he pulled me into his office and told me, “You grew up rough.” I was immediately terrified; my secret was out. Nobody knew those things about me. But he was kind, so I asked him how he knew. He told me that I don’t react. I don’t change how I treat patients even if they disclose concerning lifestyle choices or other issues.
When I started my residency training, I carried that idea with me. I’d already had enough patients tell me, “I know you get it,” even when I hadn’t said or done anything unusual. I was just being my authentic self. And as I stepped into my role as a Family Medicine resident physician, I found myself increasingly serving as the advocate for my patients. Some of my attendings kept asking me how I got patients to share such personal stories with me. I wasn’t sure how to answer it, but they accepted that I had a way of gaining patients’ trust and finding out the mysteries that impacted patient care. It was incredible to be able to walk into a patient room and see a completely different scenario than my peers. Likewise, it made it just that much harder to convince people that what I was seeing was relevant. I begged for the patient in the prologue to be admitted, and the trafficking coordinator at our hospital was grateful that I found her a safe bed for the night. The next day, the police got involved, since she was determined to be a missing person. After that, people really started to listen when I said I had concerns. She was not my last trafficking victim, sadly, but I found my voice through her.
“The fact that her story has a surprisingly happy ending (as the initials “MD” after her name on the memoir’s cover attest) does little to blunt the sting that this gritty narrative of homelessness and young womanhood leaves in its wake.”
What I love about HINDSIGHT is how you manage to move forward and have a successful life. You go to college and then medical school! I mean, WOW! There are people who haven’t had your challenging life experiences and still don’t make it into medical school. In fact, they may have had everything given to them. First, I am curious what medical school was like for you being a non-traditional student, and did you ever think you were in over your head?
Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:
Medical school was so incredibly hard. I had this idea in my head that I’d been through hard things and could do anything, but the other part of me kept telling me I couldn’t do it. I didn’t fit in; almost all my classmates came from families of physicians, had excellent college transcripts, and didn’t ever want for anything. On the other hand, I went to medical school in a foreign country with my husband and three children, and we struggled financially every step along the way. I actually listened to reader feedback and wrote about this journey in a recently released follow-up memoir, Beta Blockers and Coffee.
In turning to your parents a bit…you seemed to have a loving relationship with your mother, but she struggled with her mental health; she is bipolar. Your father was a challenge, too. He made life very hard on you. Can you talk a little about what we ‘inherit’ from our parents—whether genetic or behavioral, and how we can break free of that cycle? Also, can we get an update on them? You mom seems to sort of disappear’ in the narrative.
Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:
There’s a part of my mother that I always feared I would have, too. She was diagnosed at twenty-seven, and I didn’t catch my breath until I was twenty-eight. For me, that symbolically meant that I wasn’t like her. I loved her, but her illness terrified me because I’d seen her through so many of her worst struggles. My oldest brother and I usually had meetings with her care team whenever she was hospitalized, which usually meant a flight back east for me. I was in a rotation in Miami as a medical student when I had to stop everything for a weekend to drive north so that I could see her at a new psych facility.
Since my father had custody, he always got to choose whether I could contact my mother during those early years. I felt like this was incredibly unfair, and it made it so much harder for me to connect with anyone. She was someone that always listened, no matter what. I had a close relationship with her and continued to call her once a week for over fifteen years, until her illness started to win. I never had that with my father; whenever I called him, he was stoic and needed me to have a reason to call. I have a lot of thoughts about this, but he is still alive, and I’d rather just let it go.
Basically, it was never a healthy relationship, and I’m grateful that I cut contact with him. It actually wasn’t until I lost my brother that I really allowed myself to accept that maintaining a relationship with my father was no longer a healthy option. I tried for years to stay connected with him, for the sake of my own children, but my kids sat me down and had an intervention. They begged me to let the relationship go, and I’m glad I heard them.
My mother struggled with her bipolar disorder, and for the last several years of her life, the disease won. She was placed in a geri-psych facility until she passed away in early 2018. Losing her so close to my brother ripped me apart. After she passed, I finally sat down and wrote it all down. I needed to get the story out of me because I couldn’t figure out why I was so traumatized.
I think what propels your story forward is that you were so set on Hollywood, that you were sort of obsessed with it; it served as sort of a touchstone for you. Can you talk about that a little and also, what’s obsessing you now?
Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:
There was something about Hollywood that captivated me while I was there at thirteen years old. It wasn’t the stars on the sidewalk or some inner desire to become a movie star. Rather, it was this feeling of connectedness that I felt in brief moments with other homeless youth, and nothing else ever filled that void in me like Hollywood. When I returned at sixteen, I truly felt like I was home.
I can honestly say that during medical school, I felt like I was in exile from my home. Moving around so much for clinical rotations and having such instability of housing and food for my own children opened up all my old wounds and made me start examining them. The beginnings of healing began during those years. As some of my colleagues say, “Healer, heal thyself.”
These days, I’m a bit obsessed with helping end youth homelessness. Life has come full circle for me, and because I’ve been able to share this deeply personal story with the world, I’ve had countless people tell me how it’s changed their view of people experiencing homelessness, particularly youths. I volunteer and speak to community members for My Friend’s Place, a homeless youth organization in Hollywood that works tirelessly to provide low barrier care to homeless youth.
Additionally, one of the nurses at my current hospital is planning to spend her retirement working with homeless youth after reading my book, and feedback like that has kept me moving forward to become a voice for youth who don’t have one. I wasn’t heard as a child, and now I have a seat at the table to speak loudly and clearly for safety and healing for these youth.
Sheryl, HINDSIGHT is such a powerful and personal story and I could probably ask questions all day, but I want to know what I didn’t ask that you want to share and also did I hear that HINDSIGHT is going to be made into a movie?
Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:
I am currently working with a producer on this project. I have been taking screenwriting classes with UCLA Extension and I completed a draft (that will probably be changed a million more times) that the producer is currently reviewing. I have high hopes for sharing this story with anyone who is willing to listen. I am willing to be as vulnerable as I need to be to help these youth.
Sheryl, thank you thank you for this! One more question: what are you reading now?
Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:
I am reading a few books, in addition to every article I can get my hands on about COVID-19. This pandemic is incredibly stressful for those of us on the frontlines.
My current books:
- Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine, by Damon Tweedy, MD
- The Boy on the Bridge, M. R. Carey
- Bleed Like Me, C. Desir
- The Black Flamingo, Dean Atta
Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 @alwayswithabook
To connect with Sheryl Recincos, M.D. via social media, or to purchase a copy of HINDSIGHT, please see:
I found similarities between themes and style of HINDSIGHT and others, particularly Jeanette Walls’s THE GLASS CASTLE (dysfunctional family, homelessness, mental illness), meets EDUCATED (Tara Westover), along with Rene Denfeld’s exploration of childhood homelessness in THE BUTTERFLY GIRL, some similarities between HINDSIGHT and IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY (Bobi Conn).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sheryl Recinos is a mother, wife, author, and family medicine physician in Los Angeles, California. She is an advocate for youth everywhere, particularly youth who have experienced childhood trauma. She volunteers at My Friend’s Place and serves on their Emerging Leaders Council. She also volunteers with numerous medical and advocacy projects, locally and abroad.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing & prose poetry has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, Coffin Bell Journal, and others. Her cover art was featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of S. Recinos and used with permission. Cover art cred: Roxana Recinos. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 @alwayswithabook]