Last month, I wrote two articles for Greatist, one about domestic violence and abuse, and one about supporting a partner dealing with depression. I got great feedback from both, but the emails I received in response to the domestic violence piece were overwhelming. As I read words like “thank you for letting me know I’m not alone” and “thank you for helping me realize the abuse is not my fault,” I realized the importance of sharing my story.
I started writing a book earlier this year, right before I turned thirty. The weight of the past decade was heavy on my mind, a blur of the things that happened to me from ages twenty to thirty. My idea was to write three vignettes from each of the ten years, totaling thirty chapters altogether. They would be carefully curated pieces of my experiences in college and with writing, depression, marriage, and divorce. Snapshots, but not the whole picture. I thought that maybe I would touch on the abuse, but it wouldn’t be the focus.
After writing an outline and some notes, I was unable to move further than a few chapters. In hopes of finding renewed inspiration, I decided to table the book for a few months and work on smaller projects, like the articles. I had no idea that writing a short piece on abuse would have such a tremendous impact on me.
Writing about abuse is challenging. Victims are questioned, blamed, and doubted. Daily, in my work as a mental health counselor, I see victims of every kind of abuse. They have remained silent for years, carrying shame, guilt, and endless pain.
A common response to a traumatic event is to try and forget it ever happened. We don’t want to talk about it, we want to move on. When thoughts, feelings, and situations remind us of past trauma, we learn to be afraid of them and to run from them. These are our triggers.
A traumatic event is like a jigsaw puzzle with hundreds or thousands of pieces. When we avoid thinking about what happened, it results in a fragmented view of the event and a lack of awareness. When we encounter and are unable to avoid our triggers, we feel intense fear and a loss of control.
I was recently working with a patient who is also a writer, recommending that she write her way through her experience as a form of prolonged exposure therapy. “Write down every detail you can remember,” I told her. “What it sounded like, smelled like, felt like, looked like. Write it all down.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew what I needed to do.
It can be a scary thought, the idea of sitting down and putting all those pieces together. Touching each one, remembering it, reliving it. But when we do this, we get a clearer picture of what happened. We can’t change the event, but we can gain a stronger sense of awareness and control. We can learn ways to relax when we feel overwhelmed. Once all of the pieces are together, we see important details we may not have noticed before.
Last week, I saw my therapist for the first time in months. The work we did in session was difficult, but I left feeling motivated and energized to start writing again. At twenty years old, while getting a degree in English and creative writing and watching Sex and the City like it was my job, I dreamed of the first book I would write. I had no idea that it would take over ten years of experiences. I had no idea that it would look like this.
After trying to forget, and trying to write something else, I keep coming back to this place. There is a reason for this, a purpose for my story, despite my fear and avoidance. It’s time to process and heal. It’s time to write my way through it until all the pieces are together.