Six and a half years ago, I returned to writing. I can’t describe the kind of freeing relief it brought me. I returned to blogging and started writing a fairy tale that I thought would be a short story.
I wrote because I could no longer ignore the call. I wrote because not writing was draining me of energy. And, completely unbeknownst to me at the time, I wrote to tell myself about long-buried, long-forgotten trauma.
Most of my experience until then was in writing stories for children’s magazines. Not one had sold, so far. The story of a princess and the mysterious statue that appears in the castle grew and changed and evolved. At some point, the short story demanded to be a novel. (I’ve written a little about this before.) I had no idea what I was doing then, but the process has been rewarding, not always in a pleasant way, but in a way I needed more than I knew.
In the years it’s taken me (still taking me) to write this novel, I began to see parts of myself revealed in the words I’d written. Parts of me I’d forgotten or didn’t know. And not just parts of me, but memories, memories I’d suppressed and forgotten.
One day as I learned about the nature of suppressed trauma memories, recognition flooded my body and mind. I froze, panic choking me. This was shockingly familiar. Over time, I read about it and spoke to a therapist, confirming what I knew even before memories began to surface: that when I was barely old enough for kindergarten, someone trusted had fractured my childhood. At that age, when actions and people are still usually categorized as either good or bad, the brain doesn’t always know how to store memories of a trusted individual doing something bad. Those memories don’t get stored properly. But they don’t leave. They just manifest differently.
For me, one way they manifested was in a fairy tale turned fantasy about a protagonist who must return to the scene of long ago, forgotten events in order to stop a villain from wreaking havoc on the world.
I was writing to tell myself that something was wrong. That world was me and I was trying to remember something that wreaked havoc on my life. It was time to start facing that havoc.
Today, this novel has gone through six or seven drafts. I have changed many details that once spoke deeply to me about what I’ve lost or grappled with. At first I wondered if this made the story lose something good in the original version or something of personal value to me.
But writers know that if you toss something out of a draft, it doesn’t evaporate. You store it carefully away for another time, where through time and life it ferments into rich material. If something meaningful didn’t make it into one book, it will appear in another one.
Secondly, whenever I wish I this novel was written, edited, and published by now, I remember that I was writing to tell myself things. Deep, life-altering things that demanded recognition. Things that somehow, could only be said through a long story process. Because somehow it was story that finally led me to battle the monsters that lay hidden deep inside.
And it was worth it. Because I needed it. The things I wrote for myself were worth the time. And story, I have learned, can offer a unique opening to the path towards healing.
This is where I would tell you some beautiful story of God’s nearness to me in the midst of all of this. He has been near, and he’s given me many tools to work through this trauma, specifically story. But as much as I wish I did, I don’t have some amazing parallel insight on my relationship with God to share with you. Maybe this needs more fermenting time. For now, it’s enough for me to say in awkward prose that he was and is near, he’s trained my hands for battle, and in my hand is a pen. And I’m not done wielding it yet.
With words we share, shape, and name. With words, we can cut a path through darkness.
Why do you write? What are you telling yourself? It may not be about trauma (I sure hope it isn’t), but maybe if you have been writing the same story over and over again, you are trying to get a message across to one reader: you. Don’t ignore that message.
You are worth it.