Writing In The Dark: The Power Of Writing To Help Us Through Trauma
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other peoplewant to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
When I was sixteen and couldn’t fall asleep at night, I would lie for hours on my lofted bed and try every possible thing I could think of to find a way to rest. I counted backwards from a thousand, listened to relaxation tapes, read the most boring book I owned, but by 2am I would give up and crawl down the hallway to my parents room to the makeshift bed at the far side of theirs.
One night, as I was rolling around, trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable, I felt one of my mother’s notebooks on the floor underneath the comforter I laid on. Digging it out, I flipped through the blank pages, then reached up on to her nightstand and found a pen. Before I knew it the words were pouring out of me. From that night on, I slept with a notebook under my pillow. When I crawled into bed, I wrote a poem. A poem about whatever I was feeling or thinking or afraid of. I wrote until I had nothing left to say, sometimes repeating the same thing over and over and over until my hand grew tired. If I woke up during the night, out of breath and terrified by the all to realistic nightmares, I would write, in the dark, through the teardrops that fell on the paper, until I drifted back to sleep.
Without knowing it, I found not only a way to finally sleep at night, but a way to survive the trauma I was going through and the aftermath that followed. To this day I still sleep with a notebook in my bed and my computer on the nightstand next to me. I write before I go to bed. I write when I can’t sleep. I write when I wake up in the morning after another bad dream. I write during the day, on the train, while I’m eating lunch, while I’m waiting in the doctor’s office or for a table at a restaurant. Sometimes just a sentence. Sometimes ten pages at a time.
When I decided that I wanted to write a book, I thought it would be easy to write. However, when I sat down with another blank screen and thought about writing something that someone would someday pick up and read: I froze. Writing while thinking about an audience somehow transformed my words into flat, lifeless sentences that sounded far away and fake when I reread them later; but the things I wrote when I was all alone I hid with a desperate urgency. No one was, or would be, allowed to ever read them. They were just too private.
Comparing the two categories of my own writing, I came to an important discovery. Not that I have the audacity to label myself a great writer, but looking back on things I have written over the years, the one thing that rings true is that when I write for myself, disregarding any notions of what another person might want to hear, I find the strength of what I have to offer. I find the raw story, the real story, of the girl that tried to make sense of something to which she had not yet learned the word. What it actually felt like to lay in the dark, night after night, on the same bed that held the secret abuse; to wake up in a panic, feeling something wrapped tightly around my wrists, unable to breath; to go to school and play the role of the star athlete, the perfect student, the strong and beautiful girl who never did anything wrong and whose life was so perfect.
Maybe this is the beauty of the art. When we expose ourselves at our most vulnerable point, when we stop trying to keep the weakness a secret, when we write without regard to what others will think, we find the strength of the gift we have to offer.
January 23, 2004
Somedays I don’t think I’ll ever be a human again.
I’ll never be alive again. I’ll only ever be
a girl with a hole in her chest where she cut out
her heart so she wouldn’t have to feel.
I’ll be a shadow. An empty shell of a person that fell
in love and never saw it coming.
Nothing but a memory—
of a girl who knew how to be a person.
Who didn’t have to think about things like how to push
the words “Hi! How are you?” out of her throat.
Who could sing at the top of her lungs.
Who could dance however she wanted and wear whatever
she wanted and when she laughed, she felt the laugh, and when
she cried, she felt the pain and when she thought about the future
she knew. She could be anything she wanted to be. But most of all—
Somedays I think that no matter what I do, I’ll never be ok.
I think that everything might just be better if I stay
laying on the floor of my closet on top of the pile of dirty clothes.
I think, maybe, this is where I belong. Maybe I could just disappear
and no one would notice and it would all just go away.
But then I remember to listen to
that voice that screams so loud I can almost hear
it whisper. “I will never let you get the best of me. I will never
let you hold me down. I will never let you win. And if it takes me until
my very last breath in this life, I will find a way to be happy again.
I will find a way to overcome whatever you try to throw at me.
I will find a way to thrive. “