Writing is Centering, Like Prayer

May 23, 2017 § 19 Comments

marciabilykBy Marcia Krause Bilyk

The day after Trump’s inauguration, when Sean Spicer stood at the White House podium and declared the crowd the largest in Inaugural history, instead of scoffing at him, instead of declaring him as nuts as his boss, I was transported to my childhood feelings of rage, fear, and despair.

I grew up with a narcissistic father. Our home was suffused with his grandiosity, his exaggerations, his uninformed opinions. Mother, for reasons I couldn’t understand, didn’t contradict or question him. If I complained to her in private about his bullying, she’d say, “Your father loves you.” It felt crazy. Mother warned us not to speak of what went on at home to our friends. Dad’s rages were a closely guarded secret. There was no predicting what might set him off.

I withheld from Dad what he wanted and expected of me: affirmation, loyalty, devotion. I vowed I’d be factual and avoid using his imperatives. This is the greatest, isn’t it?! I was so invested in being not-like-father, it took me years of therapy to discern my identity separate from his.

I thought my reactive days were behind me, but the triggers for post-traumatic-Dad stress are escalating. Trump fires Comey, dashing my hope for someone to stand up to him. I feel the rage underlying Trump’s tweeted “tapes” threat. In the Oval Office photo with Russian officials, Trump’s face mirrors Dad’s boyish infatuation with power. Through an absence of appropriate boundaries, Trump exposes and betrays a vulnerable source. And, now, Paul Ryan sounds like Mother. “No leaks. This is how we know we’re a real family…”

When I’m able, I detach from the news, but anyone who’s grown up amidst family dysfunction will tell you about their hyper-vigilance, their need to be aware, at all time, of where the danger lies.

And so, I sit at my computer and I write. It’s confessional, an acknowledgment of what God already knows is churning inside me. It helps me to identify the feelings I need to set aside in order to access the still and silent God-place within. Writing, for me, is centering, like prayer.

There is a response to my outpouring. Newfound understanding and compassion for my emotional flashbacks make it possible to move on to activities that bring me joy. I gaze at the seedlings on my office windowsill and decide it’s time to plant them in my garden.


Marcia Krause Bilyk is a retired pastor, who works part-time in a long-term residential treatment center for chronic relapse addicts. Her work has appeared in Gravel, The Interpreter, Five2One, Drunk Monkeys, and The Upper Room.


§ 19 Responses to Writing is Centering, Like Prayer

  • samiller1029 says:

    I never thought to frame it quite like this, but you are spot on. The Trump administration has been re-traumatizing for those of us who grew up with dysfunction. And, yes, to writing our way out of it. Lovely.

  • Oh, Marcia, thank you so much for writing this. This Administration has triggered all of the fears of growing up with the unpredictability and irrationality of a mother in the grips of alcoholism. For the past 30 years, I’ve written about health and mental health care, and the news on that front is so grim these days (just look at the President’s budget and the cuts he is proposing to funding for mental health treatment, substance abuse prevention, and Medicaid), it makes me long for another line of work!

  • […] via Writing is Centering, Like Prayer — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Thank you. This presidency brings back ugliness that many of us hoped to have banished from our lives. Thank you, Dinty, for providing a forum. Writing is a way to make clarity in our own small space.

  • rockbottomofthings says:

    Writing helps us in different ways. I write whenever I feel lonely so in that sense, writing is like an old friend. To many more years of writing 🙂

  • susanjc says:

    Thank you! You have articulated so well something that I have been feeling.

  • ryderziebarth says:

    So well written, Marcia. Thanks for sharing this personal essay.

  • Yeah, hell of a vision of “Make America Great Again”–fathers say and do whatever the hell and the rest shut their traps and keep in line. Ugh.

    Hugs to you–he can’t be president forever (that’s one of the few things I can think regarding him that let me get out of bed every day).

  • 1WriteWay says:

    Wonderful essay. A friend recently shared with me that she is experiencing something like PTSD in reaction to #45 and recent events. Hers too was a dysfunctional family where you walked on eggshells and never knew who to trust. I’ve shared this essay with her.

  • Maddie Lock says:

    Bravo. Since the election i have felt shock, embarrassment and fear. Also avoidance of news so that I don’t gnash my teeth (all day)every day. Existential anxiety is running rampant in my community, continuing to spread like wildfire across our beloved country. Your analogy is perfect: the President of our country is like a father figure. And what we want most from a father is security which can only come from honesty and respect (and love). I agree that this charade can’t last much longer. Thanks, Marcia, for your honesty and insight.

  • Reblogged this on Peony-Press and commented:
    Yes, growing up in a home that incubates trauma has lasting effects and shows up in the most unexpected ways. Great post to read!

  • Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Today’s re-blog is, in so many ways, what I’ve lived through…

    Humans are, in fact, more alike than different…

  • Joanne says:

    This is wonderful. Thank you for naming what is going on–so insightful. And for the beautiful “Writing is centering, like prayer.”

  • bone&silver says:

    All I can do is add my agreement to everything everyone has said above, except that I’m in Australia, and yes, we’re still finding it very stressful and distressing that Trump is your president : (

  • It’s so very true…the hyper vigilance, wondering when the next bomb will go off. I’m still living like this at 47 years old. It’s so very tiring.

  • I understand what you mean. Writing is very centering and therapeutic.

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