On Trauma Writing: A Pain So Heavy, So Needful
December 11, 2019 § 32 Comments
By Emmy D. Wells
My son used to beat me up. Now he beats other people up.
He’s only fifteen, but he has a severe psychological disorder paired with an intellectual disability and has been locked up in a secure residential facility in another state since he was eleven.
That is essentially the entirety of the memoir I am getting ready to query. I hope I haven’t spoiled anything for you.
Sometimes I wonder how I was able to write an entire manuscript that can be summed up in three sentences. In fact, if I tried hard enough, I could probably get it to one or two. Does that mean I’m somehow cheating?
It has been a long, almost five-year road writing the book because… well… it is hard to write about getting knocked around.
Trauma is hard to talk about. It’s hard to think about. It’s hard to write about.
I am not cheating, though. Not really. I had to start at the beginning, before the bruises and broken furniture, the fights and the flying food. I told myself that my readers needed to know where it all began. I think I needed to know more. It was profoundly important for me to understand what happened to my son, to my family.
It is not unusual to hear about boyfriends or husbands, sometimes even wives or girlfriends, hitting or kicking their “loved ones”. I do not recall many times, though, where I have heard someone admit that their kid abused them.
Truthfully, it happens more than you probably realize.
I am also writing a psychological thriller and I have often wondered why it has taken me so long to write the memoir when, in less than six months, I have been able to whip out most of the entire first draft of a novel. I know better about what happened in my real-life story, after all.
It makes sense, though, when you think about it. I had to write in small little increments, little nibbles, morsels of time each day. The words had a bitter flavor and were sharp to the touch, painful and sour.
Still, getting the words on my screen gave me a sort of relief, like slicing through a festering, pus-filled abscess. The pressure releases and the pain lessens. Over time, the angry red turns to pink, and the yellow ooze dries up and washes away. Then the scar becomes thick and bumpy and ragged, but it’s closed and it only hurts when you push on it.
Writing pushes on my scar, makes it hurt. But I have become used to it and, over time, the pain has become normal, like that gnawing pain in your lower back at the start of each day or that old knee injury that you got in high school that just won’t go away.
My pain has become my friend. I’m not sure what I would do without it. It teaches me and informs me, tells me what to write. It prods me to type and type, make me feel better, a sort of analgesic relief.
I see my son once a month now and the scar opens a little each time.
Emmy D. Wells is a writer and blogger living in Hampden, Maine. Her life as a mother to four children, two of whom have severe psychological disorders, and wife to a disabled man in a wheelchair informs much of her work. When Emmy isn’t writing, you’ll find her curled up on the couch, buried under her three dogs, with her nose in a book. Find her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emmydwells2 Or Instagram: www.instagram.com/emmydwells
Wow, what a story! Best of luck to Ms. Wells on her queries.
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So brave of her to write about this.
Emmy his was so well written!! Enjoyed your essay.
Thank you, Cathy! 😊
“ Still, getting the words on my screen gave me a sort of relief, like slicing through a festering, pus-filled abscess.” You nailed it. Beautiful piece. I look forward to your book.
Thank you so much!
I understand and can empathize with your story. You’re so brave to tell it. I look forward to reading your book!
Thank you! I really appreciate that.
This is very brave of you. Sending big hugs and all the best to you and to your writing.
Thank you! I’ll take all the hugs I can get. 🙂
This is deep
This really touched my heart and reminded me why it is so hard to write my memoir about the search for birth relatives. There is pain and rejection and loss and one can only digest pieces of it at a time. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and pieces of your tale.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Keep plugging along at it. It will be worth it in the end.
A brave and beautiful piece.
Your writing makes me want to read your memoir. I look forward to reading it when you decide it’s time to publish it.
Thank you! I appreciate that. 🙂
love how you describe writing about trauma as pushing on our scars. I so resonate with that and cannot resist pushing on it lol. I’m trauma writer too, I’ve fund this crazy solace diving into where it is uncomfortable to be and bringing a pen. Going to spend some of my holiday down time on your site 🙂
Thank you so much! Yes, it can be both painful and cathartic at the same time. I both love and hate it if that makes sense. 🙂
This is such a good post, although assigning “good” to your pain seems odd and out of place. I am writing about trauma as well, and have found it extremely difficult. I thought it would be easy, because after all I was there. I worked nonstop for a few months and that was a year ago. I haven’t touched it since. I admire you for sharing here, giving me food for thought, and l admire your strength. I look forward to reading more from you.
Thank you, Barb. Yes, it is very difficult. I don’t think it’s the same for everyone. I have to walk away some days and come back to it when I’m more mentally healthy. For me, it is good because writing it allows me to put the pain on the page instead of carrying it around with me like I did before I started writing. It doesn’t make it go away, though. Just a little less painful. I wish you well with your writing!
Thank you for exposing us to your story. In reading your piece it provides a guiding light for us to share ours! Keep writing!!
Thank you for your encouragement! I hoped it would help some to keep going.
Thank you for sharing your story. So much courage and honesty.
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