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