For nearly 15 years, I have worked with survivors of sexual abuse and others to find words for the stories they held in their bodies, in their hearts, in their hurts. I have led writing groups in which folks could put into words the unspoken, the unspeakable, and begin to experience themselves as creators as well as survivors.
As a survivor, writing has been the first, most consistent, and safest healing practice for me — before therapy or even talking with best friends or lovers. I write first, to figure out what it is I want to say to best friends or lovers or therapists. Writing was the way I thought, learned, grew.
Writing saved my life. Isn’t that true for so many of us? If I hadn’t had writing as an outlet back when I was twenty-one and trying to figure out what had really happened to me, once I got away from my mother's second husband, the man who’d been sexually abusing me, I don't know what I would have done, or who I would be now.
I was someone who’d been trained to trust no one, and did not open my deepest thoughts to even my most significant others. The safest place for me, at least in the first years of my healing work, was the page. I wanted there to be a record of what I’d experienced, what I’d done and what had been done to me. The notebook was a place for me to rage, to ask the questions no one had answers to, to say, exactly, all the secrets that his abuse had force fed me.
To this day, writing helps me to figure out what I know, what I think. I follow the philosophical lineage of Natalie Goldberg, freewriting daily, following any surprising or ridiculous thought, getting it down onto the paper and moving on, not stopping to analyze or decipher: just writing, just writing, just writing. This transformative writing practice is my exercise and meditation, it’s possibility and dreaming, it’s sometimes just working my way to get through the mire of my survivor's mind.
Transformative writing is writing that changes you in the process of its creation. A dictionary gives one definition of transform as “to change completely for the better.” Another definition: “to convert one form of energy to another.”
Writing that’s transformative is writing that surprises the writer as it’s emerging. It’s writing through which the writer maybe learns something about themselves on the other end. In my experience, there’s much writing that’s transformative. Freewriting as a practice works well for me, when I can let the writing come, can get the editor out of the way and discover after I’m done what it was that I was trying to say.
In my experience, a transformative writing practice like this one opens us up. It teaches us that we do have words (even when we have been/felt silenced, been told not to speak, or not been given the words to express what we were going through). We have body and words, a body of words, we have words of our body, we have language to describe what has happens to us, what we have experienced, what we have been. We move from silence to storytelling, and storytellers are beautiful and necessary in this world. Writing is a way to put words to things that were never meant to be spoken – and, in so doing, to undermine, one word at a time, the isolation and shame that makes rape culture possible. So thank you, thank you, for your words.
Read Part 2...