I realize it’s been over two months now since my last post, so I’m likely going to start again with things that are brief, easy, and impersonal. Before that, though, an explanation…
A bad habit of mine (well, to be fair to myself, more like a coping mechanism) whenever I feel personally attacked because of something I’ve written is to just stop writing. It has nothing to do with perfectionism or literary criticism, everything to do with trauma. I’ve tried to blog several times in the last couple months, and each attempt has ended in a panic attack.
This trigger/coping mechanism started in high school when my parents finally realized that my eating disorder, regardless of whether it was being caused by “vanity” or by actual mental illness, was becoming a legitimate threat to my life. They decided, for reasons which thoroughly escape me, that the best way to address it was to secretly confiscate a few of my journals and take them to show their pastor. They made notes about the entries, even pencilling some of them directly into the margins. These included things like Bible verses, followup questions, and comments on sins they observed evidenced by what I’d written. I had, at that point, kept a meticulous daily diary for nearly six years: they had a lot of material in their hands.
When they dragged me in for a nearly four hour long, three-against-one meeting with the pastor to confront my sins (namely vanity, anger, pride, and rebellion), they used the information – and quotations – gleaned from my diaries as their arsenal. I finally got my diaries back and vowed as only a sixteen year old can to never write down another word as long as I lived.
I felt utterly violated. I wrote that evening (yes, yes, vow quickly broken, although I did later burn this piece) that I felt like my mind had been raped. It’s an extreme metaphor but one I still feel is apt. It was every bit as violent, intrusive, and degrading, but unlike physical, sexual assault I was unable to dissociate from the attack. Using my own words and private feelings against me cut through my defenses in a way that even years of experience dissociating couldn’t withstand. It felt as though everything I would ever write could without warning come under the same vicious scrutiny, like none of my own thoughts could ever possibly be safe. Worse, my parents’ continued stalking (whether direct or by third-party informant, as they allege) through multiple websites, accounts, and pseudonyms, does nothing but affirm this sense of threat. My options seem to be that I can either write in defiance of this known threat or just not write at all.
And yet… I’m still a writer. One of favorite quotes from the film Frida is by Diego: “What do you care about my opinion? If you’re a real painter, you’ll paint because you can’t live without painting. You’ll paint till you die.” In some ways, writing feels like this weird auto-immune disease that I might run from my entire life but know I can never escape. Doesn’t matter if I’m a good writer or a bad one, impactful or forgettable, published or never finish a book: I’m still a writer.
In the years since the Diary Fiasco, I’ve tried multiple tactics to keep the writing bug in check. Initially I wrote page after page and burned them all. Even recovering from trauma, though, I couldn’t stand to destroy my words. I tried tying a bit of clear fishing line through a spiral bound notebook so I could suspend it behind the drywall of our partially finished basement. I cut a slit in my mattress and stuffed papers deep inside. I hid letters to my girlfriend inside my shoes until I could find an accomplice willing to help me send them (for about nine months, my parents wouldn’t allow me out of the house unsupervised, except at church for brief periods). I learned Tengwar and wrote endless pages in a bastardized, doubly coded form of it I can no longer decipher.
Eventually, I took to the internet. I learned to mask my internet history, clear my cache and cookies. After a while, I uncovered key-logging spyware my dad had installed, hacked it, and cleared that out. Or tried to. I may never know how well I succeeded.
Now, six years out of that environment and fifteen hundred miles away, it’s exhausting to continue trying to hide from them. At some point I gave up trying to hide beneath so many layers of deception and identity because they had made it so clear they would keep chasing. (I have solid reasons to think it’s not just some awkward attempt to reconnect, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing here since they’ll probably read it.)
My other option, if I can’t stop writing entirely, is to keep it private. However, I firmly believe that writing is first and foremost a means of communication. I’m compelled not just to write and let it die quietly on a shelf but to share it with others. When I have been at my deepest points of isolation the writings of others helped me realize what I lived and breathed every day was not the only option. Blogs and memoirs and livejournals showed me what anorexia recovery looks like, that sex could be positive and enjoyable, that people could escape cults and survive the transition out, and even that gay people could live happy, fulfilling lives. I know it’s thoroughly egotistical to believe my writing could ever help someone in that way, but I also remember that it was simple, honest, open writing that helped me. The blogs I read were nothing special. I try to write what I needed to read. For all the problems people have (rightly) observed with the It Gets Better project, I’m still incredibly proud that if I could speak to myself six or eight or ten years ago, I could speak those words with absolute confidence, a promise not an idle reassurance.
And above all, in this whole long process of recovery, from one or another of many traumas and diagnoses, my voice continues to feel like my greatest weapon. In the end, silencing it, no matter what it is I have to say, feels just fucking awful. I spent years being silenced. I refuse to silence myself.
Sometimes I’m going to have to stop writing, retreat and regroup for as long as it takes. It’s quite possible, even likely, that this automatic response will prevent me from ever completing anything of value. But really? What are you gonna do.
I’ll write. People may or may not read. My parents may or may not continue to intrude and take notes. And I’ll keep writing.