Writing saved my life. When I was growing up in abuse and chaos, the fact that I could write down my true feelings in my journal literally saved my life. I didn’t talk to my family, friends, or tell anyone about my experiences. I hid it, and hid all my feelings about it. I only expressed my feelings when I wrote in my journal. It was my safe place, my only place that I could just be me. I started writing when I was about 9. I used to spend hours writing in my journal, trying to pour my feelings out so that I could understand them. I couldn’t find the words to speak about my feelings. I didn’t know how. Plus, it was dangerous for my to speak about the abuse I was experiencing. I learned this early. If I asked the ‘wrong’ question, my mom would slap me across the face. I can’t even remember the question, but I do remember that I never got an answer. So, I wrote about it instead.
As I became a teenager, I was ashamed because I didn’t know how to talk about my feelings. So I became a listener, an observer. I saw girls my age expressing themselves, and I would watch them in awe. How did they express themselves so calmly and clearly? How did they have the courage to set boundaries, and say what they wanted? I felt inadequate, so I tried to copy them. I buried my own feelings even further and became very good at taking queues from the people around me of how to behave, because I didn’t learn how to behave from my family. My dad was an angry person and I never really knew him. He never really talked to me. He was either eerily silent, upset about something, or not home. My mom was depressed but talked to me a lot. She shared too much with me. I wouldn’t say we were friends, but if we were, she would be that friend that just talked about themselves constantly and ever asked about you. She told me about things I didn’t have the capacity to understand as a young girl, grown up things. Sometimes I would feel overwhelmed listening to her, but she would get mad at me if I told her to stop.
As I went off to college, I did the best I could to look ‘normal’, and to fit in. I didn’t want people to know that I was in pain or that things were hard for me. I didn’t want people to know I was confused, and that I was a copycat. I didn’t want people to know that I didn’t have the skills to express myself, so I would avoid any deep conversations. Plus, I thought that if I started talking about my past, I may never stop. And what if my mom was right and it was dangerous to talk about it all? It felt like my very survival depended on me keeping all my feelings locked inside of me.
After graduating, I got my own apartment in San Francisco and a good job that supported me. I liked working. Work made sense to me, there was a cause and effect that my brain could follow. I was a hard worker so I received praise and promotions. I liked losing myself in work, and I liked that work was becoming my identity. I was a woman working in finance in a big city. It felt good. Between work, going out after work, drinking, dating and taking advantages of all the distractions of a big city I could almost convince myself that my pain didn’t exist. I wouldn’t say that I was happy, but I wasn’t in pain, and that for me was amazing. I lived for those moments when the pain would disappear.
But like any drug that you are using to mask pain, I needed bigger and bigger distractions to numb me out. I grew up in chaos, in drama, in protecting myself so that I could survive. I went out into the world wired for drama. I was attracted to it, I created it, and felt comfortable in it. That is why I picked a career in finance in the early 1990’s. It was exciting to be working on a trading desk in San Francisco’s financial district, yelling across the floor to buy or sell something. Everyone was high energy, drank a lot, worked hard, and was out for themselves. I felt at home in this atmosphere. There was something about chaos and noise that was familiar and comforting. I thrived in it. This worked for me for a long time. Being numb was better than being in pain.
I got married, I became a mom, we moved to Portland for a better life. I wanted to start fresh, I wanted to start my own family. I thought moving locations would help me forget my past, as I wanted so badly to leave it all behind. Well, it came with me. As much as I tried to block it out, and as much as I would get angry at myself for having flashbacks and nightmares, it wouldn’t go away. My past moved with me to Portland. Being a mom in a new city I found plenty of distractions, but I was getting older, and I was getting tired. I couldn’t keep up the pace of running from my feelings. But I tried. I worked out for hours a day, I drank until I blacked out, I immersed myself in my new job and work drama. But my past was still there, just waiting for me to acknowledge it.
I didn’t choose the changes I made in my life, they chose me. They beat me down to the ground until I had no choice but to change. If I didn’t change, I would have spent the rest of my life lying on the couch watching Housewives reruns drinking white wine. I was at rock bottom. It is not an easy climb out of rock bottom. I went at a snail’s pace. But slowly, I started to let my past integrate into my present. I started to accept where I came from, rather than using all my energy to hide it. I started to acknowledge the girl that I had to be in order to survive, even though I didn’t really like her. I had to accept her. I started to feel moments of calm and certainty. I hung on to those moments for dear life and tried to remember them when they would go away.
My writing saved my life. So, I knew if I just kept writing that I would be ok. I made a commitment to write every weekend a year and a half ago and I haven’t missed a weekend yet. It is a commitment to writing, but also a commitment to myself. Writing gave me hope when there was none in my life, it gave me clarity when I was confused, it gave me compassion when I was surrounded by people that wanted to use me. I am more myself when I write than anywhere else in my life. I wasn’t taught to verbally express myself, I wasn’t taught how to deal with emotions, I wasn’t taught how to be compassionate, but I am learning all of this through writing about it. Writing is my teacher, my friend, my parent. Writing is me.