Writing about past trauma

© Kacey Kells

I am neither an experienced writer nor a psychologist, and as a consequence I do not pretend to give any lesson; especially since I’m fully aware that we are all different and that, as a consequence,  not everyone respond the same way to a trauma…  And of course, since we are all different, our writing experiences will necessarily be different. No, no lesson will be given here; I will just try to explain why and how I wrote this book, how it turned from an idea to a reality… to a real book. It’s all about my experience, both as a victim of sexual assault and as a person who tried to write something about her trauma and its consequences. I sincerely hope, however, that this will persuade you that it is possible (and that it is a relief!) to write about past trauma.

I must admit that when I started writing, I didn’t imagine that I would produce more than a few sentences and paragraphs. Actually, my mind was confused; I was clueless regarding what had happened to me first: I was totally lost, ashamed, frightened… I wasn’t able to talk about it… I certainly didn’t want to!  I was like trapped in a tiny bubble and could hardly look outside. I only had one certitude: I was now a failure; I wasn’t sure whether I deserved to live or not. All I wanted was to forget… but I couldn’t. Nightmares, panic attacks, depression: that was my life since….  

Several time, my counselor at the Rape Centre insisted that I should write something about what had happened to me… anything! She pretended that it would be a way to express my emotions and make my spirit soar. She stated that keeping this secret was like keeping an enormous burden on my shoulders; she added that it would be good for me AND many others to SHARE, to explain what it is to be a victim and to explain the consequences, etc… But I then didn’t feel like a survivor; I mean, I was still overwhelmed with fear, shame and darkness. Hence, there was no question to explain or to share my story with anyone… never ever!

One day however, lost in the quiet of my room, I started writing a few words, a few sentences; they came naturally… I didn’t know what I was going to write or how I should proceed… I was certainly not ready to start writing a book; especially about… But sentences came after sentences. I kept on writing, every day, generally in the evening. I didn’t even realize what I was doing… but I enjoyed it! Page after page, my life slowly came into words.

Surprisingly, writing about the little girl I once was, the teenage girl I became and the mess that was destroying my family, how I fell head over the heels in love for a boy, and how…  well, writing about my life helped me to organise my ideas, to understand, to make peace with myself. In other words, writing helped me to recover. Yes it did! Writing is a fabulous medicine.

But I would be lying if I pretended that it has always been easy. Actually, the hardest part came when it was time to explain what happened that night and the following days, weeks and months. It was hard, extremely painful sometimes, because it forced me to go through that nightmare, again, and relive the horror. Yet, I have to be honest: reliving my nightmare wasn’t something new since it was permanently haunting in my mind. Every day, every night, flashbacks tortured my soul. However, writing about the events of that tragic night was a different way to relive the drama. Above all, it required the ability to face the reality and to remain calm in spite of the flood of emotions I felt… No that wasn’t easy; but this experience helped me to organize my ideas, to calm down, to make peace with myself. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but what a reward!

Ultimately, I also came to fully realize that I wasn’t the only one girl who had been in such an awful situation. More importantly, I was becoming aware that it is a common occurrence for victims to feel as if they were somehow responsible for what had happened to them, even if THEY ARE NOT!! They are the victims, not the culprits!! But that is the way it is… the way we feel; and that is not tolerable!!! It is as if victims looked at themselves through the eyes of the society, the eyes of a society that wants to ignore them and which is willingly condemning them! Understanding this, I felt the urge to do something; it was clear that I shouldn’t keep this for myself. I had to explain, to tell people what it is to be a victim, and what are the consequences… for themselves and for the society. Because when a person is emotionally broken, she/he is like excluded from the society, marginalized; and this is no good for neither the victim nor for the society.

A rape is not an ordinary crime, because the victim suffers twice: the assault, the terrible humiliation… and the aftermath, made of neverending despair, fear, loneliness… Yes, someone had to speak!    Unfortunately, I was still trapped in my own bubble and wasn’t ready to speak or to face people: speaking about what had happened to me was just impossible (and it remains a very hard and painful task, even today). Hence, writing (and making my paper publicly available) was the only way I had (I have) to tell, to communicate, to explain. But this was also taking the risk to expose myself! No, this paper was mine and shouldn’t be shared!

Writing is a process which includes important changes. As I explained, there was no question to share my story when I decided to start writing… and even after. I was writing for myself, for myself only, with my own words, my own ideas and feelings; it was a way to communicate with myself and to reorganise my ideas and feelings. There was no plan, no vision: just an awful experience and what came to be an uncontrollable need to write my story on these friendly sheets of paper (which were soon growing in number). This book wasn’t supposed to be a book; it was my personal diary.

Writing helped me to distance myself from the frightening nightmare that haunted my existence! As such, it was a way to heal! However, there is more to it than that: writing also contributed to raise my awareness (with the help of my counselor) that there were other victims of assault and sexual violence, victims who experienced the same kind of abuse, victims who were sometimes totally unable to cope with life. Then, shouldn’t I try to help them? If I could… of course!

My counsellor (and my mom) repeatedly asked permission to read my paper, and I finally agreed to give them a copy of what was already written. They both told me that this paper was very interesting, insisting that I shouldn’t keep it for myself. I tried to resist the idea, but I also wanted people (everybody!) to know what it is to be a victim of rape, to understand that the consequences are devastating! I wanted to tell the world that victims are not criminals: they are not those who committed a crime!!!? I wanted to yell out… to explain that this is utterly unfair, that we cannot or shouldn’t tolerate that victims suffer twice or more (the assault and the aftermath), that it is not acceptable that victims remain like trapped in some sort of a virtual prison while criminals (rapists, abusers) are free, happy, and stay unpunished!

Yes indeed, something had to be done! Yes, I now wanted to do something! But I was definitely not ready to tell the world that I had been… I wanted to speak, yes, for sure! But I also needed to hide (to speak the truth, I still feel the same today: it’s much easier to “speak” hidden behind a screen or a book; is it cowardice? Yes;, but I can’t help). Writing is definitely the best way (and for some of us, it remains the only way!) to express ourselves, to tell our truth. Writing frees the person who writes… and, hopefully, it might also help free the reader.

Writing about past trauma isn’t an easy task! Definitely not! The decision to start writing is certainly one of the most delicate one can take. You have to face and fight your fears. You feel like if you were on the verge of the abyss. You feel alone and weak; it’s scary. But once you start writing… your perception, your feelings change. After a long period of solitude and loneliness only inhabited by despair and fear, writing is a way to express yourself! And even if it is with your self only, it’s a significant breakthrough: you talk! You say something; you come back to life! This will help to reorganize your ideas, your perception, your feelings. Hence, you feel a little less insecure and hopeless. And when, ultimately, you decide to really communicate, accepting to make your paper and your ideas public, you might even feel useful.

No, there is no doubt in my mind: writing about past trauma helps the victim to come back to life! Yes, indeed, writing is freedom. It brings freedom to the writer… and possibly to the reader and to the society; because a healthy society is a society where everybody is allowed to speak her/his truth. This is the only way for a society to grow!

© Kacey Kells

Published by Wordly Ambition

Wordly Ambition is UK-based Literary and Writing competitions.

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