Reviews | Writing freed me
November 19, 2021
Content Warning: This story contains references to sexual assault.
I have never been very receptive to self-help advice. It could be my innate stubbornness, or maybe because I have always perceived any problem that can be solved on my own as inherently my fault. If exercise, sleep, healthy eating, and meditation can ease anxiety, then I must be the reason I still have it.
Despite my reluctance to fall into what has always seemed like a toxic positivity trap, I recently discovered the power of journaling. Not because someone told me – although a lot of people have – but because I reached a point where I felt like if I couldn’t find a way to express my feelings. emotions, then the emotions would never go away.
“When I was drowning, that’s when I finally got to breathe.” Taylor Swift sang these lyrics in “Clean”, one of my favorite songs, and one I listened to the first time I sat down to write a journal. There comes a point in healing from a traumatic event when the pain is so unbearable that your body has to do something for itself to survive. For me, it was looking for therapy, telling my mother what I had been through and writing.
I am not here to argue for regular journaling as some sort of universal remedy. I don’t keep a journal regularly and one of the main reasons I was away for so long was that I never felt like I had something to say. While the words certainly don’t have to be perfect to earn a place on the page, free and senseless writing takes practice, and I understand the pressure to make every journal entry deep.
Instead of consistent journaling – which can sometimes force you to constantly think about what is hurting you – I believe in journaling when you have something to say. One of the hardest things about dealing with trauma, and even getting therapy for it, is articulating the pain. It is more than sadness and anger, as it can also be guilt, disgust, love or shame. Very rarely, a word or even a sentence sums up a feeling. But in case it does, save it.
The first time I wrote a diary was after seeing a good friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in a while. I was so excited to see her, but I couldn’t shake an inexplicable feeling of emptiness. How could I feel so sad being with someone who usually makes me so happy? This is how the trauma burns. It weakens when you least expect it. I cried until I found the words to describe why I was crying, and without even thinking about it, I wrote them down. Although I don’t remember what I said, I do remember that almost immediately I felt a release. The void was still there, but it made sense. I could explain it. The trauma is inexplicable. Why would anyone do that? Why, months later, am I still hurt? While trauma often stems from a lack of control, the ability to explain a feeling allows you to control not necessarily what you are feeling, but the context of the feeling. It doesn’t mean that the feeling goes away but that it becomes rather familiar, sure.
Writing exteriorizes pain. When you transfer a sentiment to words on a page, you are no longer responsible for that sentiment. Trauma is often accompanied by an unwavering sense of guilt and responsibility, so this process of externalization is crucial for recovery. Writing can heal others too. When I felt hopeless and alone in my inability to describe my pain, I turned to those who had the words. Chanel Miller, the author of “Know My Name” – a book that changed my life – said in a 60-minute interview that sexual assault was “not the topic I would have chosen.” But that’s the subject I was given. As a writer, someone who can verbalize what many cannot, Miller has used his combination of skills and experience to heal others.
By writing in my journal and writing for this section, I seek to do the same. While connecting with other survivors in this way is not the type of connection I want to make with a person, it is beautiful nonetheless.
Yet I can never expect my writing to resonate with others, because as universal as the trauma is, it can manifest so differently on an individual level. Instead, I write to resonate with the parts of myself that my consciousness cannot yet explain, and to take control of a moment that has come to define my life. I write because it preserves my history and legitimizes my experiences. I write because it frees me from the confinement of the survivor that others expect of me.
Lily Nevo is a sophomore student at Weinberg. She can be contacted at [emailÂ protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this editorial, send a letter to the editor at [emailÂ protected]. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all staff at The Daily Northwestern.