A few Many weeks ago, Sunday, March 12th, I stood in my local bookstore and asked one of my favorite authors a question…
“What has been the most difficult thing for you to write about?”
She looked at me from behind the microphone as she drifted back to Minnesota in thought. “Roshi” she offered in a parched voice “Katagiri Roshi,” eventually clearing her throat and taking a sip of water. She went on to explain to the attentive crowd gathered around her how painful it was for her to write about him, and how intertwined writing and art has been in her life over the years. Standing against the wall, holding my soon to be signed copy of ‘The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life,’ I tried to remember the last time I painted anything other than the walls in my house. “I need to write for me,” I thought.
Her answer reminded me of a favorite quote from her book ‘Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within’ “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
If you were to have asked me “What has been the most difficult thing for you to write about?” a year ago, I would have been unable to split open to answer you. Hell, last week I couldn’t. I’ve hemmed and hawed about hitting publish on this post for months. Now, I feel that I must. Not because I am stronger or wholly ready – but because of the recent death of one of my husband’s oldest friends and the many deaths of friends in the months since. These losses have made us pay attention to the fact that time is precious. I personally don’t want to wait to speak my truth any longer.
The most difficult thing for me to write about has been my abuse.
Severe childhood abuse led into physical/emotional/financial abuse throughout my life. A pattern of misdirected attempts to gain the love and affection I rarely felt as a child developed and my desire for that elusive love and compassion were/are often exploited. People pleasing and working to the point of exhaustion for zero or unsustainable pay brought me more unhealthy personal/professional relationships. Poor self-care habits and trusting the wrong people cost me dearly. While working to bring a community together, I was falling apart. Facing a series of deaths, miscarriage, my dying biological mother with Alzheimer’s disease and a toxic family dynamic – I found solace in meditation, cooking, knitting/sewing/making, and reading. I retreated from so many things that brought me joy to focus on the tough task of coming to terms with my childhood abuse and the impact it has had thus far in my life. Going no contact with my ‘toxic to me’ family/associates and “friends” has given me freedom to remember, acknowledge, and write privately about my truth.
I’ve spent my life pretending that everything was okay when it wasn’t. So many of us do. All those years of silence, fear, shame… it was suffocating.
“Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.” ― Natalie Goldberg
Just because I haven’t been practicing what I preach on my websites, writing IS still part of my everyday life. I felt paralyzed to press send on so many of my draft posts because I didn’t think I was ready. My blog has sat fallow, aside from a stray recipe or review, and I haven’t been honest in my public writing for years. I’m sorry for that. I’ve needed the space and time to find my words. I couldn’t bear to face the world with a fake smile… and like most abuse survivors, I’ve struggled speaking up. Writing about childhood abuse is painful, and it changes relationships. Some people have used the knowledge of my torment for their personal gain or worse. Others have shown kindness and given me support, space, and privacy I needed to unpack all of my traumas and find my center. Trying to make sense of it all hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it. Thanks to each of you who continue to respect my boundaries and show me love, compassion, and empathy! I am deeply grateful for my dear husband who gives me room to heal, reminds me I am loved and encourages me to read, create art, and write every day.
I’ll work on pressing publish more often but I won’t apologize for taking the time that I need to heal.
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” – Lao Tzu
So… I ask you “What has been the most difficult thing for you to write about?”