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This blog was featured on 06/18/2019
What to Consider When Writing About Abuse and Trauma
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
21 days ago
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
21 days ago

This guest post was written by Patricia Eagle. Patricia Eagle discovered language with her first word, “bird,” and later found great solace in nature. Six decades of journaling also served as a life buoy―tangible evidence of a life explored in earnest while being tossed by the confounding experiences of childhood sexual abuse. Her experience as a high school teacher informed her master’s research on the use of “professional reflective journaling,” a method to help educators better understand themselves and their students. A story gatherer, Eagle maintains an unyielding commitment to excavating and acknowledging what is resilient about her life and the lives of others, as an author and a Life-Cycle Celebrant®. She has seven stories published in four anthologies and online with the National Home Funeral Alliance. She lives amidst mountains and hot springs in the San Luis Valley in south central Colorado, where she watches the Milky Way splash across the night skies. Being Mean is her first book.

Standing in line for a community potluck I struck up a conversation with the wife of a Methodist minister here in our small Colorado town of 10,000. She asked what I’d been doing lately, and I shared I had just finished a memoir of sexual abuse and survival. “I’ll be sure to read it,” she promised. Remembering I’m a film buff, she then strayed to talk about films, and mentioned she sort of liked “Frankie and Gracie,” then added “but there’s so much sex, drugs, and profanity in their shows!”

“Oh, Eleanor, don’t please read my book!” I interrupted, well aware of how much sex, profanity, drugs, promiscuity, and abortions are in my memoir.

What Not To Prioritize

Here is a prime example of something I had learned to not prioritize as I wrote a book about abuse and trauma: what other people would think. Had I focused on that, my memoir could never have been written. Any need for silence would have suffocated me.

During the early process of writing my book, I occasionally glossed over incidents, half telling a story so that I could write with ease. “Peel back the layers,” my writing coach insisted. “What’s the story under that story, then under the next layer? Where are you staying hidden? Write about a deeper moment from inside that moment.”

Inside the moment? Get into my ten-year-old head and go to the roadside park and the sleeper cabin in my father’s eighteen-wheeler and write about our masturbating together there? And the deeper moment of then asking him if what we did together was sex, and trying to understand his explanation, “No, it’s just a little something we do to relax,” then feeling his fingers probe my vagina. As a child, I had come to sense something wasn’t right, but I didn’t yet know how to know what wasn’t right. How do events and situations come to be understood? Diving deeper, like a swimmer, I slowly got stronger with taking on the depths of the abuse I had experienced. I learned to make sure there were ample lifeguards close by­­ who were aware of my writing project––a therapist with whom I had built a strong relationship, along with supportive friends and my spouse.

Cultural Resistance 

Let me ask, did it make you feel uncomfortable to hear my father and I masturbated together or how he touched my vagina? Our culture often resists hearing details and having frank conversations about abuse and trauma, yet doesn’t seem concerned about teaching us how to have a connection around having these difficult situations. But I wonder, how else will we learn how abuse and trauma occur and continue to be so prevalent if we don’t speak up and describe what happens in authentic detail? If we are blunt and straightforward about experiences of abuse and trauma, perhaps our culture will come to recognize and stop abuse and even guide perpetrators toward help. If perpetrators hear frank conversations about the abuse and the trauma they cause, perhaps they will come to understand the extensive harm they inflict and be more likely to seek help for their urges and actions.

Vulnerability

In the front of my book, I dedicate my memoir “to all those with the courage to trust being truthful.” I could also have said, to all those with the courage to trust being vulnerable. If only we could allow strength to arise from our experiences of vulnerability more than shame. Shame and staying silent are heavy burdens. Roxanne Gay, author of Hunger, believes that getting involved with the messiest parts of life is the only way to truly elicit change and progress.

If you want to write about abuse and trauma, after you build your support systems, get messy. Step into vulnerability. Understand that surviving abuse and trauma can be an ongoing experience, not a one-time occurrence. Writing about them will be hard, but it will be worth it. If we don’t talk openly about abuse and trauma, how will we ever create change? And remember, it is time for a perpetrator’s denial to be questioned more fiercely than a victim who finally finds her or his voice and speaks or writes the unspeakable.

Responsibility 

Abuse and trauma are pervasive in our culture. We all have a responsibility to listen and learn and try to stop them. My book helps others see one way child sexual abuse happens, and then how such experiences negatively affect a person’s life. Speaking up and learning about abuse create change. The confidence I gained to look deeply at my life was built slowly and carefully, one step at a time, one question at a time, one answer at a time, one story at a time. I remain hopeful my recovery will reach far beyond my own personal experience.

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