On the Struggle to Confront Old Pain

I hit a major roadblock in my memoir writing a couple of years ago when I tried to write a story that activated my trauma. Since then I've struggled to go into the emotion of my stories. I've written some decent drafts essays on our adoption triad and becoming a teen mother, but these pieces are missing emotional depth. I've been writing from my head instead of my heart, which doesn't work when the central character of my writing is my heart and all the ways she hurt and all the ways she sought healing. 

I assume I'm afraid of facing the tremendous anguish, desperation, and loneliness I experienced in my past lives. The 13-year-old April who was deeply ashamed of living in a condemned house with addict parents. The 16-year-old April who endured devastating isolation when she chose to be a single mother. The 20-year-old April who hid in a dark closet believing she was invisible and crazy because no one knew about CPTSD yet. The 22-year-old April who survived a gun being put to her head by a lover. The 33-year-old April who felt abandoned and exploited by her first husband. The 40-year-old April who could swear her cells were screaming "he's mine" when she left her baby in another mother's arms the first time. The 44-year-old April who was shattered into a million pieces by birth mother grief / a mid-life crisis / a dark night of the soul and is still piecing herself back together (which I think is why I have to write the memoir before I can move on to other projects, writing this book is taking me closer to wholeness).  

It's easy to say that I found my freedom through transgression, but there is a deeply painful side to the story. My transgressions made me an outsider, always at odds or out of step with my peers. I was a precocious young adult who thought more about self-development and the nature of reality than my appearance or boys or pop culture. I was a single mother long before most of my peers would begin thinking about parenthood. I was a religious heretic who lost connection to my spiritual community. I was an emotional truth-teller who was silenced, ignored, and punished by lovers, friends, and employers. I needed to make some kind of beautiful meaning from my transgressive life, especially when I felt totally alone, in order to survive it and have any chance at thriving. 

For my storytelling to truly reflect my Aprilness, it needs to reflect the big emotions beneath the events. One of my foundational transgressions is that I’m in touch with and expressive of my emotional experience in a “rational” world. A friend once described me as a walking heart. So much of human suffering comes from a collective lack of presence to our emotions. Emoting is something we’re supposed to do at home behind closed doors. We’re told not to cry in front of our kids, or at work, or in the middle of the grocery store. We’re told not to be too exuberant in our public joy. We’re told that we should get over grief quickly and privately. We’re told to keep our trauma in the therapy office. I was 15 when I first chose to purposefully defy societal expectations to mask my big emotions. That choice was a blessing because it led to countless ecstatic experiences with other humans who chose to be real, and a curse because it isolated me at crucial moments when I really needed to be held. 

I’m sneaking up on confronting old pain by reconnecting with younger parts of myself through music, film, and books that had a transformational impact. I’m focusing my writing time right now on an essay about my lifelong resonance with Sinead O’Connor, who was my first transgressive woman inspiration, and an exploration of why I felt sexually empowered from a young age (a primary reason likely being that I stopped a sexual assault by a family friend while it was happening to me when I was 10 and he was later convicted). I’m hoping that connecting with the joys and positive experiences of my transgressive youth will help me feel more grounded and safe in myself when I’m ready to connect with the heartache.

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Art by Alexandra Haynak