Who’s the Traumatized-est of Them All?

I have loved writing fiction since I was 12 years old. Memoir is relatively new for me, not something I’d thought about until someone I met at a networking event suggested I write one after my friend Jessica passed away (ironically, that someone was also named Jessica).

I was traumatized by my friend’s death because she was extremely important to me, but also because also because her death happened so close to my wedding, only three days after. I was plagued with grief and also questions of what my marriage now meant. So, I decided to write about it, not for others, but for myself, to process my grief and wash away guilt about ever even getting married. (So funny how the mind works. I really thought, “I shouldn’t have gotten married. If I hadn’t gotten married, they wouldn’t have died.” Which may or may not be true.)

I joined a Meetup group full of other people who were also writing memoirs. Getting to hear about their traumas helped heal me of my own. I knew I wasn’t the only one who’d felt grief. I wasn’t the only one who had to persevere through really tough times. Oddly enough, listening to their stories made me grateful that something worse hadn’t happened in my life—I’d never been physically or sexually abused, thank God.

I never completed my first memoir, mainly because I found it too difficult to finish. I’d written just enough to remember some of the best times I had with my friend, and that was soothing. I visited her grave during a trip to Orlando and felt a small sense of closure, so writing more felt like opening up a wound that God was finally starting to seal.

Writing the memoir about my father was much easier. I’d, more or less, gotten over the way he treated me and my mother when I was growing up. I’d healed from those feelings of worthlessness (though, to this day, I can’t seem to shake off the feelings of distrust I acquired). I was able to write a narrative that I could fully immerse myself in because I’d grown distant from the actual events, if that makes any sense. Put another way, it didn’t hurt anymore, so I could write it easily. I hope my book helps other fatherless people to heal from their feelings of worthlessness and maybe even from the distrust that still grips me.

I write all of this to say that, while writing has been so instrumental in helping heal me, I sometimes wonder if I’m too well from my father’s transgressions to write a damn good story.

These days, creative nonfiction seems to focus a lot on trauma. The stories that are best heralded are the ones that involve really horrible things: rape, incest, physical assault, emotional assault from being told by family members one is going to hell for being gay. I sometimes wonder if CNF is really just a contest between who has been through the worst in life. That’s a contest I am very okay with not winning.

That being said, these stories of horrible traumas do encourage me to go to the places I’m afraid to go, like back into the happy memories of Jessica and the depths of grief. Clearly, if others are able to write about their traumas and are still standing, the same would likely happen for me. But I don’t want to go there if it’s only to win the Trauma-Rama, only if it will continue to help me and others seal our wounds more permanently.

One thought on “Who’s the Traumatized-est of Them All?

  1. This is partially why I stay away from creative non fiction, and why I sometimes doubt the fiction that I write. I think it’s because there’s a therapeutic catharsis to writing about trauma, but it’s difficult to spin that into a compelling narrative that lots of people will want to read. As Chris Abani said in my first ever fiction class, “No one cares about victim stories.” I’m not trying to say that writing about trauma has no value, but I’ve noticed it as a trend when it comes to writing itself. It’s highly personal in nature, highly confessional. It’s not the style of writing that I do, but sigh. If it helps someone to get their story out there, I support that empowerment.

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