Writing What Hurts: Using Words to Heal

CoffeeStainQuote The past is one of the hardest things for me to face. There was a time in my life in which I was very lost-- in the midst of an overwhelming depression that led to actions I hate. When many people think of depression, they might imagine a person sitting in a dark room, crying and penning suicide notes. But mental illnesses have many faces; how they present in one person may be totally different for another. For me, depression wasn't sadness. It was nothingness. I felt nothing. And when I say that, I mean it--there was no sadness, no happiness, no trepidation, no fear, no remorse. My actions became unpredictable and totally uncharacteristic. Only the most extreme behaviors would elicit a buzz of feeling, and even that was brief and superficial, like the hair on your arms standing up. Maybe that's why almost everything I did was extreme. That's what I assume, but what I know is that I acted insane (for lack of a better word). When you don't have feelings, it's brutally easy to hurt people. And I did--I hurt myself and others I loved without realizing it until it was too late. When I did realize, there was shame. But I didn't want to feel shame, so I felt nothing instead.

In any case, thinking about that time period hurts, and it will probably hurt me for the rest of my life-- unless somehow I forget those events and live out the rest of my days blissfully ignorant. That's unlikely, but the only thing to do besides forget about it is to write about it, so that's what I've done.  My current work in progress is based on true events from those months. Through the writing, there has been crying. There's been more regret and self-loathing and utter confusion than I ever allowed myself to experience before. But there has also been healing. There's been acceptance. And I felt all of it, which I'm so grateful to be able to do.

I don't think we're writing for our readers. I think we write for ourselves and just happen to affect our readers along the way. No one is alone in an experience. When you write "hard and clear about what hurts," you're writing about something that hurts other people too. And maybe seeing your truths in black and white is what those people need to face their own pain. If you write what hurts, you won't be the only one to receive comfort and understanding: you'll give it out to others too.

This is scary for me, but I'm going to share an excerpt from my book--my narrator writing down an experience she had during her depression. It's scary because her story is my story. The actions she took are actions I took, and now despise. But I needed to write about this to accept it as part of my past, just as I need to share it. So here it is.


She spun the diamond around her finger, watching the light catch the facets at every turn. It was beautiful—and she hated it.

The “yes” had passed over her lips like music when she was eighteen: an adult, but still a child. And she had been happy until an ugliness came: one that started in her mind like a seed, planted by nothing. It fed on her for months, changing who she was until only ugliness remained.

The ring was unbearable. Slipping it over her knuckle, she placed it on the bedside table. “You need to leave. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she whispered. “What did I do?”

“We just kissed.”

“No. We kissed and then you fell asleep here—in my bed. You stayed all night. That’s more than ‘just’ kissing. Please—please leave.”

He looked so unfamiliar, sitting against her pillow—his eyes and hands and lips markedly different than the ones she knew so well. She had only met him twice. There was nothing attractive about him to her, except perhaps that there were no promises between them. “We can just forget it. We were drunk,” he offered.

Her hands shook as she cleared the glasses from the table. It was true: she had been drunk for months. She had kept enough alcohol in her system to try to pretend the ugliness wasn’t there; to pretend she still knew who she was. But no matter how much pretending she did, she kept growing uglier.

“I wasn’t drunk enough to—I’ve been engaged for a year. Why would I do this? I’ve never… I didn’t think I would ever…”

As she spoke to her own ears, he left without another word, his footsteps like drumbeats behind her. She never turned around. Nauseated, she lay down, the bed still warm from a body that hadn't belonged there. She grabbed her telephone and dialed the last number. The last number was always the same. Inside, her stomach twisted into knots, but she couldn’t delay. All too well she knew she had to call at that moment, while she still felt the sickness and shame. If she were to wait too long, the numbness would return and she would feel nothing. But she wanted to feel this. She had to.


This is part of my story: one of the most painful parts. But that's not who I am now. That isn't really who I was then--it's who my depression made me. As hard as it might be to believe, this experience wasn't even the height of my erratic behavior. I went completely off the rails for a while there, and when I was in the thick of it, I thought I'd never recover. It didn't seem possible that I could be even a shadow of a normal person again, and yet here I am. Writing has helped me understand myself, what I went through, and what I put other people through. And by way of that understanding, I've come to a place of healing. There's no place I'd rather be.

Today's Prompt: Write a scene based on an experience you had that hurts to even think about, whether it was something you did or something that was done to you. If you're comfortable, share it with someone who never knew that part of your history.

Happy (or not-so-happy) Writing!



Also-- Happy Birthday, Hemingway!