In 2019 and 2020, I taught a few semesters of creative writing at Hennepin Technical College. The best part of the job was being witness to my students' growth. For some students, that growth went beyond a new understanding of elements like plot or description. They learned that the very process of writing can be transformative.
One student in particular discovered that writing can heal: "It helps you dig deeper within yourself," she told me. She continued to write after the class ended and has sent me some of her work from time to time. With her permission, I'm posting a couple of pieces here. They deal with sexual assault and its aftermath. Since April is both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Poetry Month, I thought this would be a good time to share her work.
Darling, You’re Not Alone
The definition of the word is unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person's will or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception.
There is no word that defines what happens to the survivors when this word is finished.
How an agonizing pain tore my limbs apart piece by piece.
How I surveyed each piece of my body from head to toe.
How I wondered what made my attacker choose me, when did my words no longer matter.
How a world that was so full of bright colors became the same shade of gray.
My mind and spirit were shattered as if they were made out of glass. My solid foundation was nothing to this demon that was forced upon me.
My body gave up, stopped fighting the war within my mind. My body and I slipped away into a comatose state where I merely existed in the world. I was stuck in a crippling depression, stuck in time. I was standing still on the sidewalk on a busy day in the city, thinking I would rather die.
I would lie on my bed covered with several blankets to hide my body away. In my mind I was screaming, but my voice was a whisper lying that I was fine.
Bathing became a tortuous event that took all life and energy out of me. I couldn’t erase the unclean feeling. How does one clean something that is not dirty on the outside? I couldn’t stand to be touched, not even by my own hand. How could I be the mother I wanted to be if no one could touch me? My children’s bathtub toys all around the edge of the tub.
Somehow when I went to work I would shove it all away--my feelings of shame, disgust, fear, pain, numbness, anger, confusion, and loss. Others described my strength and courage as amazing, but some days I had no strength or courage at all. I crumpled against the floor where I would lie and cry. I’d let my fear consume me until I couldn't bear it and I would call out for help. The voices on the other end of the line would always greet me with compassion, empathy, and became my light in my darkest moments. It felt like those voices were right next to me, protecting me in my weakened state. Those voices walked me through the hardest parts of processing what had happened to me.
Healing from this word is not a straight line like a lot of people picture it. It’s rather a rollercoaster at night. Sometimes you see light and know what is to come. Other times it’s like you went backwards and you're in the dark again. In those dark moments, I could hear their voice replaying in my head. They encouraged me to keep going but assured me that it was okay to take a rest, too. Giving up, though, wasn’t an option, not if I wanted to get better.
Because of them, I found that my voice, too, had strength and power to help myself and others like me.
Do not lose hope, for those darker moments do get easier and they come less and less often. Things you felt you lost will come back. But you need to choose to heal.
I hope that you hear me when I say that you are not alone in the battle. If you need someone to be your light and voice on the other line, I pray that you reach out. Darling, you're not alone in the battle.
Your strength will shine even brighter than before.
is a children's book author, editor, tutor, mom of two adult children and one feisty cat, and collector of weird things.
My Reading Corps Service
Letters for Kids
A Blue Ribbon Day
A Kind Neighbor, a Beaded Tree