One year into my relationship with my ex, I lost my voice.
I never meant for it to happen. It came on gradually – he was a writer, too, and when we first started dating he praised my insight, my talent, my way with words. The way I could tackle difficult questions. The way I could reach inside of myself and give voice to what seemed impossible to express.
What he didn’t like was when I continued doing what I’d always done before with him. When I tried to put my feelings for him, for our unstable relationship, for my uncertainties and questions, into words.
It was nothing new. Just the journal I’d kept, in bits and pieces, since the age of 10 or 11 – in the form of scattered verses and stream-of-consciousness prose. A piecemeal autobiography. Confessional work. Therapy.
Writing was more than a mere career aspiration for me. It was my life. It was what I lived and breathed. And it was my interface with the world – the only way for one socially-awkward, bright girl who was anything but “normal” to connect, understand, and interact with the people around her.
He loved my words when they were about other people, other places, other moments in time. But in the here and now (or, I suppose, the there and then), it was too much. Even though I shared my thoughts only with my very close friends, it made him feel open and exposed. Under fire, even when I thought I was saying favorable things.
The thing is, they were never the right things.
And we would fight. With one hand he would write about his abusive relationship with his father – how his father threatened to sue him once for writing his memoirs and “slandering” him. And with the other he would type angry emails asking me not to write about him – not to talk about him, and me, and our problems and my confusion with my friends.
Compromise was foisted upon me. He told me he would stop following my blog. That he wouldn’t read my creative work any longer. Then he wouldn’t have to see himself there, squirming on the point at the end of my poetry.
The problem is, it didn’t help.
The problem wasn’t my writing. It wasn’t who I shared it with, where I posted it, what the writing said.
The problem was that I was looking inside. Feeling. Thinking. Questioning. Uncertain and unsure in a situation where, if I had the tools to look upon the relationship critically, I would have known I needed to end things.
A hallmark sign of an abuser is their desire to drive wedges between a significant other and their friends and family. To an extent, that did happen – but some of them were the ones who hammered those wedges home.
Abusers cut you off from your support network – and my writing was my life support. Eventually, I was so run down emotionally, so fixated on whether I really was “crazy” for feeling the way I felt, that I couldn’t put pen to paper anymore. I would sit at a keyboard and nothing would come out. It was a kind of paralysis. It was terrifying. I felt like I was losing myself. I had become a complete stranger. I no longer had any words.
He really did take everything from me. And it took me a long time to recover my words enough to piece even the most rudimentary fiction and poetry together once more.
Nonfiction I could write. I wrote it because I had to. Because it was easy to talk about the external. About the quantifiable.
I couldn’t find any jobs that paid well enough to support myself, so I freelanced to survive, and slowly built up the experience I needed to write full time. This type of writing wasn’t something I ever intended to build a career out of, and wasn’t originally anything I found interesting. None of the work paid particularly well. And a good deal of it was awful work – I hated it.
But it’s kept me alive. It’s paying my bills. And I’ve gotten to the point where I can devote myself to gigs I don’t despise. It cuts into my time and energy for creative work – but it’s a compromise I can live with. It’s a compromise that doesn’t demand I try to be anyone but me.
It’s been almost three years, and I’ve recovered from the worst of the emotional damage, though it took time. I’m in a stable, healthy, supportive relationship with another deeply creative person who actively encourages me in my pursuits.
I write professionally, and work with about 100 other amazing, awesome, creative people. I’ve had probably 300 articles published online over the past few years – approximately 300 more than my “writer” boyfriend ever bothered to submit anywhere for publication. Each week I write copy that brings in tens of thousands of dollars for my company, the ultimate professional ego boost.
And I can write poetry, again. Sometimes. I even tried to write a poem a day for a year – I was only moderately successful due to a head injury that got me off track for several months, but I did manage to write quite a bit and much of it was very good. (Maybe I’ll share some of it here.)
There’s still a ragged wound, deep down. Healing slowly. Scars criss-cross over the part of me that allowed me to make myself vulnerable before an audience. It can be difficult to allow raw honesty to slip through, now. At least where anyone else can see it.
My creative writing suffers because of this. It’s so much harder for me to put pen to paper if the subject is anything personal – and even my fiction is personal. But it’s also enriched.
Because without the deep pain that, even now, sometimes courses just beneath consciousness, lurks just out of sight, how could I ever realistically write fiction dealing with characters in extraordinary circumstances? I look back at scenes I wrote of loves lost, lives ripped asunder, profound disappointment, extraordinary pain, and I realize I knew nothing about how trauma affects someone. Not really.
But I know now.
I just need to find the words to communicate it.
Have you ever experienced a traumatic life event that affected your ability to create? I’d love to hear from others who’ve experienced the same kind of writer’s block.