Writing Heals Wounds of Child Abuse, Part Two

Authors' perspectives on the healing power of writing

Posted Sep 29, 2012

“Writing is a very sturdy ladder out of the pit,” wrote Louise de Salvo, author of one of my favorite books, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. “When I was first writing about my recollections of the sexual abuse I had experienced as a girl,” she wrote, “I used a metaphor similar to Henry Miller’s. I believed that I was using my writing as a kind of scalpel to cut out the growth festering inside me – my story – which was making me sick. It was an instrument that I had to wield with great care and skill for the excision to be successful, for the wound to heal. Without telling my story, I thought, I would stay sick; I even might die.”

Acclaimed essayist Nancy Mairs (author of Ordinary Time, Waist High in the World, Voice Lessons and others) agrees that repressing our stories can harm us. In fact she believes that repressing her desire to write exacerbated the suicidal depression she survived as a grown woman, and that the way out of depression lies in finding the story that hasn’t been told.

“Write hard and clear about what hurts,” advised Ernest Hemmingway.

In Creativity and Repair, Andrew Brink observed that the impulse to create usually comes from some early damage to the self, and this wound or loss initiates a life’s work of healing. Writing can use language to repair psychic wounds.

Southern author Rosemary Daniell in The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself explained that “…each time I wrote about my pain, I would feel the stitching and restitching inside my brain, as though festering tissue was actually being trimmed away and sealed over, to at last heal. The longer each book had taken to write, the longer had been the revision process, and the stronger the fabric of that healing.”

We are the accumulation of stories we tell ourselves about who we were. Changing our stories can change us. Through writing we can revisit our past and revise our relationship to it.

In Writing as a Way of Healing, the above mentioned book by Louise de Salvo, she advises four essentials for those of us who want to write for the purpose of deeper healing:

1. Write regularly, in a relaxed way.

2. Watch with a relaxed awareness what occurs as we write.

3. Don’t judge ourselves or our work.

4. Be patient. Write routinely. Don’t hurry it.

In conclusion, I want to share a few words by Margaret Randall in the Preface of a really wonderful book, She Who Was Lost is Remembered: Healing from Incest through Creativity, which is an anthology of the work of over thirty women artists, writers, musicians, playwrights and poets who have joined together to tell the story of sexual abuse at the hands of family members and how they used creativity to mend their spirits and their bodies:

“If creative power is crippled or lost through violation, it is unleashed through healing…The creative act is a healing experience for artist and viewer, writer and reader, singer and sung to…The journey from silence into speech also breaks the barriers of shame…So breaking through the shame demands and unleashes a tremendous creative energy.”

If you’re a survivor of child abuse I hope that these authors’ words inspire you to begin or to continue writing as a way of healing, and I want to leave parting words with you for today in a poem by Julia Cameron:

Words for It

I wish I could take language

And fold it like cool, moist rags.

I would lay words on your forehead.

I would wrap words on your wrists.

“There, there,” my words would say -

O something better.

I would ask them to murmur,

“Hush” and “Shh, shh, it’s all right.”

I wish I could take language

And daub and soothe and cool

Where fever blisters and burns,

Where fever turns yourself against you.

I wish I could take language

And heal the words that were the wounds

You have no names for.

My wish for you is that you will find names for them and that in doing so you will experience the divine liberation of deep healing. Enjoy the day!