I was a teenager when the abuse happened. It didn’t happen to me, but I was the only other person who knew. For years, as the confidant, I lived with the idea that I wasn’t the one who had a right to hurt. I discounted what keeping such a secret meant to my physical, emotional, and mental well-being. I discounted the toll it took on me when the heartbroken survivor called week after week, month after month, year after year, and threatened suicide, a direct consequence of the abuse. I discounted a childhood of being sexualized, and having to be hypervigilant to avoid being abused myself. I was the caregiver, the truth holder, and for years, I held the space only for her, giving myself no right to feel, or grieve, or rage, or speak.
This early event defined my career. I first worked as a journalist, giving voice to the world’s abused. Then I became a book coach, not surprisingly attracting clients who were abuse survivors who needed help writing memoir. I was able to hold space for others to speak their most difficult truths.
I began writing my own novels, putting into fiction form what I could not say out loud, a semi-autobiographical narrative of a frightened and unsure girl leaving her roots and traveling the world in search of self.
The #MeToo movement opened the door for all of us to speak. It took me until my 50s, to allow myself to really start understanding my role as confidant, and speaking my truth. Today, in helping hundreds, if not thousands, of women write their #MeToo narratives as a book coach, and in writing my own stories in my novels, I’ve learned a vast amount about how to go about expressing the truth about abuse in written form. Such writing is an opportunity for beautiful healing as we finally expose these secrets to the light, but it also is a situation that requires self-care, self-awareness, and gentleness. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Only reveal details you feel comfortable writing. I have been working with other writers for 20 years, and doing healing work on myself, and this is key. Writing your #MeToo narrative does not require you to expose every detail, unless you want to do so. Notice my opening paragraph. I do not name names. This is your journey to speaking your truth, and no one else’s.
- Writing about past abuse can be re-traumatizing. Bring yourself back to the present. Writing isn’t like speaking the truth. You can say your truth once when you’re speaking, but when you’re writing a novel or memoir, a short story or script, you must go back in and rework the wording, revise, and polish. This can be retraumatizing. I have found bringing the narrative to the present can significantly heal the situation. Write what happened, but then in a journal, write down where you are now. You’re not still in that house. You’re a grown woman. You’re doing your healing work. Bring yourself back to the present.
- Create sacred time and space around the writing. I tell all of my clients when they get to the point in their memoir where they are actually going to write specifically about the abuse to prepare to do so. Do not have big events before our after the writing session. Schedule it. Create a physical space for it. Light candles, create a gentle atmosphere of healing. Have alone time before and after the session. Do yoga or mindfulness techniques. Schedule a session with your therapist. Do whatever gentle actions you can before and after the writing session to cushion and care for yourself.
- Get in and get out. The first time you write your #MeToo narrative, do not dwell on it. Do not polish it. Do not worry about grammar and spelling. Sit and write it out in one stream of consciousness. Then get up and leave it. Let healing happen over the next weeks or even months, and go back to it to revise it when you feel strong enough to do so.
- Circle the wagons. Set up appointments with therapists, calls with friends, a spiritual retreat, yoga sessions, acupuncture, a massage, and any other support before and after you do the writing. Circle the wagons by having a force of support holding you as you write.
- Do not show the writing to anyone for a while, especially family members. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve told a client not to show their #MeToo narrative to a family member, and they haven’t listened and then were faced with a storm that hit them at their fragile most fragile, and lasted for months. Even if you think the family member is supportive, please do not show them until you are stronger (even then it will be difficult). It triggers their own secrets!
Go gentle with yourself throughout the #MeToo writing process. Expect to feel a riot of emotions for months and even years after you write your truth, and then expect another tumultuous time after you get it published. Remember the stories of secrecy have been going on, not just for decades, but for generations. Your #MeToo narrative is transforming and healing a long line of people, and family and work systems, too. You’re changing the world. And that healing takes time, for you, and for others. Go, but go gently.