From Abuse Survivor to Self-Help Author

My journey as a writer started in childhood when my grandfather gave me a special gift: a working typewriter I could use to write my stories. Back then—in the 1980s—it wasn’t as common as it is today for everyone to have a computer in their home, so having a typewriter was not out of the ordinary. That was the first memory I have of writing. My love for the written word blossomed from there as I got into writing poetry and found myself on the newspaper staff at my high school for two years.

But somewhere along the way, life happened, and it tore me away from my writing dreams. I started pouring myself into bad relationships, leaving the person I had always wanted to be behind in the process. I didn’t think much of this self-destructive path until a traumatic relationship in my 40s threatened to erase that woman for good in the depths of depression, drug abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I remember the moment I finally woke up like it was yesterday. It was almost three in the afternoon, and I was sitting my car, waiting for my elementary-school-age daughter to be released for the day. I took a long, hard look in the mirror—both literally and figuratively—and I saw everything that had happened in the past two decades to erase that woman I put a pause on so long ago.That was the day I made the decision to stop chasing nightmares; instead, I planned to chase the dream I had ignored for so long.

Not long after that, I sat down and outlined my future book from start to finish. I titled it Red Flag Conversations, and it would be a 30-day journal for others like me who had left abusive relationships and wanted to find creative ways to cope with the effects of abuse. The year was 2016, and it was only four months after I had left an emotionally abusive relationship that had left me with a drug habit I knew would ruin my life if I didn’t stop. (Happy side note: I didn’t touch drugs again after that light-bulb moment at my daughter’s school.)

I designed it to include a poem based on my personal experience at the beginning of each chapter, a quick lesson relating to a significant red flag, a journal entry related to that chapter’s topic, and a personal essay that commented on a strength I found after abuse. In the beginning, it was easy to write chapter after chapter. But once I had about a third of the book written, I hit a huge wall that many of my fellow writers will know by another name: imposter syndrome.

The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler. —Albert Einstein

For the next three years, I stopped writing my book entirely, giving myself so many excuses and thoughts as to why the book was such a bad idea:

  • I’m not a mental health professional, so what if I’m giving bad advice?
  • I’m not far enough in my healing process, so I feel almost like a liar.
  • My friends are also writing—or have written—a book about their experience with abuse, so I want to clear the way for their voice.
  • I am a nobody, so nobody will read my book.
  • My experience wasn’t as bad as others’, so I don’t have the right to speak up about my abuse.
  • He will laugh about it when he finds out.

. . . and on and on that negative self-talk went. This went on for so long that I had missed the deadline set by my publisher to finish writing my book. But at the beginning of 2020, I told myself to throw away my fear and continue writing it anyway. So, I got an extension from my publisher and wrote for the next few months until I was finished. That book was published in September 2020, and I couldn’t be more proud of conquering my fears.

To be honest, I don’t know exactly what compelled me to put such an importance on my book. At first, I started writing it because I needed a way to release all the poison inside my head. It felt therapeutic at first—until it didn’t, and I had to force myself to relive some bad memories to keep writing. But I learned recently from my therapist that the more we expose ourselves to those bad memories, the less significant they become.

After a while, though, I knew I wasn’t writing for myself—that thought was what compelled me to finally finish the project. I knew there was at least one person out there I could help shine a light on so they could find a way to cope with their own experiences. While I never really thought of myself as a person who always helped others before, I still hoped that maybe my self-insight could help at least one person who stood in a much darker place.

If this is something you’re thinking about doing, here are some tips and tricks to get you going:

  • Write primarily for the woman (or man) trying to break through the effects of the abuse.
  • It may be painful at times, but when you face your fears, that pain will weaken as time goes on.
  • Even if you’re not a writer—or plan to publish what you write—your voice is still important.
  • Writing your emotions and experiences down can give your mind room to breathe and clear the way for new thoughts and events you are holding back.
  • Creativity is a great therapeutic tool to break through to self-insight—it’s actually one of the strongest themes in my book!
  • No matter how good or bad you think the writing is, writing down your story is a huge accomplishment.
  • Even if you only share your writing with one friend who is going through the same thing, your words have helped inspire another person on this planet. It gives you a feeling of great purpose.
  • You don’t have to overwhelm yourself with hours upon hours of delving back into the nightmare. Even writing for 15 minutes a few times a week can make a huge difference.
  • Just start with one word, then another. Before you know it, you will have several pages of thoughts, feelings, and memories you might not yet know are lingering there in your mind.
  • You don’t need an end goal—just write for your own benefit.
  • What you write doesn’t necessarily need to be published if you don’t want to publish it. This is really all about self-care.
  • You can also always reach out to me if you need any help or advice along the way!

There are so many creative tools out there to help you along your path to healing; writing was just the one that spoke to me the most. I write about so many others in my book, and I hope—even if these are the only words of mine you read—that you find an outlet to help you on your path.

[This post originally published on my Medium page.]

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