Antonina Mareglia wrote: "A blog post about how to write through painful memories without becoming too distressed would be very useful for me. People who meet me say I should write about my life, my childhood, but I struggle...I get too upset and then always worry I'm not remembering anything honestly or clearly. Your insight would be appreciated."
Dear Antonina, here is how I have dealt with this need to be absolutely correct, absolutely exact, and so on (still dealing with it, in fact): FUCK IT. The truth is, you won't ever remember everything with a 100-percent accuracy. Memory is fluid. It changes as we change, and it distorts original events to the point of disputes at family gatherings when people who were present during some particularly memorable incident argue till they're blue in face about who remembers it right. The answer is: nobody.
I came to this conclusion first during my therapy sessions, then during writing fiction. Since then we're at peace—me and my memory (on most days). I learned to trust my feelings instead of my brain. Does my body flinch when someone raises an arm at me? That means I was beaten. And I was, I remember the feeling of it: the shame, the stinging pain, the anger...but the actual incidents? I remember very few, and even those are hazy. It gets worse with memories that are more violent than a simple beating, so I devised a few tactics to write down what I felt without reinventing the events I couldn't remember correctly (or as correctly as you'd see them if they were filmed):
Irkadura is full of metaphors (and TUBE too). In fact, Irina (the main character) changes people into animals (a common fantasy of abused children) to cope better with the pain they inflict on her. It's easier to believe that a boar will gut you, as opposed to your mother's boyfriend raping you. So whenever I came across something so painful and so dim, I couldn't put into words (yet it seemed to eat me alive), I'd think of a metaphor closest to describing what I felt, and I wrote that down. By the way, it doesn't have to be fiction. Before I wrote my first trilogy, I wrote almost daily blog posts (for about 1.5 years) as self-therapy, and I used metaphor upon metaphor upon metaphor. It helped unblock that which I couldn't put into words.
Before I shared my writing on my blog, I wrote in a journal. In fact, my therapist suggested I start a journal. The knowledge that no one would ever see those pages freed me up. And though later I did show those pages to a few people, at the time of writing I felt free to express whatever I wanted to express. Also, writing by hand helped. It was a visceral connection that was missing from typing. I could "dump" my pain on paper, and I could immediately feel it, see it, hold it in my hands, and burn it if I wanted to. That immediacy unlocked many memories—some came to me in pictures that I drew instead of putting them into words. I also entertained the idea of burning my journal, to see it expire before my very eyes. See all that pain expire. I didn't burn it, in the end, but the possibility of doing so helped me keep writing.
WRITING A LITTLE EVERY DAY
Sometimes a memory was too big to process at once, so I had to learn to pace it. Pull it out bit by bit and give myself rest (I'm still learning how to be gentle with myself). So. Writing every day became a ritual. And that ritual helped get rid of the stress of remembering. It was like exercise. Baby steps. I did a little every day, and my muscles didn't hurt as much, and they healed faster. In this case, my remembering muscles. I'd write down as little as one line, and I'd feel better. Soon it became habit, and with habit the stress disappeared. Instead of stress I felt elation: at having disposed of the weight I was carrying. I felt physically lighter.
Another technique I heard working for others (I did it only a few times) is writing in the form of letters to someone you trust. It can be an imaginary person. And you don't have to send those letters—as long as they're written, you're done. Just stash them away. But people told me, visualizing another person helped relieve the stress of remembering (many of those people wrote emails to me, in the shape of stories, and I read as many as I could). You can do those by hand, or type them. They can become fiction later. Try it and tell me how it works.
WRITING WITH SUPPORT
This is critical for writing through any kind of pain. When it gets too much, you should be able to stop and get support from someone who loves you and understands you without you having to explain anything. Ask that person to hold you while you gather yourself back together. The next day, after you sleep and reset your brain, you can continue writing. For me this person is Royce. If not for him, I would've never started writing that blog, or even my books. He gave me what I never had before. How I lucked out this way, I don't know. The universe probably had enough of battering me around and decided I deserve a break or something (not that I believe in any of this shit, but you know what I mean). The truth is, there were lots of people in my life who wanted to support me—only I pushed them all away. I didn't believe I was worth their love. By the time I met Royce, I went through some dark times and finally was open to change. So it will come for you as well, through this process (if it didn't already). Seek support to get you through it. And if all else fails, take care of yourself first. You can always get back to writing through your memories later. The best part is—you're thinking about it, you're aware you need it for yourself, when so many people don't. Kudos for that, Antonina. Never stop writing. I love you.