I've just returned from therapy. My homework from last session was to write out an account of the things which were worrying me; my therapist, J, was quite surprised to hear I had forty pages of narrative prose and poetry. What can I say? Give a writer an assignment with a due date and you may get more than you bargained for.
I read J a few lines of the index - yes, my therapy document is indexed. And to my delight, he actually seemed interested. Quite a few passages detailed how no one could possibly be intrigued by my ramblings, so it was a bit of a shock to learn that someone might want to hear what I have to say.
I have a complex relationship with my writing. J would call that an excuse, and it is - my lack of confidence serves as a barrier between me and my work, and far too often I let my fear of failure get in the way of the activity about which I am passionate. There are many moments when I want to write, but many more moments when I refrain from writing because I'm scared of producing something sub-par. And so I get away with procrastination because I blame my insecurities.
In my school years, I garnered some positive attention for my writing, and yet at home there was a voice which always had something negative to say. I learned I was a good writer, but not good enough. I wanted approval from the powerful people in my life, but any approval came with a price. The more successful I became the more I was criticized.
And writing is a vulnerable act. In typing out my thoughts, I expose the shadows inside my brain. Certainly on this blog I tend not to shy away from difficult topics, from the illnesses which some might not want to face. I keep coming back to the thought that it's ugly - the noise in my head, the way I speak honestly, my flaws, my anxieties. To be sick in public is an almost radical act.
J suggested that I might use my writing to help others. That by writing out the challenges I live with, detailing a complicated childhood, exposing my fears, I enter into a dialogue with my readers. That dialectic - defining and discussing intimate truths - might both assist readers in their journeys and unearth further truths for my own evolution.
As a child I felt that so much of me was in service to others. I remember learning how to mix cocktails, how to fire off bitter witticisms, how to flatter, how to cajole. Coming to terms with a new kind of service - water in a waterwheel, a self-sustaining act - may be the key to undoing my trauma.
Service can be a large part of recovery; service is only possible if we understand how to serve ourselves.
And the best way to serve myself, the ultimate renewable resource, is to write. Sometimes what I come up with ends up on the rubbish heap, phrases and allusions broken into shards and scattered like glass in the road. And that has to be okay, because I think that sometimes, if I'm lucky, my words might do someone else some good. The bitterness and gall of portions of my past, as hard as it can be to live with, can inform my cherished medium of communication. How many adults can remember being unwanted? How many still struggle? How many need someone to talk to, or need someone to speak for them if they cannot?
I'm not going to publish my gigantic therapy document of doom any time soon. But in it, the seeds of a greater calling germinate, the beginnings of something larger. My passion, purpose, and profession might be borne of my ability to be ugly in honesty. To be open, to be occasionally raw.
I'll close this (deeply navel-gazing) post with a poem. Its topic is both neglect and a resulting anorexia, but I'm beginning to think that there's a positive message, too - it's a poem about hunger, but maybe it's also a poem about the need within all of us to find a sustaining mission. To find what fuels us. It's really hard, I can't deny that. But I'm beginning to think it's worth doing.
The old hunger never goes away.
The ravenous self-beast
Is there, always, tempting
You with mouth-watering
Hatred, with the clawing
Of the belly, with headaches
And foul breath, hooves
Scratching at the dirt
And ready to charge.
The beast will be fed -
On starvation, on excesses,
On rich food, on sunlight.
It will feast with its gaping
Maw, masticating the deprivation
Of youth, of poverty, of need.
You feed yourself.
The hunger remains.
This poem lives in ugliness, in a space we want to escape, and yet today it makes me ask -
How can we quell the hunger in others?
And in so doing, how might we feed ourselves?