We all have trauma that has overcast parts of our past. The trouble with trauma is that it has a way of making you feel like you’re alone. As if that dark cloud is your burden to bear indefinitely and isolation is a fair price to pay because no one could possibly understand what you’re going through. It can even convince you that speaking your truth is an act of betrayal, shaming you into protecting the very source of your pain.
I began writing in the eighth grade when my English teacher, Mrs. Crosby, acknowledged my “cloud.” It was the first time I’d felt seen by a teacher in a long time. I was having trouble making sense of my budding sexuality; coping with the dawning of an awareness of generational trauma in my family; and attempting to reconcile my reality of going to school with classmates who lived in 2- and 3-story houses with front doors that were always left unlocked–miles away from my inner city neighborhood where I was taught how to roll out of bed and crawl to a windowless room in my house whenever there were gunshots in the middle of the night.
It’s crazy because I never explicitly spoke about these things with Mrs. Crosby. I think she knew that whatever was going on with me, she couldn’t fix; nor were they her issues to resolve. But I remember her telling me, “Whatever you’re going through, whenever you’re going through it, as long as you have a pencil and paper you’re never in it alone.” She went above and beyond her curricular obligation to me as a student, sharing photocopied poems by diverse writers who could use a pen to write as deftly as their legs to walk.
It appealed to me that I could right/write wrongs in a poem and dress them up in a way that only I would ever know what the “hidden message” was behind my words. I was already into performing arts such as theatre and music at that point. After I began writing poetry, I explored spoken word by seeking out a few open mic opportunities. Since then, expressive writing has become my primary vehicle for thinking. There are times when I honestly do not know how I feel about a certain thing until I sit down and write my way through it.
Since I have become a parent, my relationship with writing has indeed changed. I used to be able to get up at 4 am and write for a few hours before getting myself ready for work. Now with two infants in the picture, sleep and downtime are not guaranteed. I find myself lately using my iPhone notes to capture ideas with one hand as I snuggle a sleeping baby (or two!) with my other arm. But if I’ve known anything to be true about myself since the eighth grade, it is that I NEED to write.
I’m constantly bombarded with moments where I encounter some lingering baggage from my past that needs to be unpacked. Parenthood has added a new shade of importance to my process. My biggest goal as a parent is to assure that my daughters experience a greater quality of life in their childhood than mine. This is not to say that I had a joyless childhood, but I experienced a great deal of trauma. As I mentioned, much of what I experienced was generational. Looking back, I recognize that my mother and grandmother (who raised me together) tried their best to assure that I experienced lesser degrees of this trauma, though some of it was beyond their awareness, means, or control.
My wife and I are raising our daughters in a house that we own in a quiet suburb. Our daughters have parents who are both college graduates, gainfully employed, and free of any chronic illnesses. But those are just the quantifiable aspects that assure their basic human needs for clean air, food, and water; reliable shelter; and financial security.
In order to thrive, a child’s Social Belonging and Esteem needs must also be met. It is our obligation as parents to be emotionally available to provide the foundation and models for healthy relationships with the environment, others, and self. This cannot be done if a parent is overwhelmed by their own personal issues and does not take consistent, healthy action or have access to means of support to help.
For this reason, my ‘when’ for writing has not only changed but also my ‘what’. Poetry still lives in my heart, though I find myself shifting from enigmatic prose to artfully explicit and daringly vulnerable. I find my opinion writing shifting from third person and removed to first person and exposed. Aside from my other tools of self-care (long distance running, therapy, tea…), it is the only means by which I can assure that I do not put my daughters in a position where they inherit my pain or suffer new blows as a result of my emotional negligence.
This isn’t to say that I expect my daughters will be perfectly evolved humans who will go through life without pain or a relationship with a therapist. Hurt feelings are an essential part of the human experience, for without them we would have no way to decipher what fills us with joy. I’m speaking to the things that as a parent I have the power to filter, the unhealthy cycles I can choose to destroy.
I intend for this next generation of my relationship with writing to be healing for myself; protective for my daughters’ childhood, insightful for their adulthood; and a lifeline for others who have stood underneath familiar clouds. I am no longer afraid to give voice to muted thoughts. I can no longer offer protection from the outside to that which destroys on the inside.