So you want a book about your never-before-told experiences? You’ve decided to bare it all, everything you’ve been through or deprived of, every way you’ve been treated, mistreated, and suffered is about to be aired publicly. Your friends and family are about to see the real you, warts and all.
I once wrote an essay based on my experiences at boarding school. It wasn’t what I’d call pleasant, armchair reading. Rather harrowing actually, as it dealt head-on with sexual abuse, and bullying. It was a savage and evil time in my life, and it made squirm-worthy reading.
I’d never disclosed these raw facts to anyone before. For starters, it’s hardly comforting to one’s parents who sent you there kicking and screaming in the first place (and, yes, I had a problem with that for a long time too) when they genuinely thought they were doing the right thing. And then, how are people who thought they knew you going to react when they read what a naïve ten-year-old was taught by his elders? It wasn’t tiddlywinks, believe me.
How did I feel writing it? I sobbed and heaved my heart up with every single word. I had to delve back into some very dark recesses of my mind to remember, and, when I did, I discovered that I’d never been back there before. I’d never confronted my memories of those experiences. Never examined them or dealt with them to come to terms with them.
And how did I feel when I’d finished? Pretty shattered, actually. I think ‘wrung out’ would best describe my physiological state, but was that necessarily a bad thing? Not for me, as it happened. It wasn’t as though I felt an enormous weight being lifted from me, or anything as dramatic as that. This stuff went incredibly deep and wasn’t going to shift overnight. But I did feel a lightness of being. Something (a great deal, I suspect) had moved, had been rearranged, and had loosened up enough to start a healing process. My dreams reflected a calmer more tranquil me, and that was good.
That essay was to be part of a book, but it never saw the light of day. Imagine the impact those words would have had on my parents. I think they felt enough guilt in their lives without being burdened by more. It wasn’t through any fault of theirs that any of that happened, but imagine telling them that. They would have been devastated, stricken, and utterly remorseful; or perhaps they would have chosen not to believe a word of it.
What we write can alienate us. From our closest friends, from our dearest (though possibly trying family members), and, possibly, from ourselves. It’s worth thinking about what we actually publish, although we should write about everything that comes to mind. Absolutely everything should hit the page because it really does help. And then we can decide what will be seen by others.
Michael Collins MCmemoirs.com.au