Writing Roadblock

Over the last several months I’ve found myself stuck whenever I try to work on a few of the short memoir pieces I’ve started. It’s a repeating pattern. An idea, then great first line hook, a couple of paragraphs which flow out easily onto the page, and then a long slow coast to stuckness, followed by lament. My in-progress folder is now littered with a quartet of these.

Then suddenly in the middle of this writing roadblock, a complete flash piece pours out. I tweak it, get feedback, revise a bit and it’s ready for its next stage. All while the others still languish unfinished. Hoping the energy from completing something (anything!) will energize my efforts, I turn back to one of the languishers. Fizzle.

I think I missed this sign when starting on the road to make sense of traumatic experiences through memoir.

My work in therapy has also been at something of a standstill since the pandemic started. First being disconnected from a safe place ground work to a halt. Then working though every day challenges and finding a path forward for life in this changed world took over my sessions. When bits and pieces of traumatic memories come up from time to time, they are only worked with until they can be packaged and put on a shelf safely for later. Whenever that might be.

Earlier this week I was digging into a memory about a reflections book I’d used a decade ago. I was trying to make sense of what had happened to it, where it had gone. When my memory failed I turned to my journal. Sure enough I found the answer of when I’d used it and with prompting recalled why I’d stopped. Once I’d solved that puzzle I continued on to skim through a bunch of old entries, finding myself coalescing around the summer when memories of my childhood trauma started flooding back to me.

Field of Blue FLowers
So much was fuzzy during that summer of forgotten memories. I could only focus on one at a time, but each and every one got their moment in the sun before fading into the background.

My writing from that time brought back the mad, headlong rush to get down everything I was remembering – before I forgot it all again. In rereading, I found memories I’d forgotten again, and felt the bite of re-remembering horrors I’d not wanted to know. Now though, I can turn the page and move on, the memories contained for the time being in those pages. However the next next (likely disquieting) memory is just a page or two later. As I read through those raw memories of unprocessed trauma I experienced that summer, something tugged at a corner of my mind. I couldn’t quite see it, but I knew it was there just beneath the surface.

A few days later I recounted this experience to my therapist from the safety of the couch in her plant and book lined office. As so often happens in therapy for me, talking about my experiences allows the lines connecting parts of my past to take on sharp relief, becoming suddenly visible. In a moment I saw my writing roadblock in a new way – why some pieces sat unfinished, untouchable, and why others were essentially completed in a single sitting.

Every piece I’d finished was about my experiences since I’d started therapy, since I’d taken control of my life and started working to live in the light of the present. The others? They were all from the shadows of the past, the before times. They were filled with the raw emotions and and unexplained experiences which pulled me to write about my childhood, to find meaning. This pull was also my downfall. I was writing about unprocessed traumatic events which pushed me out of my window of tolerance and straight into the floundering fields of numbness.

Staying in my window of tolerance means working with things one drop at a time.

To write about my childhood experiences, I am going to have to do work in therapy with them. The memories I want to make sense of need to be processed, bit and piece at a time in a safe place. Some can be processed on the page, perhaps in my journal, and eventually as memoir, but much of my work will be done on that couch. I will explore with someone to guide me, to help pull me back, to give perspective. What I am writing about will guide my work processing trauma, and the work in therapy will help me to write. Interweaving the two means having a way finder to help me see the roadblocks, to point the path to through or around so I can make progress in both healing and writing. Because I now see for me, healing and writing are one and the same.

My road ahead is full of twists and turns to work through and around writing roadblocks- there is no map, but I have a guide.