Before I began to write, I didn’t fully understand the effects of the past on the present. Instead, for years, the past appeared in my mind’s eye like faded black-and-white photographs, in which no one, especially me, seemed to be fully alive.
Growing up, I lived a double life. On the face of it, we seemed like a normal, happy family: My father had an important career. We lived in nice houses and wore pretty clothes. But all this seeming perfection was a veneer, masking the reality that my father sexually molested me, a reality never spoken aloud.
Later, as an adult, I continued to live a double life: this time as a sex addict. Again, in public, I appeared normal, with a seemingly good marriage. No one knew that the shiny façade hid dark secrets: I cheated on my husband.
Then I started putting words on the page. Finally, I chose to examine my past.
In Fearless Confessions: a Writer’s Guide to Memoir, I encourage you, and you, and you, to explore, through writing, your life, as well. Whether your childhood was traumatic or not, whether your current life is in disarray, chances are you do have a story to tell. Whether, say, you’re figuring out a divorce, taking notes about a recent illness, exploring the disruption caused by a parent in the military, or worrying about a visit with an estranged mother, we write memoir to better understand ourselves, as well as to bring a reader with us on our journeys.
Here are five reasons why your life will be improved by writing a memoir, by telling your own story:
One: Memoir Helps You Understand the Past
I gain much clearer insights about my past when I write, then if I simply sit around thinking about it, in the abstract. What was the relationship between the sex addiction and being molested by my father? How did the past cause such emotional devastation? I discovered the answers to these important questions through the written word.
Writing is a way to interact with—and interpret—the past. It helps us make sense of events, whether they are traumatic, joyful, or maybe just confusing. Writing sharpens our senses so that images and details from the past emerge in a new context, one that illuminates events for ourselves as well as for our readers.
Two: Memoir Organizes Your Life
Just living my life day by day, I never stop long enough to question events. There’re errands to run, meals to cook—to say nothing of emotional clutter! Who has time to stop and think about events swirling around us?
Only when I put my everyday life on hold, so to speak, sit down at my computer and write, can I even begin to see a pattern to the rush-and-tumble of life.
Memoir writing, gathering words onto pieces of paper or on a computer, helps us shape our lives. By discovering plot, arc, theme, and metaphor, we give our lives an organization, a frame, which they would not otherwise have. Memoir creates a narrative, a life story.
Three: Memoir Helps You Discover Your Life Force
Before I wrote, while I kept secrets, I didn’t feel as if I were really living my life. I didn’t have a clear grasp as to who I was. What, and who, was the essence of “me”? There are thousands of other incest survivors. How was my story different?
When writing, if I forge even one good sentence on any given day, I have discovered a kernel of emotional truth. I feel that life force of “me,” as if it’s my pulse. To write is to give birth to a more complete self.
There is only one of you. Your voice is unique. If you don’t express yourself, if you don’t fully explore who you are, that essence of you will be lost.
Four: Memoir Helps Others to Heal
One thing I most love about writing memoir, is that it affords me the opportunity to meet many courageous people, still struggling.
For example, after I completed a reading at a library in Athens, Georgia, one woman waited until everyone else had departed. Approaching me, she was so scared she began to cry. She confided that I was the first person she’d told that her father had molested her. She was too traumatized even to tell a therapist. Why did she confide in me, trust me? Simply because I had written my story. Through this meeting, both of us were empowered.
Five: Confessing, through Memoir, is Good for the Soul
Telling family secrets—any intimate secret—can be scary. Finally, however, I reached a place where not telling the secrets was worse. I felt heavy, weighted down. Finally, then, it was more a relief to write my life, then ignore it. So even though at times I felt scared or uncomfortable, I ultimately felt a sense of release and power.
In short, with every word the pain lessened. It was as if I extracted it, one word at a time.
As you challenge yourself, you’ll feel more courageous every day. Writing memoir energizes your psyche, nourishes your soul.
Sue William Silverman is a Guest Blogger for PickTheBrain. memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (Norton), is also a Lifetime TV movie. Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction. She teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and has appeared on such programs as The View and Anderson Cooper – 360. Her most recent book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. Please visit www.suewilliamsilverman.com.