This past year, I graduated from my local community college with a writing certificate. I had returned to school because I needed to start over. After dedicating fifteen years to healing from complex trauma, I was a changed person, and I was ready to share my experience and healing with a broader community. As I began to dream about how I would share what I had been through, I was lucky to have the support and encouragement of my professors and the other students.
I wrote this short personal essay about one of my experiences in class and how I found the courage to speak up and hear my voice:
Standing between the open double doors of my closet, I forcefully hold back tears, leaning on the handles for support. I take a small step forward and inhale, pulling the doors behind me slightly, cocooning myself inside. The smell of musty sweaters surrounds me. I reach for an empty sleeve, and rest my cheek in the soft wool, letting the fabric absorb the escaping tears.
Several months earlier, I enrolled at the local community college to complete a writing certificate, which was both exciting and absurd. In all my time on Earth, I had never considered myself a writer. Writing was storytelling, and stories needed voices. Yet here I was, trying to find my voice, wrestling with a story. Sitting in class one day, the students circled around the teacher, we were discussing our chosen topics for our upcoming assignment. My professor went around the room asking each of us to share. When she reached me, I scrambled to sit up straight and cleared my throat, “I want to write my paper about the healing and prevention of childhood sexual abuse.” The next few seconds passed by like hours as I watched my classmates break eye contact, looking out the window or down at their computers. My professor replied, “Well, that’s a heavy topic.” I rolled my shoulders back and lengthened my neck, trying not to buckle under the weight of it, “Yes, it is.” I squeaked out.
I had spent the last decade sifting through puzzle piece memories of terror, sound, images, rage, and touch. I had been told to, “Get your shit together”, but no one told me that once I got that shit together, they wouldn’t want to hear it. Some stories meant losing people you love to gain the confidence of strangers. After class, a woman quietly approached my desk, leaned in close, and whispered, “I’m looking forward to hearing more about your paper.” The week the paper was due, a visiting faculty member invited our class to submit our writing to the college’s student magazine. The magazine asked me to read a portion of my writing at their launch party. I submitted my piece with the hope it would empower others to reclaim their own stories and put the shit back where it belonged.
The night of the party, I am hiding in my closet. I want to close the doors completely, slip into silence. Instead, I put on dark jeans, a pink blouse, and the chunky tear-stained sweater. When I collapse into the driver’s seat of my car, I stare at the empty passenger seat next to me. When no one appears, I buckle my seatbelt and start the car. When I make the turn to enter the freeway, I am confronted with a river of red brake lights. Through the start and stop of traffic, I sob and scream and beat my steering wheel till my hands shake. The man in the car next to mine sees me thrash about but doesn’t hear a sound, while I blast a playlist I created and named “Figuring It Out”, absorbing the lyrics and voices into my trembling body.
I arrive on campus, under the drizzle of rain, and listen to the click of my boots on the pavement as I traverse the dark parking lot. When I open the door, my eyes scan the room, hands fidgeting. I've walked through this building a dozen times yet the space feels foreign to me, until my eyes land on my smiling professor, the one who gave me this assignment. We chat. She recognized the weight of my story and encouraged me every step of the way. Tonight is no different. She reminds me: I have stories to tell. Those stories matter. I matter. Sitting on an atrium bench next to her, surrounded by other courageous and vulnerable writers, I listen to a variety of voices sharing stories of vulnerability and courage. I feel heard hearing their stories. When they call my name, I stand up, walk to the podium, and lean into the microphone. I hear my voice.
To read the article I wrote for my community college student magazine, visit this link.