Writing To Heal

Margot and Ben

“Writing is a compulsion” sounds like a cliché. Writing has neither brought me fame nor fortune. I’ve spent more on my scribbling than I could ever hope to earn from such an endeavour. I’m sure most would-be authors have discovered as much. Even good writers struggle to make ends meet. However, once started, I was unable to stop. Sound familiar?

           I began writing to heal. I was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and in the midst of dealing with it, I was overwhelmed with myriad thoughts and confused memories of being eight, nine and ten during the London Blitz, living a two-fold terror with my pedophile uncle. To deal with such vivid flashbacks and a sense of incredible guilt, I found it necessary to scribble notes on endless reams of paper. That was a compulsion.

***

           “*&%#*&%!” I stood on a hilltop, a short car ride and walk from my “handyman’s delight” in West Sechelt, flinging stones with all the force in my right arm. My son, my sweet loving son, urged me on.

           “Great, Dad. Get it all out. Shout and curse as loud as you like. None but I can hear you here on this mountain top.”

           He threw his own stones. We both threw and yelled until, at last, exhausted, we sat on a log laughing. My laughter mingled with tears. He, holding me in a complete reversal of roles. Son and Father — Father and Son.

           I’d bottled so much up since PTSD. My forced retirement from teaching and resultant marriage breakdown had driven me to live alone in my tumbledown house on its own hill with a view. That yelling session was the catalyst — the moment of permission to express my feelings of anger and frustration. My young son provided what a psychiatrist had been unable to provide: permission to express previously suppressed feelings.

           “You can be angry at Mom, angry at God, angry at yourself. Let go the poison. If you can’t yell and scream, write it down. Then read it out and burn what you need to get rid of.”

***

           Later, after my son returned to university and I sat alone, I began writing. I filled entire notebooks with scribbles of emotion and scattered memories from earliest childhood to my years of teaching.

           On sunny days, I cleared the weedy hill beside the house and gradually built and planted beautiful rockeries and gardens with fishponds and waterfalls, roses and rhododendrons, azaleas and bushy ferns. On the other side of the house where the ground was more level, I built an abundant vegetable garden with a lush lawn in front.

           Through all this activity, I began having flashbacks of childhood terrors, memories I’d pushed from my mind as hidden horrors of filth and shame and an oath of strictest secrecy, suppressed for more than fifty years. All this I wrote down on tear-stained pages. 

           At last, I began transferring scribbles to computer documents, discarding garbage to an incinerator pile — and the pages mounted up. Thus began the lengthy and often tumultuous process of healing. I had to learn to forgive myself and discover my own innocence, finally washing away “my sins”.

           Forgiving is more than mere words. Forgiving involves an active choice — difficult at first but feasible with determination, effort and time. Forgiving others follows. 

           We all make mistakes in life. Sometimes we hurt those we love the most. Discovering and acknowledging them makes it easier to forgive others who have hurt us. Not always, but most of the time. Self-editing and submitting to other editors helped me discover this.

           More than anything else in writing a memoir, it’s most important to remember that no one wants to hear someone feeling sorry for themselves. Banish sadness but tell things as they were and are. The future is promising. However, old habits are hard to break.

           It took me ten years to upgrade the house and garden to showcase status and, more importantly, to complete the first draft of my healing memoir. I finally sold the house and moved to the city where I met the love of my life — a supportive partner and primary editor — and many years of love and emotional healing.

Following two editions by other publishers and extensive self-editing, Rutherford Press of Qualicum Beach, B.C. published Discovered in a Scream.

***

           My spirit healed at last, other books followed. No longer egocentric, I wrote and published poetry, children’s stories, a historical novel and the biography of one of Canada’s earliest bush pilots. My spirit had been freed and creativity followed at a gallop.

Ben Nuttall-Smith

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