A couple of weeks ago, I wrote and then read a short piece about Creepy Neighbor Mr. Mason at my mindful writing class. (Mr. Mason was a family “friend” who thought it was appropriate to kiss and touch me when I was 12 or 13 years old and he was at least 45.) As I wrote at the time, it felt empowering and freeing to just say what happened to me. It was the first time I said it face-to-face to other people besides my therapist and my husband, and to my surprise and satisfaction, I didn’t feel ashamed.
Two weeks later, and it’s Thursday evening again, time for writing class. We’re a small group, and this week all eight of us are here in class. We do our usual sitting meditation, a quick warm-up, and then the teacher gives us some prompts and sets us off to write without stopping for 20 minutes.
Since these pieces come out a bit longer than our 10-minute writes, when we are done we pair off and read aloud to our partners. My partner has written about the sense of imminent Armageddon she gets from the hurricanes and wildfires and suffering that has beleaguered us here in the States for the past several months. I have written half of a scene from a novel I sometimes imagine myself writing. Both pieces are rough but have kernels of something rich embedded within them.
We gather back together as a group of eight. The teacher tells us we don’t have time to share everyone’s writing with the group, but do we have three volunteers?
The serious woman who always sits at the corner of the table raises her hand. I’ll call her Allie, though that’s not her real name. She often writes with a strong voice about physical pain and worry. Tonight she reads about remembering herself as a young girl, raped by an older man. I feel the power of the words might knock me over.
After we read, we always have the choice, do we want recall feedback or experiential feedback or no feedback at all? Up to now, we’ve all always requested feedback. But Allie, suddenly looking small, says, “I think I don’t want feedback this time.” So after a moment’s pause, the next person reads.
But I’m worried about Allie. It’s a big deal to put that out there, in front of a group of people who also take some risks in their writing, but not at that level. As soon as class is over, I move over to her side of the table.
“That was a lot,” I say to her, “and so, so painful. How do you feel, after reading that? Are you okay?”
Her eyes well up with tears. “Yes,” she says. “I’m okay. The first time I read it, in the pairs we were in, I felt I was hit by a wave of overwhelming emotion. But when I read it the second time, to the group, I felt relieved.”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” I say. “That’s how I felt, when I read a couple of weeks ago.”
“I’m so glad you read that,” she tells me. “That’s what made it possible for me to even go there, to even let myself write that, and then to read it aloud. You were brave, and that helped me be more brave. I never said that to anyone before, except a little to my therapist, but she doesn’t really want me to go there.”
I have a mixed reaction to her words–on the one hand, I’m so very happy that I shared something that allowed her to dare to speak up about her experience. On the other, I’m humbled, because my story was small and safe, and so I don’t feel I’ve done anything remarkable.
(And yet another part of me is thinking, what’s with your therapist? Why doesn’t she want you to talk about this?)
We talk for a while, and I realize that this is the first time I have stood and talked, face-to-face, with another woman who has had experiences very much like mine. Allie tells me about her body memories and incomplete glimpses of what happened to her. I tell her I have the same experience, especially about things that happened when I was younger. She says that her experiences still cloud her current life, but she doesn’t want to allow that any longer. We compare notes on what we are doing to help heal ourselves.
I know this is what we all do here all the time on WordPress, and I value it enormously. I have found blogging and reading the blogs of others to be so healing. I have been strengthened and heartened and saved by the comments and caring of intelligent, compassionate readers. And yet, I’ve always been able to hide in my anonymity. I’m aware that at any moment, I can shut down my blog, if I feel the need to.
So it’s not the same as standing in the church basement after writing class and looking in the eyes of another woman and talking about the shame we carry, though we know we don’t deserve it. The intensity and intimacy of the conversation are exhilarating.
I walk to my car, and before I can even drive home, I have to text E and tell her about the evening. She wants to cheer me on and says I have inspired someone else, which is kind and supportive of her. But here’s what I really think happened: daring to tell the truth is contagious.