For me, the most significant effect of experienced trauma has been silence. This silence has grown more palpable over the years and I find that, as I get older, I feel less and less comfortable speaking. For many, talking about trauma is akin to being “negative,” so there’s already a sense that your stories aren’t wanted. On top of that, the feeling of being somehow “broken” already makes you less likely to speak up, and this can be a damaging cycle.
Growing up, I found myself retreating when things became too overwhelming. However, there weren’t a lot of “real-life” retreats and so books and writing became my escape. While the majority of my friends and my sister in particular dug into fantasy and science fiction, I found myself escaping into stories that paralleled my own. Books like the ones by Laurie Halse Anderson and Courtney Summers helped give voice to the things that I was slowly burying deeper and deeper inside of myself.
When I started writing seriously, I remained focused on these traumatic stories. In telling stories, I found a way to speak the truth that I’d learned to silence. There was safety in telling these stories through a fictional character, because I was able to insulate myself and take comments made about the story or the character as separate from my own experience.
In the last year or so, the world has grown more overwhelming. As a result, more people are speaking up, but I also find that it becomes harder to find my own voice. I’m extremely uncomfortable on social media, because my experiences make the slightest remark cut that much deeper and then I find myself debating on whether or not I should speak at all. I’ve grown more accustomed to silence in the last six months or so as the political climate has changed. It’s the last thing I wanted and I hate that I feel afraid to speak most of the time, but trauma has a tendency to make you feel like your voice is somehow flawed.
For this reason, I feel even more passionate about needing to write about dark topics and to read about them. I find myself yearning to see that there are others in pain, to know that I’m not totally alone in this silent hurt and to comfort others in letting them know they’re not alone, either. As a writer, this becomes more critical for YA, because navigating trauma can already feel impossible. When you put someone already struggling into a climate that’s exceedingly comfortable silencing stories of trauma, it becomes dangerous. Knowing that there are voices, that there are stories that allow you to feel human and part of the world, to feel unbroken and valued despite what your experiences have told you, can be salvation. This isn’t to say that it’s easy or that it can’t be triggering, as it can, and each person needs to make that choice for themselves, but this dark contemporary look at the world saved my life and I know it has the power, while maybe being too much for some, to save others.
Of course, I understand that this is solely my experience. Trauma isn’t going to be experienced the same way by everyone and coping strategies are going to vary as well. However, as someone both affected by trauma and as a reader/writer who finds myself drawn to dark topics, often associated with traumatic events, I wanted to share a little of what drives this for me.