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Today, I'm participating in this month's Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain. (Check out last month's blog chain here!) The prompt for December is "What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?"
I've always adored books, but I'm not sure I realized how much I relied on them until I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in high school. My grieving process was worsened significantly by what I felt was a betrayal of the book industry--after months of searching, I still couldn't find any novels about teens who were sick like me. That made me feel incredibly unmoored and alone. That's also when I started to see how much books had been doing for me without me even realizing it.
Stories, especially those told in book form, make up the foundation of my life. They act as references, compasses, connections, escapes. I've learned so much from them, and yet it's hard to think of anything specific I can connect back to any specific book. Most of what I've learned has been integrated into my knowledge base so integrally and so unconsciously that it seems like I've always known it. I'm sure that my empathy has been bolstered by what I've read, as has my vocabulary. I'm constantly throwing out facts that I've picked up without noticing it. I can also name many fictional characters I've tried to channel in the moments when I've felt weakest. They have all been examples to me, and my own novel-writing has been key to me working through my biggest challenges and questions..
However, when asked to think of a specific book that made a difference in my life, the one that comes to mind is a book that I don't even know the title or author of. I'm not sure I'll ever find this book again. Nevertheless, this book, one of thousands I've picked up at the library over the years, strengthened me in the midst of one of my worst struggles.
I don't talk about this much, for the sake of everyone involved, but when I was younger, I was emotionally abused by an adult I trusted and admired. I also witnessed this adult abuse some people I loved very much. For a long time, I didn't have a name for what I was experiencing. Though I knew about physical and sexual abuse, I had never heard about emotional abuse. The only thing I knew was that something wasn't right about this adult's behavior.
If it had just been me who was being mistreated, I probably would've accepted it without question, despite the incredible pain it caused me. I received psychological wounds that will affect me for the rest of my life. Still, I trusted this person in the whole and total way of a child, and all I could think was that I must have done something wrong, even if I couldn't understand what that was. But when I saw people I cared about, people I knew deserved better than this, being mistreated, my perspective began to shift.
I brought up what was happening to other adults in the hopes of protecting the people I loved. Unfortunately, those adults failed me. They rejected my pleas, they told me I was making a big deal out of nothing, and they sometimes even reacted with anger. One of these adults was a school counselor whose dismissal of the problem was part of why I stayed away from counselors for years afterwards. Despite all of this, I continued questioning, though I stopped speaking about the problem to people who weren't directly affected. I slowly and painfully broke my emotional ties to the person who was hurting me. I tried to help the other victims do the same.
Sometimes it felt like I was screaming into a void. I still have nightmares all the time in which no one will listen to something important I need them to hear. The other victims of this abuse were so entrenched in their denial that they couldn't remember many of the worst incidents. They rejected my help repeatedly, and they hurt me sometimes just as much as the abuser did. I had to disconnect myself from them at times, too, in order to cope. But I knew that their refusal to face truth was a way of defending themselves, and though their denials often made me wonder if the reality I saw even mattered, I knew, far too deeply to be dissuaded, that what this adult was doing was wrong. I knew I wasn't imagining things. I knew I needed to save myself and the people I loved--somehow.
This all continued for years before the other victims started to see the truth and make their own emotional breaks. We have a long journey ahead of us still. The abuse can't be taken back; the echoes and the damage will always be inside us somewhere. But we've finally started making the progress I've been dreaming of.
If it weren't for the book that saved me, I don't know that I would've had the strength I needed to continue standing up for what was right. Though I'm stubborn, I'm also a rule-follower by nature, and in the midst of all this, I often felt like an awful, rebellious monster. (My experiences with that have a lot to do with my OCD.) But when I was eleven years old, around the time the school counselor turned me away, I came across a book about a girl who moves back to her mom's childhood home and uncovers her family's history of emotional abuse. That book is where I first saw that term, "emotional abuse," and I witnessed my pain written across all its pages. That had never happened to me before, not like that. Thanks to that book, I gained the vocabulary I needed to reframe my life, and I had confirmation to fall back on when I doubted myself the most. That book provided what no one else would, and I will never stop being grateful for that.
I only read that book the one time, and as I said at the beginning of this post, I don't know what it was called or who it was by. But it made a direct and specific difference in my life. Today, I still seek out books that have that kind of content because every time I do, I see hope. I see a chance for other people to find their truths. I see a way for us all to gain a better understanding of the psychological and sociological concepts behind abuse and prejudice and other such issues, so that we can more effectively stand up for what's right. I try to write books that address these topics too, because I could be the person who saves a life. And so could you, with your words.
Of course, if your writing affects people more unconsciously, like the many other books I've loved, that's a beautiful thing too. Don't forget it. Whatever goodness we can add to the world matters, and we all have our part to play! The most important point here is that I can stand as one clear witness to how fiction does good in the world. Stories matter, and I won't hold with anyone who tries to argue otherwise.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Answer the prompt yourself, if you'd like, and here's the rest of the TCWT blog chain for you to follow:
5th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/
6th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/
7th – https://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/
8th – http://introspectioncreative.wordpress.com/
9th – http://semilegacy.blogspot.com/
10th – My blog, today
11th – http://whileishouldbedoingprecal.weebly.com/
12th – http://randomosityofeden.wordpress.com/
13th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/
14th – http://www.alwaysopinionatedgirl.wordpress.com/
15th – http://www.juliathewritergirl.wordpress.com/
16th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/
17th – http://horsfeathersblog.wordpress.com/
18th – http://unironicallyexcited.wordpress.com/
19th – http://theboardingblogger.wordpress.com/
20th – http://stayandwatchthestars.wordpress.com/
21st – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/
22nd – http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/
23rd – http://lilyjenness.blogspot.com/
24th – http://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/
25th – No post
26th – http://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/
27th – http://missalexandrinabrant.wordpress.com/
28th – http://www.pamelanicolewrites.com
29th – http://jasperlindell.blogspot.com.au/
30th – http://maralaurey.wordpress.com/ and http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/
31st – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/
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