Using Writing to Heal

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My life changed drastically almost two years ago. At first, for the worse.

Two months into my relocation to Seattle with my spouse, I received the single-line text message alerting me to the death of my estranged, abusive, big-hearted, complicated mother. She had died of terminal cancer. It pinged into my phone halfway through my ten-minute break in the back room of my new part-time job at Babeland.

Beside the dilapidated and stickered old mini-fridge and a towering metal rack of dildo back stock, I stood phone in hand, staring blankly, unable to process the information. I asked myself the question, the words not seeming to make sense: My mother was dead? My mother was dead? My mother, who I hadn’t spoken to in two years, was dead? The gravity felt deeper than I deserved. I felt like a fraud. Melodramatic.

I decided that surely I could handle working the rest of my shift. I went back to the sales floor, a walking shell, clicking through the vibration settings on a baby pink, glittery, penis-shaped vibrator while my new coworker complained about the weird text she’d just received.

After work, I let it hit me, thinking that it would pass by morning, assuring myself I’d be able to go to work the next day. Unsurprisingly, as I woke the next day, I crumbled.

My mother had died. She was dead. It wasn’t a question to be asked, it was fact.

After a few days of mourning in my bed, I decided to write a Facebook post to inform my community of what I was going through. To my surprise, several friends reached out, letting me know that they’d been in similar relationships, suffered similar, complicated losses. They understood. I wrote more each day, and more people opened up.

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After living out a decade of trying to escape the shame I felt about my family, I was shining a light on the sore spots in my life and people were responding to it–– I was creating connections with others through writing about it. What’s more: I felt free of the shame I’d carried about having been abused. After a lifetime of being told something was wrong with me, I was hearing how brave and strong and loved I was. It was a truth I knew in my bones, but hearing other people validate what I deserved, that they knew the invalidation of abuse too, that I wasn’t alone, and that I was appreciated–– it was a salve for my spirit.

If I’m going to care this much about failing at something, I might as well fail at something I actually care about.

A few weeks later, as I continued the grieving process, I interviewed for a job as a barista in a local bookshop’s café. I needed more time outside my house, living my life, moving forward, and another job seemed like the ideal way to fill my schedule. After having privately trained at the two top roasters in the country and assisting the management of a popular bakery in the bay area, I figured I was a shoe-in. Besides, I’ve landed every position I’ve ever interviewed for.

I checked my email after the interview to find a message from the hiring manager.

“Another candidate was more qualified.”

My track record of never having been passed over for a job was suddenly gone and I was embarrassed. It wasn’t over the fact that I didn’t get to work there, but that I cared so much about not getting the job. I felt frustrated, like I’d lost my magic.

That was the moment everything changed and I decided on something that would turn out to be the seed of creating this career for myself. I thought, “if I’m going to care this much about failing at something, I might as well fail at something I actually care about.”

I picked up my laptop and, perched on the corner of my bed (a mattress on the floor), typed out a far-too-long email explaining the process of estrangement, my mother’s death, and how complicated it was to mourn such a loss. I searched for some editors and a few minutes later, I’d sent what I’d later find out was called a “pitch” to several magazines and websites.

A few days later, BUST.com wrote back to me, saying they’d like to publish my story.

I sat cross legged at my coffee table at my seven-year-old Macbook for two hours and out came my first draft. Granted, it was a 2,000+ word draft, and there was no way I’d be allowed to publish that length; I had to whittle is down by about half. And so began the process of refining my story. I edited, several times through. A few rounds later, I sent off the first personal essay I would ever publish.

It went live weeks later, in the afternoon, while I was waiting in line for lunch. I snuck away to the bathroom and stared at my words, my story, my life, on display. The chemical burn of fear and the anticipation of potentially being flooded with hate mail wasn’t nearly as strong as the pride I felt seeing my work–– my life’s work–– with the bold magenta BUST logo bannered across the top. Storytellers I respected believed in my story so much they amplified it to their readership.

And, most powerfully: they simply believed me. Without knowing me, they heard my story and trusted that my experiences were real. For a survivor of lifelong abuse, this was profound.

Rather than hate mail, soon all my inboxes–– Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Twitter–– filled with notes of gratitude, condolences, and “me too.” I wasn’t alone, and the people who wrote to me reminded me of that, often saying they wished none of us had to be “in it” together, but that’s life. I felt a surge of acceptance and I felt seen. With that essay, an enormous wound began to heal as I presented my full self to the world for the first time. I wasn’t biting at the world from inside a cage; I was gently introducing myself, and I was being welcomed.

Wildly vulnerable truth has the power to bring people together.

And so began my foray into writing things down on the internet (and, #humblebrag, sometimes in magazines). It pays next to nothing and I actually struggle to get it done most of the time, but I always do (on time, too!) and then, once it’s completed, it feels like nothing else on the planet. Keep your runner’s high; I’ll take a writer’s high any day. My work is my greatest joy because is comes from nothing but me. My brain, my energy, my potential, my skill, my past, and all the things I have lived through. Like me, sometimes it’s light, sometimes it’s dark, and sometimes it isn’t perfect.

But sometimes it’s so miraculous and divine that my entire world is turned upside down.

Writing has been a powerful tool in finding my voice and for developing my sense of self. It allows me not only to show myself to the world, but also to look at my circumstances, frame and reframe them, and see them as a bigger picture–– part of my grand story rather the singular moments.

I hope that you, reader, know that you too hold this incredible tool in your hand and, should you choose to use it, I’d love nothing more than to read, help you shape, and amplify your stories.

Please consider submitting to the Souldust Journal by emailing me at write@souldust.com. I can’t wait to see your miraculous, divine work. Journal guidelines and details can be found here.

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Callie Little

Callie Little is the editor of the Souldust Journal and Associate Director of Camp Souldust. She lives in Seattle with her spouse and writes professionally for places like Vice, Architectural Digest, Teen Vogue, and more. She really, really likes dogs and La Croix sparkling water. Find her complete portfolio at callielittle.contently.com and follow her on social media at @goshcallie.

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