I spent years hiding the truth. From others, sure, but also from myself.
As I write that sentence, another thought enters my mind. Was I hiding the truth or was I hiding from the truth? Is there even a difference?
It doesn’t really matter. It’s just semantics. The fact of the matter is that the truth was right there for me to see, acknowledge, deal with, and heal from, but I didn’t. I wanted to protect myself from it, not only because acknowledging what happened would be painful but because acknowledging it would mean writing about it and writing about it would mean people reading it. It would mean that people would bring their judgements, values, and opinions into my story, and create new versions of it for themselves that I would have no control over.
Dealing with the truth is one thing. Distributing it for mass consumption and allowing people to look at it—and me—through a microscopic lens is another.
But I am who I am. And I do what I do.
I write. I tell stories. Sometimes they’re even my own.
I release them into the wild and then I accept that what will be will be.
Some would consider this difficult. But I find it easy, it’s who I am. It’s the most natural thing in the world for me to open up my wounds to a room full of people while we all gape at them in fascination. I’m not shy about this. In fact, I quite enjoy it. I am one of the most open and honest people you will ever meet.
Well, I was. Until recently.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote about being raped. The fallout was immediate, powerful, and painful. I have to be honest, the reactions startled me. I guess I had always known to some extent that there would be fallout from this revelation, which is why I avoided talking about the subject for so long, but I, naively perhaps, didn’t realize how much it would impact me. More importantly, I didn’t realize that for some people, I would fundamentally change. They would no longer be able to see me as me, but that I would forever more, be in their minds, a “rape survivor.”
I don’t mean to be a bitch, but I reject your badge of honor.
It happened for the first time in a private mastermind. I talked about how I had learned to not only accept, but be grateful for everything that had happened in my life. Every single negative event in my life has toughened me up externally while softening me internally. Every time I have been faced with a challenging situation, be that financial, in a relationship, or indeed, assault of any kind, it has opened me up to another facet of humanity, allowed me to experience it in a new way whilst at the same time reinforcing my own strength and belief in who I am. I am unshakeable as a writer and as a person and that is in large part, due to the negative experiences of my life. This woman couldn’t see or understand any of that, however. She was belligerent, condescending and nasty, her accusations being that I must be a terrible person for choosing to be grateful when there are women in the world who have been raped, who have nothing to be grateful about.
I resent, very greatly, being repeatedly clubbed into an incredibly diverse group to be used as an easy argument.
More recently, I hired a coach. Mindset was something we talked about and worked on greatly. Eventually, several weeks in, I decided that if we were going to talk about mindset, then I needed to share one of the biggest reasons mine was so screwed up. I wrote an email to my coach sharing portions of my history.
The discomfort, the energy shift, the “this is above my pay grade” attitude was immediate. I was no longer a client, I was an issue.
I am thirty-six years old. I have lived over 322,080 hours since I was born. You do not get to define me by what happened to me for a few of those hours, even if I’ve chosen to speak publicly about my experiences. Especially if I’ve chosen to speak publicly about my experiences.
Here’s why this is relevant to us as writers: More than anyone else, it is the job of the storyteller to understand and respect the nuances, to focus on individual stories and not club entire populations into a whole. Yet, it is writers who are often most guilty of this generalization.
But equally importantly, when you write about your reality and share anecdotes from your life, the world will try to fit you into a box. You will be an African writer or a gay novelist or a feminist author. They will take one aspect of your life and try to define you by it. It is up to you, and you only, to resist those labels and write on regardless.
People will try to slap on you a pre-defined label. It is entirely your choice whether you let them.