Finding Voice in Non-Fiction ~~ Carole Avila
KLW: My post is a bit different today as Carole Avila will show in a poignant post regarding Sexual Abuse. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on such a sensitive topic. I wish you much success in your writing career.
Carole: I pitched an idea for a non-fiction book to Spout Hill Press, a new but impressive small publisher, and was awarded a contract for The Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse. I had quite a bit of information on the topic from stories amassed during 35 years of life coaching sessions and from my own personal struggle at the hands of my older brother.
Although I have shared my personal stories with thousands of people, I had a hard time finding my voice in print. At first the brief articles describing dozens of effects abuse victims endure as adults sounded way too clinical. Then I tried focusing only on my personal story, but then I sounded too whiny.
In my college writing classes, I put my feelings into poetry and won awards, and some of the poems were published. It dawned on me that through this medium I could convey the emotional aspects of abuse. Here is the medium of lyrical essay applied to this segment on emotional triggers that generally cause unhealthy reactions in abuse survivors.
It’s extremely common to have a specific memory or feeling triggered by one of the senses, the strongest way that our mind tries to remind us of past abuse, bringing it to the forefront of consciousness and providing a chance to work through our healing journey.
For me, a significant trigger that can take me back instantly to childhood is the smell of Mentholatum ointment, touted for its “aromatic vapors” that will quickly relieve cold symptoms. With six young children, prevention was a far better alternative than treatment, and every winter I looked forward to the annual Mentholatum massage as the camphor and menthol balm penetrated my back and chest every time one of us came down with a cold.
My father’s rough, warm hands kneaded my back, rubbing the ointment up to my neck, down to the waistline of my thin, flannel pajamas–over and over, back and forth, in a rhythmic ocean flow. It was the only positive touch in childhood I ever remembered from my father, outside of spankings and tickling to the point of painful tears and spasms.
Menthol, as refreshing as salt air, needled up my nasal passages, and I breathed easier, relaxing into an embryonic escape. The warmth of the chemicals radiated into my skin, and the greasy film requiring constant rubbing reminded me of mama pushing the rolling pin over and over to flatten a doughy mass. And like her handmade flour tortillas, I was flipped like a pancake before I finished cooking, and my tummy and chest gleaned as the greasy substance was pressed into every pore.
It felt like I became the easy breaking waves again, caught in the comforting cycle of in and out, up and down, back and––
My peace was interrupted, and the same soothing hands transformed into hardened paddles, slapping me to the ground. My little body abruptly rolled off my father’s lap, breaking the hypnotizing movement.
“That’s enough,” Daddy growled. My comfort was shattered, as was the welcome medicinal pattern of the cold and flu season. Daddy never rubbed Vick’s on me or my sisters again.
It felt so good. I didn’t understand. At least, not until I became an adult, and I knew why daddy ended that pattern.
What affects your senses and causes discomfort–a smell, taste, touch, sight, or sound, is only a memory of what you experienced. That particular sensation is not what hurt you. Exploring a flashback or uncomfortable feeling is an opportunity to heal from the emotional and psychological weight of abuse.
If writing something is too great an emotional challenge try changing your voice, and see if you can create a more effective work.
Carole Avila is an award winning writer, poet, playwright, and self-help writer. A number of her short stories, brief memoirs, and a play have been published. Her non-fiction works and poetry come from her experiences as an intuitive life coach and a survivor of abuse. Outside of her passion for writing, Carole loves chai lattes, reading, walking along the beach with her husband, and visiting with friends.
She is also the author of Eve’s Amulet-Book 1 and “Christmas After All,” a short story in the anthology entitled A Touch of Winter, both by Black Opal Books, who has also awarded her a contract on her YA horror story, Death House. Carole is under contract with Spout Hill Press for her non-fiction work, The Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse.