Why I Use Trigger Warnings

You’ll notice that in my last review, which you can read here, I made a point to lay out trigger warnings. In the short stories I used to post on this blog (but no longer do because they were for an adult audience, and I am a young adult/new adult writer), I also made sure to preface them with trigger warnings. Now I’m about to explain why.

For those who don’t know or haven’t been around this blog for awhile, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve been around the block with other mental health issues, too. Throughout the years, I’ve run up against generalized anxiety disorder, depression, self-harming behaviors, eating disorders, agoraphobia, touch aversion, and insomnia. These are the things that (in my mind), make my C-PTSD not “complex” as much as it is “complicated.”

For those who do know me, they’ll be the first to tell you I am also someone who does not like the way “trigger” is thrown around these days.

Trigger has a specific medical definition. A trigger is a stimulus such a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. This is why it is most closely related (or used to be) to PTSD. A trigger is not something that makes you feel upset. A trigger is not something that makes you feel uncomfortable. A trigger is not something that makes you grimace and wish you hadn’t read/seen/heard/touched that thing. A trigger is not the predecessor to a mildly uncomfortable feeling.

A trigger is something to be avoided at all costs. A trigger causes anxiety, panic, flashback, nausea, fainting, vomiting, sweating, nightmares, shakes, and tremors. A trigger is, in short, the recipe for a very, very bad time.

A trigger is hearing a mother scream at her children, then having your mind go blank and your eyes glaze over before finding yourself, hours later, with your hands clasped over your ears rocking back and forth in the empty bathtub, all your clothes on, mumbling incoherent protests against a phantom from the past.

A trigger is a boy who looks like that boy brushing up against your arm on the bus, and your mind stealing you away to years before, when it wasn’t just a brush against your arm, and you weren’t on a bus, then only coming out of the fog of memory when a kindly black bus driver kneels in front of you and tells you as gently as her contralto can, that this is the last stop, and is there somewhere you’d like to go?

I rarely use the word trigger. Words have power and when I say the word “trigger” I want it to mean something.

Because it does.

It does not mean uncomfortable or upsetting. Literature is supposed to be uncomfortable and upsetting. It is supposed to make you feel. If literature makes you uncomfortable or upset, it is doing its job. There were a lot of things I listened to in Educated that made me uncomfortable and upset. There are a lot of things I read in books I will five star review in the future that made me uncomfortable and upset. None of them have been triggering to me.

But that last bit is the most important part of this whole thing: to me. I am thirty years old. I have been in and out of therapy seriously since I was nineteen. At this point, I know what most of my triggers are (although sometimes one will sneak up on me). I’ve been able to beat some of them back into the realm where they’re no longer triggers but are just experiences that make me uncomfortable. I’ve had that opportunity, to seek and destroy the things that make life hard to live.

Others haven’t. Not only because some may still be young (this is a blog that is supposed to be teen friendly, for goodness sake), but also because others might not have had the privilege I have had. I know what it’s like to choose between therapy and food. I’ve been there, in my younger days when mental health coverage was worse than it is now and I was poor. Food will win. Every time. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to make that choice anymore. Others aren’t so privileged. And I recognize that. They haven’t had the time or the means to seek and destroy. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

So I write trigger warnings. Not to devalue the word, far from it. I write trigger warnings because I know how powerful words can be. And I would never, ever want to intentionally shove someone before an altar of their own demons and make them pay.

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As always, take care of yourselves.

❤ Aimee

Inspiration

Trigger/Content Warning: Discussion of physical and emotional violence against humans and animals in dreams, as well as discussion of rape in dreams.

Anyone who has written well, just about anything, will have heard this question before: Where do you get all your ideas from?

It’s one of the most basic writing questions of all time, and it remains so because it varies for every single person. Some people get their inspiration from life events, from people they know, from observing what happens in the world around them. Some people get their inspiration from their travels, from their neighbors, from the kids on their block. Some people get their inspiration from politics, from social situations they want to change, or history that fascinates them. Some people get their inspiration from other writers, from poets, from songwriters, from artists of all kinds.

I get my inspiration mainly from nightmares.

My very first memory is of a nightmare. I still remember it as viscerally and vividly now as I did when I was small. In it, I am young–maybe four. My hair is as white as the lace nightgown I wear and hangs just to my shoulders. My pink blanket trails behind me as I walk, barefooted, to the base of a mighty black volcano.

I want to shove my thumb in my mouth for comfort but even there, in my haunted sleep, I think of how my mother says big girls mustn’t suck their thumbs. So, because I’m a big girl (and have always been expected to be), I fold the satin edge of my blanket into a sharp point. Holding the fold together with my thumb and middle finger, I run my pointer finger over the once-soft, now-sharp satin again and again, allowing the pain to ground me.

For reasons only the nightmare knows, I start my ascent to the craggy, gurgling summit.

By the time I reach the top, the volcano is erupting, spewing red-hot lava in all directions. There’s no smoke, and it’s warm (not hot), probably because my young mind still doesn’t know anything about volcanoes other than what it’s seen in books or on TV, but I am afraid nonetheless.

Afraid and not alone. Because awaiting me at that summit is the character I fear most, a horror figure I still–at thirty years old–cannot stomach seeing: Chucky.

His hair is as red as the lava, his demented, painted on smile focused entirely on me. My heart hammers in my chest, but the sound of it is drowned out by the toy’s hysterical laughter.

He’s smaller than me, and he moves like a dead thing–stiff and disjointed. Yet, in this nightmare with its strange, uncontrollable dream logic, I don’t think to run, or fight, or even scream as his short, chubby arms reach for me.

Instead, I do what I’ve always done–what I’ll continue to do for decades more–I freeze.

He lifts me up and chucks me into the angry, open mouth of the volcano. As I fall, tumbling into blackness and certain death, my pink blanket floats down with me, followed by the sounds of Chucky’s maniacal cackle.

Never once do I utter a sound.

This is only the first of many. Over the next twenty-six years (from four to thirty), I will have dreams where I am the villain — bashing in the skulls of girls who tease me. I will have dreams where I am already a ghost, staring at my dead, white body hanging from a noose that hangs from a tree. I will have dreams where people I love are cut up and fed to me. I will have dreams where my dog is shot repeatedly at my feet. I will have dreams where random strangers have their limbs sawed off, and I stand there and watch as they are funneled down a bloody conveyor belt into a large vat. I will have dreams where I am being tortured and brutalized. I’ll have dreams about being raped, a lot.

They will all be different, but they will all be vivid and horrible and full of rage and fear and panic. I will wake from them screaming words like, “Get me down!” or “Don’t touch me!” Sometimes, the screaming will be completely incoherent. I will wake from them ripping my hair out of my head in chunks. I will wake from them with blood and flesh under my fingernails from where I’ve gouged my chest or face. I will wake from them sweating, or crying, or whimpering, or shaking, or some combination of all four. I will wake from them and run to the bathroom to wretch and vomit. Sometimes, I won’t wake from them at all, either because I’m too drugged from the latest cocktail the psychiatrist has cooked up for me, or because the emotion wasn’t quite intense enough to wake me, and there I’ll reside, trapped in the dream until dawn. It will go on and on and on until I wake up naturally, my teeth loose and my jaw aching from the constant gnashing and grinding.

Very few of these nightmares will give me anything except bile and panic and exhaustion. But some–some will give me inspiration. Some will provide me with a vivid picture, a snippet of something that could be. It might only be a character, some sparkle of good in these terrible dreamscapes, or it might be one scene that brought me joy in a night full of horror. But sometimes, an entire plot unveils itself.

And when I wake, I write.

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What about you? Where does your inspiration come from?

❤ Aimee

#OwnVoices & Self-Publishing

First, I would like to say I use this hashtag (even in this blog) with incredible caution because I’m aware of my privilege. I’m white, straight, cisgender, heterosexual, and able-bodied (ish). I have a huge amount of privilege, which I acknowledge. I don’t want to undercut other marginalized voices by speaking over them. To avoid doing so, in this post, I will be as specific as possible. I’ll discuss my mental illness and how it impacted my publishing decisions, especially in relation to my upcoming novel, The Blood Mage. I’ll talk about #OwnVoices as it relates to me, my marginalization, my work. But please be aware this is not the only opinion in this discussion, so seek out others and listen. Always, always listen.

K, so if you don’t know what #OwnVoices is, read this. Also, check out We Need Diverse Books. That’s all I’m going to say on that. From here on out, I’m going to assume you know what I mean when I say #OwnVoices.

The Blood Mage is #OwnVoices. Without spoilers, it’s a book centering a character who has post traumatic stress disorder. It largely deals with her struggle with the darkness that often accompanies mental illness. This book was extremely difficult for me to write, but it was also one of the great joys of my life.

The Wheel Mages will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first book I published, just as In the Light of Dawn will occupy a similar place because it was the first manuscript I ever completed. But The Blood Mage is me spilled onto the page. Alena’s struggle is very much my struggle. That makes this launch both the most exhilarating and most terrifying experience of my life.

I knew what this series was going to be before I started it. I knew The Wheel Mages was in some way the vessel to get to The Blood Mage. I am not a plotter, but I did have a general sense of direction when I sat down to write this series. PTSD can’t be unlinked from the trauma that produced it. That’s sort of the whole of it. And, when I set out to write the Changing Tides series, I knew that, because I’ve lived (and continue to live) that reality.

When I contemplated this series, I thought about what bothered me in the fantasy I’d grown up with. I loved stories about magic and romance and heroic, epic battles. But something that rang intrinsically false to me was this idea that epic battles have no consequences. Frequently, battle scenes proceed like so: A hero or heroine kills someone (or lots of someones), throws up, a fellow warrior pats him/her on the back and says it’s normal and that’s the long and short of it.

Part of the problem is that epic battles tend to be the climax of fantasy novels and denouements in young adult and adult literature are notoriously fast-paced. In young adult literature, there’s also an emphasis on happily ever afters so things need to be wrapped up with a nice bow quite quickly. That doesn’t leave much room for exploration of trauma and what it does to the psyche.

I wanted to make some room. But to get there, I needed a series. One book to lead to the trauma and at least two more to flesh it out. I needed space, and space isn’t something that’s always guaranteed in the traditional publishing world. Of course, people sell series all the time. But if book one flops, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get book two. For me, book two was critical. Without The Blood MageThe Wheel Mages is a rather traditional young adult fantasy (albeit with a somewhat nontraditional ending).

Now, anyone involved in publishing knows there are not many things you can guarantee, especially when it comes to sales. But this wasn’t about sales–not really. This was about putting this series out there. It was about knowing it existed. And that was something I could, in fact, guarantee.

If I self-published.

For someone like me, someone who was trained to traditionally publish, who was constantly fed the lie that only rejects self-publish, making a decision to walk this road was not easy. Several times, I contemplated giving up and querying. I know, it might be funny to some to hear it said this way, because usually it’s the other way around: giving up querying to self-publish, but for me, this was how it worked.

The main reason I didn’t give up though, was because I wanted this series out there. I grew up reading stories of epic battles, but what I saw was different than what others might see. I didn’t see stories of valor; I saw stories of trauma with no consequences. I saw characters doing and living through horrible things and coming out on the other side with their psyches intact. Epic battles in fantasy novels didn’t make me feel strong. They made me feel weak. Because I hadn’t come out of my own trauma with my psyche intact.

If I went traditional, and The Wheel Mages didn’t do well, and the publisher decided not to continue the series, I would have written a traditional fantasy novel with an epic battle at the end and no consequences, essentially perpetuating the lie I was trying to fight against. I couldn’t have that, not on my watch.

So why didn’t I simply write The Blood Mage first, then? Well, because trauma is a tricky thing. Like I said above, the effects of trauma can’t be separated from the trauma itself. Could I have created a character who was #OwnVoices from the beginning? Surely. But in my personal experience, the trauma is as important as the post traumatic stress, so I wanted the reader to get the whole picture in real time, not through flashback or compression.

There are a lot of factors that go into making this critical decision, and everyone has to choose his/her/their own path, but for me, this was the right one, at least for this story.

In short, don’t let anyone tell you your story isn’t important, or that it’s not worthy, or that no one is interested in reading it. Because somewhere out there, there’s someone who has been reading the same story over and over again, desperate for something new, something that speaks to their experience, and you might be the one to finally tell it.

❤ Always,

Aimee

Both books together

Let’s Talk: Touch Aversion

Trigger Warning: Discussion of touch aversion/trauma responses.

Anyone who’s been around here for any length of time might remember I’ve mentioned I have touch aversion. If you know me in real life, this is even more apparent due to the fact that I sometimes wear gloves. What isn’t obvious is what touch aversion is and how it affects me.

It recently occurred to me that my touch aversion is something I regularly talk about but never really explain, as if everyone should obviously know what that means. A few days ago, I was having a conversation about relationships with one of my closest friends when I realized she had no idea what the deal with my aversion to touch was about, probably because I’d never explained it, and she felt like it was rude to ask me.

So here we are.

Before we get started, there are some things you should consider while reading this post. First, my touch aversion is a consequence of trauma. Touch aversion is also discussed in the autistic and asexual communities. I’m not a member of those communities, so to hear about touch aversion from their perspective, seek them out. Their experiences are different. Here’s an article about touch aversion from the ace perspective to get you started. Second, as is always the case with marginalized groups, we are not a monolith. My experience may not mirror the experiences of others, even those who have touch aversion stemming from trauma. I’m only one voice.

Furthermore, I don’t expect people to know about my touch aversion, which is why we’re having this conversation. I encourage questions. Not everyone feels the same, though, so respect these boundaries if/when they’re voiced. Mental illness is still extremely stigmatized and some don’t feel (and aren’t) safe discussing their deeply personal experiences. That said, I don’t mind (anymore). It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. If hearing someone talk about these experiences makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to sit with that and examine why. It likely has to do with some stigma you’ve placed on mental illness that you might want to evaluate further.

Final prefacing note: I have consciously purged this post of the word “suffer”. It’s a loaded word. When I use it, I use it with a great sense of awareness and because I would say it’s an accurate word for my personal experience, but I know it can be painful, so I’ve removed it. Words are powerful.

Okay, this is long, so here we go.

Touch Aversion: An FAQ

Q: What is it?

In its most basic form, touch aversion is exactly what it sounds like. It’s not liking to be touched. When I use it to explain my personal experience, I mean: “Not liking to be touched by other people.” Touch aversion can extend to other living creatures and inanimate objects as well, but for me, it’s mainly people (although when my touch aversion was at its worst, I also had difficulty touching animals, including my own pets).

Touch aversion exists on a spectrum. Some people find human contact to be uncomfortable, others find it debilitating. Some people are okay with hugs but not kissing. It’s all variable and as such, is difficult to nail down. I was going to link to a medical definition, but to be honest, those definitions are all kind of gross to me, using words like “irrational” and “morbid” so I’ll just stick to “not liking to be touched.”

Q: What’s okay and what’s not?

Again, it varies for everyone. For me, I prefer not to make skin-to-skin contact with people (especially strangers). That’s why I’ll often choose to wear gloves when I’m in public. The layer of fabric acts as a shield. If I’m in a situation where I feel relatively safe, I’ll keep them off. If I don’t wear gloves around you, it means I trust you to respect my boundaries.

My stress level can usually be predicted by some common factors: the intimacy of the contact; its duration; my familiarity with the person; and the power dynamics between myself and the person touching me. If someone briefly bumps my exposed skin, I’ll sense it, maybe freeze or falter, but I’ll be able to brush it off quickly. Handshakes I can manage, though I’d prefer to be wearing gloves. Hugs are not my favorite, but I can usually get through them as long as they’re not prolonged, whereas rubbing my back or shoulders (even through clothing) makes me panic. More intimate forms of contact like kissing, cuddling, sex, etc. make me nauseous, skittish, dizzy, and eventually lead to either a full-fledged panic attack or emotional shutdown.

Q: What does it feel like?

It depends. If I’m in a situation where my anxiety is relatively low, the person touching me is someone I trust, and the interaction is short, I’m mostly fine. I notice it, mind you, with acute sensitivity. I consciously register it, whereas someone else might not even think twice, but I can usually move on with relative ease. The flip side is, if I’m in a situation where my anxiety is high and/or with someone I don’t trust and/or am faced with an extended interaction, my anxiety can escalate to dramatic consequence. I might freeze, shake, be unable to breathe, throw up, and in the most extreme cases, pass out. Very, very rarely and exclusively in situations with male romantic partners, I’ll strike. For me, those situations hurt the most. I’m incredibly nonviolent, so when someone pushes me to violence by ignoring my boundaries, it’s soul crushing. The only times this has happened, the end of the relationship followed shortly thereafter.

As to what it feels like in a sensory way, it doesn’t hurt in a traditional sense. It feels almost like an extreme case of caffeine jitters. It’s like an army of ants is crawling just beneath my skin. I want to reach down to my muscles and push them away but can’t. It feels like if there were some way for me to rip my skin open and let all that excess anxiety out, I would feel better. Often, my muscles will twitch and spasm, sometimes lock up and cramp. It’s not pleasant.

Q: Is it worse with certain people?

Yes. I’m much more anxious with men than women, and I have essentially no issue being touched by children. This is definitely tied to power dynamics for me. If you have more power than me (I’m talking mostly physical power, remember, my touch aversion is tied to trauma), then I’m more likely to be on edge.

Trust and choice have big roles to play as well. If it’s someone I trust who gives me the choice to engage (this is where non-physical power comes in), then my level of tolerance for touch tends to be higher.

Q: How does it shape your life?

It’s… hard. Friendships can be hard. Relationships are even harder. Fear of being touched keeps me from public spaces with regularity. For example, before this weekend, I hadn’t been to the grocery store in 6 weeks. People coming near me can throw my entire day into a spiral. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. I’m worn out all the time from existing on edge. My muscles are constantly knotted so I live with chronic back pain; I’ve ground my teeth to shit. Because I use clothing as a shield, I wear sweaters and long pants in the summer which can make me sick. I’m prone to fevers and nausea. I throw up so frequently my esophagus never heals, and I vomit blood. And the unhealthy coping mechanisms I’ve tried would take another ten blog posts to unpack.

I walk through life conflicted. Part of me has this deep desire to scream, “I’m not broken, don’t try to fix me.” Side note: If that’s how you feel, that’s incredible and amazing and you are fantastic the way you are. Be you. Whoever you is. If you’re happy, be happy. You don’t owe anyone your touch. You don’t owe society or your therapist or your partner or your friends or your family. It is your body. I cannot say this enough. Because I’m going to talk about change here in the next paragraphs, and I want everyone reading this who might experience touch aversion to understand I am not saying you have to change. If you are happy, be happy. You deserve that. And if you do want to change, dig deep to discern why. Do you want to change because you feel like you have to so you can conform or please someone? Or do you want to change for yourself? That seems like a simple thing, but it’s really, really not. And please, if you’re considering working on this issue, find the right therapist and the right therapy. This is so, so sensitive, and doing damage is so, so easy.

For me, the part of me that wants to say I’m not broken is not a brave voice, proudly declaring, “I’m different, and I am unafraid.” That voice telling me I don’t need to be fixed is the coward within, who is deathly afraid of change. That voice is the voice who says, “This is how I am and there’s nothing to be done about it, so let’s just keep going regardless of whether or not we’re miserable, regardless of whether or not we’re doing actual physical and emotional damage.”

Because the truth is, I am miserable. I hate being unable to be touched. It’s a burden. I want to be touched so desperately it hurts. I want to be able to shake hands with someone without flinching, and to have someone jostle my shoulder like a pal without grinding my teeth into nothing, and be able to stand in a checkout line without every muscle in my body tensed, ready to spring away should someone happen to brush up against me. I want to be able to kiss someone without having to turn off my entire emotional experience. I want to be held when I cry. I want so many things most people take for granted, and I can’t have them. And I can’t have them because someone did this to me. I don’t want these things because society tells me I should (though certainly there’s some of that at play), and I wasn’t born this way. This was done to me.

So yes, I’m miserable, and yes, I want to change, and yes, I consciously embrace the language “broken.” I am broken, but I’m not beaten. I’m working to fix myself for myself. Every day I’m working, and I’m getting better. Not better so I can meet some definition my therapists and psychiatrists want to place on me. Not better so I can fit in with the rest of society. Not better so I can please a future partner. I’m getting better for me. I’m defining “better” in a way that’s right for me. And that’s why changing is right for me. I’m not changing to conform, or to “pass”, or to be more pleasing to the rest of the world, I’m changing because I want to.  For me. For my happiness. I’m taking back what was stolen from me.

Have questions? Put them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer. And as always, please take care of yourselves.

❤ Aimee

P.s. With regard to touch aversion in literature, Leigh Bardugo’s Kaz in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom comes as close to representing me and my experience with touch aversion as I’ve ever read. This is representation of a marginalized group done right.

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Broken Girl Cured by Love: On Tropes and the Lies They Tell

Author’s Note: For the past few days I’ve been in Tennessee at a workshop hosted by Madcap Retreats about writing cross culturally. It was an incredible, eye-opening experience, and I’m only sharing a snippet of what I learned there, so I highly recommend you participate in one of their workshops if you ever get the chance to. 


There are ways to create narratives of hope that don’t feel like a lie.

~ Leigh Bardugo

To fully understand this post, you’ll need to watch this video (there’s also a transcript, but if you can watch I recommend doing that).

The idea of a single story is (obviously), not mine, but over the weekend, it was one of the concepts that hit nearest my heart. There are single stories for every marginalized group of people. In the video, you’ll hear some of them. During my workshop, I heard others. I’m not going to talk about the stories of others, because you should listen to their voices for that. What I am going to talk about is what the single story for me has been, why it’s hurtful, and why that matters to your writing (and mine).

For those who might not follow this blog regularly, I’ll start by telling you that I’m a self-published author. My debut novel, The Wheel Mages, is a young adult high fantasy. I’m a twenty-nine year old, cisgender, heterosexual, female. I was raised outside of Philadelphia. I’m privileged. Most people would not think of me as part of a marginalized group. Mostly, I don’t think of myself that way.

I do, however, suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia. I have an invisible marginalization which I can usually hide, but it affects every aspect of my life.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional or physical trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape. (Source). PTSD and CPTSD are slightly different in that PTSD can result from single events, or short-term exposure to extreme stress or trauma whereas CPTSD is generally associated with long-term trauma. That said, most people don’t know what CPTSD is, so I typically tell people I have PTSD.

When I do “out” myself, the most typical question that follows is, “What war?”

This is the single story in action. (If you haven’t watched the Chimamanda Adichie video or read the transcript yet, go ahead and do it now. Here’s another link. Seriously, it’s that important.)

PTSD is most often associated with veterans. That’s the single story literature, television, and film have created for us. And because of that single story, my experience somehow seems less valid. When I don’t play into people’s perceptions or expectations, my experience is diminished. Surely, I must be faking it. Surely, I must be overly sensitive. Surely, nothing can be as traumatizing as war. Surely, my experience doesn’t matter.

For years, I resisted fighting against this narrative because it felt like fighting against veterans who have PTSD. The single story of PTSD made me feel like I had no right to voice my own experience because by telling my story I was challenging their story. This is not, however, the case. I’m not challenging the narrative at all. There are veterans who have PTSD. But there are people who are not veterans who have PTSD as well, and their stories deserve to be told too. We can tell multiple stories without threatening others. We, as people, deserve more than a single story. We deserve more than two or three or ten stories. Every story gives us a fuller life experience.

The above example is contemporary, but the single story concept extends beyond as well. It permeates every facet of literature. In fantasy, especially young adult fantasy, there is another single story narrative pertinent to PTSD that’s repeated over and over, and it is this: Broken Girl meets The One and is fixed through the curative power of Love.

This narrative hurts me. It is a dangerous lie.

Growing up, I often escaped to fantasy worlds to help me cope with what was unraveling around me. I still do. But especially as a young reader, I internalized much of what I read. And this narrative, the “Broken Girl Cured by Love” narrative, buried itself deep. So deep I didn’t realize how much it had shaped my behavior until this weekend, and to be honest, I’m still trying to untangle a lot of it.

What I have realized, however, is that I truly believed I could be cured by love. In fact, up until recently, one of my primary criterion for a partner was that I could spend a night with him and not suffer nightmares. I was sure that somewhere out there someone existed who would save me from my nightmares. This internalized narrative that I picked up from fantasy books is harmful to me in real, tangible ways.

One of the ways my PTSD manifests itself is through touch aversion. When I’m touched (especially by a stranger), I experience physical symptoms. My heart rate rises, my breathing shallows, I become dizzy, I grind my teeth, I sweat, my pulse hammers in my ears so I can’t hear properly. Often, I freeze, completely debilitated by terror. Sometimes, I lash out, verbally or physically. This is not a comfortable feeling.

Yet, because of the Broken Girl Cured by Love narrative, I’ve put myself in this position time and time again. I’ve retraumatized myself  while I search for The One To Defeat The Nightmares. I’ve spent nights with men I was revolted by hoping that this time I’ll find him. This time, the Magical Cure Love will save me from my PTSD. I’ve numbed myself with drugs and alcohol while I try to find The One Who Wields the Cure Love, hoping that when I do I’ll be able to be touched without the need for chemical alteration.

It has not and will not ever happen. Love is not a cure for PTSD. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope; it simply means this narrative is not the “hope” people like me need. The lie of this single story has damaged me, and I don’t think it takes much extrapolation to understand it could damage other people, or to see the damage done could be more extreme than it has been in my case.

One of the main takeaways from my weekend workshop is that words are powerful, more powerful than we might realize. As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers and that is to tell the Truth as best we can. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it is our duty to try, to put in the work, and to hopefully do no harm.

There is no such thing as a single story of the human experience, and it’s far past time we stopped trying to tell one. As Daniel Older told me over the weekend, “It doesn’t have to be sexy.” I suppose the Truth hardly ever is.

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