Self Portrait, 1996, by Georgia NeSmith — I do not know where I am going, but I will recognize it when I arrive. It will be familiar, having appeared before, somehow, coming at me in the future out of a forgotten past. The old speaking itself new.

As someone who has been struggling to write my original trauma story for 50 odd years [I’m 70 in August], I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate this article. During that 50 years, of course — as I studied informally the psychology of trauma, read other trauma stories, and spent endless hours in therapy and talking to the few friends with whom I felt comfortable enough — the story kept changing. Or at least, my understanding of it did. And that means the shape of the narrative one gives to the story also changes.

That is a good thing, because it means that, however much it still hurts [as you know, the pain never ever goes away completely; it just hides in the shadows], the new narratives I employ to understand and gain control of that experience have grown to the point that I now have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The ‘end’ isn’t the end of suffering, but rather, in the forgiveness I’ve finally been able to give myself so that I no longer fall victim to the inner voices that tell me it was all my fault; that it happened to me because I was a bad child and later a corrupt woman, undeserving of love as either; and the aftermath that played itself out in failed relationships [including two divorces and a loss of custody of my daughter for 7 years] kept adding more dimensions to the trauma — the impact of which extended to several people whom I loved.

I caused so much pain to others — my daughter being the one hurt most, especially since the story was buried in repressed memories for 52 years. For the longest time I thought I was, simply, ‘crazy,’ because the horrible dreams I had made no sense at all given the life I believed I had lived. During the decades when I tried to understand why I was the way I was, little was known and less understood about the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Had I presented my nightmares as evidence to a therapist in the 70s, I would have been dismissed. It couldn’t be that. I would remember an experience that horrible. Indeed, a therapist did tell me that the first time I brought it up, at age 40. Never mind how much and how long I dismissed the idea myself. My father was a good man. He would never have hurt me that way. So I did my best to arrive at a narrative where the voices that tormented me from the ‘life I lived on the other side of consciousness’ (a phrase I use in the memoir I am working on) could make sense.

The stress of trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy despite the voices in my head made it extremely difficult for me to be present for my daughter in the way she needed me to be. As a result, we’ve been estranged for a long time. We still see one another, but she hid her own pain from me and any effort I put into getting her to talk about it was resented as intrusive and overbearing. Any visits with her in adulthood were kept short, and little of importance was ever discussed.

We’ve only just begun to work our way out of that estrangement.

During all those decades I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote — journal entries, letters, short stories, personal essays — that, with rare exception, have never been seen by anyone else. Within those are at least three distinct narratives seen from changing points of view, making it difficult for me to pull them together into a coherent whole.

This is what happens when you live 7 decades, and although you write reams, you never complete the story. Any story. At least not to the point you are prepared to publish.

Growing older gives you new perspectives, and those new perspectives make earlier narratives obsolete.

But I am finally beginning to see the way out. Just yesterday I submitted a section of my memoir to a literary journal that appreciates long narratives — my first submission of anything since the 1970s when I was working on my BA and MA in creative writing. Whether it will be accepted, of course, is always a crap shoot, but I know without question that the writing is strong — far more so than it would have been earlier. The ending, I’m afraid (which isn’t the end of the story as so much happens after) is not quite satisfactory to me, but there comes a point when one must let the work fly on its own.

I guess what I am trying to say in all of that is that eventually the trauma narrative will have a shape. Perhaps it’s not apparent to you now because you haven’t lived the part of the story that gives you that beginning, middle, and end. But it will come to you some day.

— Georgia NeSmith, PhD

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Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.

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Georgia NeSmith

Georgia NeSmith

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Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.