June 21, 2019 by The Citron Review
Recently, I was talking to someone in a mental health treatment program who felt afraid to share her truth because others in her group had experienced what she saw as more significant trauma. Similarly, when I worked at a cancer center, I’d often heard patients say that they felt silly expressing their fears about a Stage One diagnosis, when other patients were dealing with Stage Four.
Yet, each of our experiences have value, and deserve the time and space to process and explore. As we shape the events of our lives into art, we can often regain our power relative to these traumas. Research shows that creating coherence around an incomprehensible event can facilitate our healing.
One of the most moving accounts I’ve heard is of the writer and professor, John Gardner, who taught the likes of Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison and Raymond Carver. At the age of twelve, Gardner was driving a farm implement that killed his six-year-old brother. For decades, Gardner suffered from overwhelming guilt and the effects of PTSD, including nightmares and flashbacks. Finally, in his mid-forties, Gardner wrote a fictionalized account of the event in a story called “Redemption,” published in his collection, The Art of Living. Once Gardner wrote about his experiences, he said the PTSD symptoms subsided; in his words, “…I haven’t had those afterflashes even once since I wrote that story.”
How we shape our narratives about our lives affects us, and as writers, ripples into the lives of others who pick up the writing, appreciate the artful expression, feel the vicarious effects of our liberation, and at the least can say, “it’s good to know I’m not alone.”
As I prepared and selected the stories for this summer’s issue of The Citron Review, I felt a similar sense of human solidarity. These stories of survival, from multiple miscarriages to the effects of alcoholism to the shocking appearance of a snake slithering across a girl’s belly: I realized most have of us have had small “t” traumas. Sometimes quieter, less dramatic experiences can be painful, damaging, and shake us to the core. In that sense, these narratives can be healing for writer and reader alike.
Marianne Woods Cirone
Creative Nonfiction Editor
The Citron Review