I am writing again (obviously). But the simple act of sitting down and letting my fingers dance across the keyboard took months of struggle. Last year I would panic at the mere thought of writing. I thought I’d never publish another word, ever again.

Writing isn’t something I can do casually. Some writers can kick back and type out page after page in a single afternoon, but I’m not like that. For me, writing is a gut-wrenching, soul-baring practice. I cannot write without reaching deep inside of me. Often I end up encountering aspects of myself from which I would rather hide. Writing peels away my defenses and confronts me with the secrets I keep from myself.

This is why I stopped writing over a year ago. Like so many, I sank into a spiral of anxiety and despair after the 2016 US election. I wanted to crawl under my blankets and never again leave my room. Unfortunately (or fortunately, from today’s perspective), that wasn’t an option. My two partners and I had just bought a beautiful piece of land with the intent of starting a permaculture community. So instead of holing up in my urban intentional community, I spent the winter of 2016/2017 preparing for the relocation of three humans, two cats, and a gazillion boxes across snowy mountain passes.

I spent the first year on our land staying busy, busy, busy, distracted by ice storms, power outages, conflicts with my partners, falling trees, a fire evacuation, and plenty of community drama. At times I thought I was at the brink of breaking, but more often I convinced myself that I was already broken. I hid away as many parts of myself as I could while remaining functional.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_4110.jpgIt’s been several years now since I left my abusive marriage, but with the election, the experience came back to haunt me. I survived nearly a decade of abuse by learning how and when to compromise my boundaries. I learned that being different from my husband created dangerous situations for me. When he raised his fist toward my face, I protected myself by agreeing with everything he said. I survived by suppressing my desires and needs and avoiding conflict at all costs. I conditioned myself to quickly appease men, always, as soon as they showed signs of anger. I internalized the belief that having my own voice as a woman was not acceptable.

After my divorce, I slowly healed and went through the painful process of unlearning the behaviors and beliefs abuse had taught me. It broke my heart to look back and see what it could have been like during all of those years. Gradually my fears eased, my hurts melted, and my anger and bitterness over what I had suffered was replaced by gratitude. I became acquainted with true kindness in lovers and partners. It really didn’t have to be the way it was in my marriage. Mutual respect wasn’t just a possibility now, it became the foundation of all of my relationships. I had a voice and was no longer terrified of using it. I learned to disagree with friends, lovers, and partners. My understanding of conflicts changed from a threat to be avoided to an opportunity for mutual growth and deeper relationships. I met friends and partners who honored my boundaries and loved me for who I truly was. We got to know each other in all of our beauty and vulnerability and I learned to face their anger and express mine. I felt like a teenager again, discovering this new reality with ecstatic abandon.

But then the election happened and my immediate thoughts were: The abuser won! Everything is back to the way it was before! I watched myself panic, screaming inside, and I couldn’t stop it. My thoughts spiraled backwards in time and before I knew it, I was latching on to the coping mechanisms of my marriage. I made myself small in the presence of others. I compromised my boundaries when men didn’t think I should have certain boundaries. I agreed to things under pressure, even if I really didn’t want them to happen. I suppressed my feelings, desires, and needs. I silenced my own voice.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG-4530.JPGI thought back to the day I first started writing, years ago when I was still married. That day was the beginning of the worst abuse I endured before my divorce. My ex-husband hated that I was writing. He praised my work in front of others and claimed he was supportive, but made disparaging remarks in private when given the chance. Nevertheless I persisted and found strength and healing in my writing. He didn’t like how writing was changing me.

One night we were at an Open Mic at a local cafe. He performed a song, which was well received. Instead of playing music with him that night, I recited a piece I had written, to which the audience responded with laughter, tears and thunderous applause. I had upstaged him and he resented me for it. I was finding my voice, and through it, myself. It disrupted the codependent, abusive nature of our relationship and it didn’t take long before his abuse became violent. A few weeks later he kicked me out of our home and I became suicidal.

This is where the story ended in my mind, after the 2016 election. Abuse escalates when I write, the abuser is back, therefore I can no longer write. But this is not where my story ended in real life. In real life, it got better. I got better. In fact, my life got better than it had ever been before. I lived a life where I had boundaries, choices, and a voice.

Now I want that life back! I became so terrified of it being taken from me that I shut it down myself. As we step more fully into this new year, I light a fire in the fireplace and a candle on my desk. I sit up straight and breathe a few deep breaths and remind myself of how far I have come, of who I really am. An abuser may have won the election, but he hasn’t silenced me yet. Today, I take back my voice.