Pain Cannot Destroy Us
by Annie Neugebauer
I haven’t written any fiction or poetry in almost three months.
There, I said it. That’s a hard confession to make, for someone who considers herself a full-time writer. I haven’t been doing my job (or at least the most important part of it) in a quarter of a year. Oh, I’ve been blogging, editing, reading, submitting, networking, etc. But we all know that the most important part of being a writer is writing. The rest is just playing dress-up without it. I haven’t told this to anyone until now. I am ashamed.
And the worst part? It’s not writer’s block. At least that would be a mildly acceptable excuse: “Oh, I’ve had writer’s block for months now! It’s just awful.” But no. I’m bursting with ideas and stories begging me to write them. And it’s not laziness, either. I am a lot of things, but I am not lazy. It also has nothing to do with confidence. I have plenty of belief in my ability, and I’m not afraid of success.
I’m afraid of my own emotions.
Three years ago this June, my dad committed suicide. He was an alcoholic with severe depression who couldn’t dig himself out. My family couldn’t help him, as much as we tried, and he shot himself in the head.
Now, approaching the anniversary of his death, I have one short story, in particular, that’s been asking me to write it. The main character is the boyfriend of a young woman who lost her father to alcoholism. Suspiciously familiar, no? The characters are alive in my head and their pain is fresh; the imagery and symbolism are thick enough to taste. But I am afraid to sit down for fear that I will start to cry and never be able to stop. What if it breaks me?
Once, in a letter of recommendation, my high school drill team director introduced me as the bravest person she knew. And I suppose I have been brave in the past. When I graduated from college, a prestigious advertising agency approached me and offered me a job as a writer. The job would have paid me well and, technically, allowed me to earn a living writing, though a different type of writing than I’d dreamed. But I’d inherited some money from my dad, and I wanted to use it to take a few years to write full-time – to tackle my goal of becoming a published novelist and poet. I was terrified that people would judge me, resent me for being able to do this, but I knew it was right for me, so I did it anyway. That took courage. For the first couple of years I was going strong, but suddenly, at the end of year three, I can’t find that courage anywhere.
Sometimes the best way to help yourself is by pretending you are someone else, someone you love, and giving her advice. If I could tell someone in fresh grief anything, it would be this: You still have a chance. Don’t let this build. Instead of running, you can deal. You can let yourself be completely overwhelmed by the pain, and then you can write it out. Run it out, dance it out, paint it out, shout it out. Whatever you do that becomes your outlet, your solace. For me, and so many of my friends, that’s writing. Just…write. It’s never too late.
So I will write. Maybe not today. Certainly not every day. But some time before the three-year anniversary of my dad’s death rolls around, I will write at least part of that short story that’s swimming in my mind. I will deal with this pain, at least in some small way. I promise you that. I was once called brave, and I refuse to give that up. We can all be courageous, if we want to be.
I have developed a mantra for that day. When I sit down to work in the next few weeks, when the thick grief bubbles up to the surface and threatens to overwhelm me, I will give into it, repeating, “Pain cannot destroy us; fear can.” And I will write.
Annie Neugebauer is a short story writer, novelist, and award-winning poet. She has work appearing or forthcoming in Wichita Falls Literature and Art Review, Six Sentences, Texas Poetry Calendar 2011, Voices de la Luna, Versifico, Collections I, Phantom Kangaroo, Ardent!, The Stray Branch, Dark Horizons, Eunoia Review, and Encore.