When I was sexually assaulted by my partner at the time he made me tell a story. I am a creator of universes and worlds and he made me tell a story for his entertainment. He did this knowing I am a creative person, perhaps not knowing how deeply it would traumatize me, how it would affect my creative process. When I was finished, he strangled me unconscious. This person who I lived with and trusted had betrayed me in the deepest way and my creativity had become deeply associated with trauma.
This moment changed my life. Suddenly creativity wasn’t safe anymore, it was a trigger. The mapping of my own mind had been fundamentally altered. It took me three months before I finally had the courage to leave him, but I had a new problem, I found myself unable to work on the novel I was writing before the assault. A 44,000 word first draft on the tips of my fingers was now untouchable. The novel I had started writing to recover from my psychosis was now a curse. I had invited him into my creative universe but he betrayed that trust with the assault and his demands to know more about my characters. His words, “tell me about Jennifer” haunted me every time I tried to write. His demand to be near me while creating left no sacred space for me to work in and now his memory was there, looking over my shoulder when I tried to write.
I lost my career in social media because of him, and started working at one of the busiest coffee shops in the city. I was plagued with chronic pain as neural tension squeezed my nerves and eventually panic attacks had me leaving work to visit the hospital. It only got worse. The thought of working on my novel had me suicidal. I felt as if I had been hexed by a series of life circumstances taking away the one thing that gave me hope, writing. I believed if I could have only finished writing without the trauma my life would be very different. He was the cause of an unbearable writers block taking away from me the one thing that had given me hope after my psychosis, my novel.
I stumbled over this blockage for years, unable to find a way to proceed and painfully alone in the experience. I could rewrite things I had already written but writing new passages and events was impossible. The negative association in my mind only reinforced itself over time, as is the case with PTSD, we become hardwired to panic. I was able to access Somatic therapy and this reduced the panic attacks but did nothing for my writing. I sent out a sigil (a prayer, a spell) for the environment where I would be able to write and it came true.
So now I had everything I needed, the space and the time to write and work through my problems but the PTSD still screamed at me. I needed a solution. I was berating myself for not finishing my work, for not getting it out there. I was mostly alone with this struggle. I was tired of being alone. We can’t cure PTSD by ourselves. I found myself a psychologist through my works employee assistance program and I talked to her about my story, my writing, and my trauma.
I felt robbed of my identity and the way I used to feel before the psychosis and the assault. With her help, I reaffirmed that I was still the brilliant person I was before, that my novel and creativity was not totally lost. Every creative thing I did was a step towards healing, rewriting the negative associations I had with creativity and writing.
The solution came to me in a good friend’s basement. I was pacing, thinking about life and screencapping a poem as I wrote it, proud of every sentence and wanting to share my progress on instagram.
“What if I did it all publicly?” the question bubbled up in me like answer to my prayers. I would write the remainder of my book publicly, I would expose the creative process and the process of healing. I would make my struggle into art.
So Project Process was born. I thought I would wait a week to announce it but I was so enthused that I started working on a public google documents folder right away. All my working files would be accessible. My fiance suggested I livestream to twitch so people could follow me as I worked on the files. I have a set aside a regular time to do this weekly. Though I may work on the project anytime inspiration strikes, I have committed two hours a week to do it publicly. If I find myself unable to work on my novel in this time, I can write about my trauma or otherwise journal about the process of writing and healing. Anything I do is a step towards completion and I am no longer shrouded in loneliness and shame about my writing, the assault, and how it affected me. I no longer have to be alone in my recovery from my assault and PTSD. This commitment to write publicly allows me to face the source of my pain head on and in a manageable way.
My therapist and I talked about neuroplasticity, and how every time I do a creative thing I am making new pathways in my brain, obliterating the old associations. By setting aside time for Project Process, I am free to work on other projects at other times and can work on creating new positive associations through neuroplasticity. Everything I am doing, including writing this article, is a step towards healing.
My therapist was blunt and told me she didn’t think I was ready to finish my novel yet, that I still had processing and healing to do in order to get there. Through Project Process I can work on that healing while working on my novel in a small way every week.
By making my writing public in such a raw state, I am inviting people into my novels universe, it no longer being something I just shared with my abuser, I am reclaiming it. I am inviting people to see it as a living creation, something they can subtly influence with their comments and questions. Suddenly, the work becomes collaborative and we are writing it together. I am no longer alone in the process. It becomes something bigger than I could have created on my own. It becomes a statement on the power of our collective healing. This is what I believe the outcome of Project Process will be.
It could take several years for me to finish the works of the Exodus universe, a realm in which femininity has been expunged from reality and into a spiritual plane of existence. It explores the lines of gender and the nonconformists become the heroes who can transcend it. I personify rape culture with a character named Penelope, who is a spell that disempowers our ability to resist and say no. I take the experiences of my psychosis and turn it into something palatable, a story.
Ultimately, I am tired of this universe being inside me and being alone with it. It has caused me a lot of pain to have it contained only within me and to be stumped in my process of writing. Through Project Process I am inviting others to live inside my novels universe, even in its incomplete state. I am determined to bring this project to completion, even though it has been painful up to this point. Even if I am unsuccessful, the process itself speaks to the impact of sexual assault and healing and becomes a statement on its own, that I am inviting people to witness. Through witness, I am no longer alone with my project and the once suicidal thoughts I had around its incompletion. Through witness, I am given the encouragement to keep going, keep working and keep trying. Through witness, I am able to share my process with the world. Through witness, this project becomes more than about me, it becomes about the process of healing PTSD. It will be the first time a saga has ever been written publicly. It will be the first time PTSD has been cured publicly.
I am inviting you to witness me, in all my vulnerability as I overcome what was once tragedy. Together, we can complete this process.
My twitch channel is twitch.tv/paintarya (I stream on Mondays from Noon-2pm Mountain time) and links to the working documents can be found at paintaf.com/project-process.