Content Warning—disordered eating I At night, I find myself lying in bed near bursting with memory, as if something gone could still rip through me and flower. And yes I let myself get hungrier. It feels impossible to…
Trauma for trauma’s sake is a curse on writing, or at least on publishing. It sometimes feels like a challenge – I know I can write, but am I being raw enough? Am I mining myself hard enough? Trauma feels like the answer to what is chosen, what is lauded, and what is not. Individual trauma often wins the race, but in a very palpable way community clots around shared trauma. That’s how pro-ana sites work. That’s often how people raised as girls and or perceived as feminine find quiet moments of recognition and solace with one another – You too?
Although this essay is all me, or mostly me, it’s also how I found my way into writing the more complex stories and themes in the book I’m working on about eating disorders through time, nuns starving for Christ, the Minnesota Experiment. It’s all about power. About finding power in tiny spaces, shrinking spaces. In food, and controlling it, and bodies, and controlling them. These have long been the only things many people have been able to hold dominion over. In some ways, this essay is a cipher. Those larger themes exist in the white space within this work. In the cracks. In the leaps, what’s left out, and how memory has been shattered. Oblivion, control, the unrecorded and forgotten, obsession, even religious fervour. How other kinds of obsession can be like a religion. How pain can seem beautiful when you are in the middle of it.
I can’t say I found writing ‘On Possessing a Body’ easy. I’m a poet. I wrote a lot of this piece in my notes app. I collect scraps for my nest and then I arrange them all pretty. But there was a frenzied energy to writing the essay when I finally put it all in one place and began trying to put the pieces together. It was the kind of energy that usually only appears for a day or so when I’m deep in the middle of a project, but this time sustained itself through writing and editing and rewriting. And that in itself was revitalising. Because for me, and for many of us over the last few years, I think, writing has been more not writing than writing. Making this career work (and I use the word career in a loose sense – because there is nothing practical, really, about making art) without already having money is hard. Making it work through a global pandemic, while you still don’t have money, is harder. That’s just a reality. I’m not special.
But we keep doing it anyway. And when things just work, they’re a reminder of a sort. Writing is hard. Occasionally, you get a moment of pure joy from it. Writing when things in the real world are hard is even worse. It feels kind of stupid. But it also lets you live outside yourself, your circumstances, and the reality of what is going on right here right now. And sure, writing about trauma can feel like cashing in a cheque you didn’t earn. But it can also bring something new to what happened. It can expand that protective clot that forms around those cracks in who you are. At its best, it can offer a little bit of healing, I suppose.
LOTTE MITCHELL REFORD is a UK poet currently working on a collection of essays about sickness, starving, and medieval saints. They hold an MFA from Virginia Tech and live and work in Mexico City. Their writing has been published in, amongst other places, Copper Nickel, The Moth, SPAM, New Writing Scotland, and Hobart. Their first poetry pamphlet, and we were so far from the sea of course the hermit crabs were dead, is available from Broken Sleep Books. Find them on Twitter at @LReford.