Why Finding the Courage to Write What Hurts Will Heal
Write hard and clear about what hurts ~ Ernest Hemingway.
Today, the local library, Belle Cooledge Branch book clubs graciously hosted me for their Tea and Talks to discuss TigerFish with their patrons, and the meetings warmed my heart and soul. I have always loved reading and writing, but I’ve never dreamt that I would be a published author, talking to so many engaging readers of my memoir. I’m over the moon and honored but deeply humbled for their support and love because I started writing from a place of insecurity, hurt, and grief to make sense of my past to tackle my present life as a stay-at-home mom in the 90’s.
Allow me to explain. I struggled in my thirties with cultural identity and delayed grief as a Vietnamese refugee in America. I looked to books for solace and spiritual guidance and read many from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. They helped me identify and disentangle my sufferings so I can find peace while writing to heal and grow. It took months and years for personal growth, and I didn’t know if I would ever overcome these struggles. Fortunately, I eventually worked through my identity crisis with hours of reading, writing, introspection, practicing mindfulness and using behavioral medication tools. Books are my saviors. They helped me cope, sort out my feelings while I wrote my memoir TigerFish.
As a writer and a human being, we have doubts and insecurity about whether we can convey, articulate, and express our feelings in writing in a way that’s relatable and resonates with readers. I pored over my words, weaving my them with care to take my readers on my life journey. I shed many tears during the process as I grieved the death of my brothers, of many Vietnamese and American GIs, and of my childhood and innocence.
In a recent home visit, my son witnessed my startling when my husband dropped something in the kitchen that caused a loud noise. To my complete surprise and shock, he said with heightened concern: “Mom, you have PTSD! You might look into getting some help.” His acute observation and statement gave me pause. I’d never thought that I still have trauma from the war that happened so long ago. I thought everyone is jumpy to some degrees because I don’t have flashbacks, nightmares, trouble sleeping, or other symptoms of PTSD, but what he said made sense. My startling can be socially embarrassing at times because I would be the only one who overreacted to a loud noise while everyone looked at me, “are you okay?”
I shared this fact with my book clubs members and everyone nodded their heads in sympathy and empathy. Yes, they knew of relatives from the war, and they understood. The book clubs settings are intimate, 10 to 12 members and there were two groups, and this gave everyone an opportunity to ask questions or comment on TigerFish. While holding the conversations with my readers, I continued to be in awe. Since the book is published last year in late April, I’ve met and talked close to a thousand readers at events. It still seemed surreal that I’ve shared my profoundly personal life journey which I wrote initially only for my children.
Because I summoned the courage to share my story to help others understand the untold version of the war, readers are now discussing it in public forum. We broadened our open and public platform as well as what’s acceptable to share on how the Vietnam war affects people from far-flung corners of the world, away from the comfort of the U.S. Mainland. We humanized the refugee experience, together, and we connected on a personal level. During these author events, My readers touched me profoundly with their compassion, empathy, and the willingness to learn about the suffering of the Vietnamese, and about the Vietnam War.
In closing, I’d like to appeal to those who are suffering right now to write without self-loathing and judgment, and patiently find the way to healing and healthy self-love. It’s a long and arduous process, I will not sugarcoat it, but there is hope. For aspiring or new authors, believe in your voice, your story, and your mission. Set a goal for yourself and work consistently to achieve it. There is no overnight success, but there are many nights of hard work and writing to the path of success.
Until we meet again in the next article, may peace and light is with you and yours.