How The Punisher and Writing my Own Novel Helped my Recovery
I didn’t know it at the time, but Netflix’s The Punisher pushed me to start writing my novel Until They Burn. And writing that novel saved me.
It wasn’t until recently that I started making all the connections between the power of writing and recovery… I innately knew that I loved writing and was often called to write about “dark topics” but I never connected the dots… until now. But to fully understand the depth of how powerful this experience was for me — I have to take you back to the beginning. It’s long, so if you’re a TLDR;’er, scroll to the bottom :)
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A FEW YEARS AGO:
It started as a little kernel of doubt regarding my abuse. [Could I have stopped it from happening to other little girls in my family? What lengths would I go to get the kind of revenge and justice I feel is owed? Was it all my fault?] I had been sitting with that doubt for a while when I was introduced to Frank Castle. Now, a lot can be said about Frank Castle’s character. I have read many many reviews that go off on his toxic masculinity, his lack of logical reasoning, etc. But for the purposes of THIS article and how I view the character, you can assume that I’m referring to the parts of his character that captivated, fascinated and helped me through my recovery.
As you can probably tell, I fell in love with Frank’s character. I felt like he was the older, male and much more badass version of me during that time in my life. He embodied the rage and loyalty and bravery, smart-assery, soft-hearted and loving personality that I identified with at that time. I felt like I knew him. Like we were kindred spirits.
What’s the point, you ask?
Well, falling for a character like that takes a lot of power. And it’s the power of storytelling. I wanted to do that. To write my own story in a way that explained how I felt like Frank Castle.
Angry, revenge-fueled, self-deprecating, shamed, afraid of losing things we love so we find a way to fuck it up before that can happen.
Brave. Loyal. Courageous. Snarky. A heart so strong that even when everything is taken from us, we are vulnerable and honest and learn to let someone else in, even though we know we could lose them at any minute.
What I deeply loved about Frank Castle (and I think a big part of this is owed to Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of him) is his ability to be more than one thing at the same time. He loves hard and deep, but he is also ruthless and vengeful. He won’t hesitate to put a bullet into someone’s head… but only if they align with his moral values. He’s a walking contradiction and I loved that. It was exactly how I viewed myself.
A walking contradiction.
So Izzy was born. And through her, I was able to pour out my deepest vulnerabilities and put them into Izzy’s life. I loved the way it felt to imagine the things I’d say to the people who hurt me — and then dissect it with Izzy. She acted as my sounding board, my scapegoat. My lifesaver. I asked some of the darkest questions I had about life and love and loyalty in this book and wrote and wrote and wrote to find the answer. (Spoiler alert: it worked. Writing helped me learn what I didn’t know!). I put Izzy in situations that tested her. And ultimately, me as well. I got to know Izzy so well that I could hear her voice in my head at random times. Almost as if we were friends.
But the biggest problem was that none of that was on the page. It was surface level and the bones of my beautiful vision, but it wasn’t there yet. I was missing key parts of the story that made it sing. I was frustrated and scared that I’d never get it “right.”
So I did what I do best when I’m scared. I retreated. I told myself it was easier to put all my time, energy and attention into things that I’m better at than writing. So that’s what I did.
I dabbled with her story here and there but I always got hung up on something and instead of trying to figure out why, I let her go. Again and again and again.
Then I discovered trauma recovery coaching and I started to miss writing less and less as other parts of my life filled up with opportunities and changes. Of course, looking back, I know that this period of no-writing was needed to grow in my recovery.
But Izzy’s story was never far from my mind, and it wasn’t until recently that I felt brave enough to confront the real reasons behind my start and stops with her story over the last few years. And when I did, this is what I discovered:
Izzy was exactly what I needed during that time of my life because she gave me strength and hope and courage to face things I didn’t want to face. She was the therapy I didn’t really know I was getting. And as I repaired my heart in other ways, I began to need Izzy less and less. I felt disconnected from the story I needed to tell all those years ago.
But I can see now what I couldn’t back then. Until They Burn was never about the final destination. Sure, I thought it was after I finished writing it, but during those inspired, coffee-fueled writing sessions, there was nothing but pure emotion dripping from my fingers onto the keyboard. I let myself go and in return, Izzy materialized when I needed her most. The storytelling had been there all along, I just wasn’t ready to see it. Once I did though, it was powerful. It was purely for me.
I’ve thought about going back to Izzy and rewriting the story as I see it now, but I’ll admit that I’m afraid that’s the wrong decision. It would be nice to watch her evolution as it mimics mine, but there’s something to be said for looking back at her character and story as a sign of my own growth. She may not be the perfect character for me now, but she was when I developed her. And though she may be a “static” character… I am not.
She helped me learn the importance in that.
For many, it’s hard to see that storytelling is the thing that ties us all together. All of us. We are all strangers but we are also all connected by the power of emotions and feelings and universal truths. And sometimes those truths can only be found between cream pages in black ink.
It doesn’t matter if you achieve the truth through fiction or memoir or poetry or kid’s books. All that matters is that you let the storytelling hit you in the gut. That you soak up everything about it that makes you feel whole and complete. And you use it for good. Use it heal. Use it to shoulder the burdens of life.
That, my friends, is the power of writing.
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