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I write because, if I didn’t, I would cease to exist. I would fade into the emptiness of my absence of sound. My true self is in the words I put on paper. The ones that I take straight from me - from my mind, my trauma, and my emotion. When I was a child, my parents stole my entire life from me, but also more. They stole my voice.

Years of abuse left me a different person on the outside. The worst side effect was that I struggled to speak for the longest time. So many years of intense isolation and of being threatened to never tell anyone what was happening left me struggling to even form basic words. Even when I did start finding it easier to talk, I realized that there are some things in life that defy words. The average amount of breaths a human takes in a lifetime is only 672,768,000. If I ever tried to verbally tell my story and encompass all its trauma, I would take up all the breathes of my life before I could come close to finishing.

It took years for me to see writing as my voice. For a long time, I didn’t know how to really write. From ages 0-14 my siblings and I were taught the very basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Once we knew the basics, our “homeschooling” consisted of nothing more than raising our siblings, cleaning the house, and reading the Bible. There were no essays and certainly no opportunities for creative writing. So I came to love writing not from actually writing, but from reading. I read everything I could get my hands on once I realized books were an escape from reality. I read all the time and, without realizing, memorized paragraph formating, narrative styles, voice, and the art of storytelling.

I went into 9th grade with no real education, having never written an essay and not knowing what a thesis statement was. However, within weeks I started receiving comments from my teachers that my writing was brilliant. That’s when writing started becoming more than just the alphabet and sentences. I realized I had the power to evoke emotion from someone, to help someone form an opinion, or to teach someone through the written word. Every year of high school my writing continued to improve and I quickly switched from regular classes to honors to AP courses in English, Composition, and History. It was the first time in my life I had ever experienced being good at something, so I reveled in it and my writing never disappointed.

Then I stopped. I stopped writing. I went to college to major in Marketing (and later History) and to be a business person. Everyone I told responded with confusion - “I thought you were going for writing? You’re amazing at it.” I was and I knew it. However, I also knew that both my older siblings had went to the same high school and college as me, had both majored in Writing, had both worked for the student newspaper, and had both went on to work at small town newspapers. My parents, desperate for control, had an odd obsession with making my siblings and I carbon copies of each other and when they forced me to attend Lakeland University like my brother and sister, I was determined to be different. I would not be like my family if it killed me. I was 18 and didn’t have a driver’s license, a job, a bank account, or any identity outside my family. I didn’t have the power to choose my college, but I did have the power to, at least, choose my own subject. To not choose writing gave me just the slightest chance to revolt against my family’s inherent abuse and narcissism, albeit it also went against my true nature.

However, as much as I tried to stop writing, it kept coming back to me. It came in the forms of creative assignments, honors projects, and late nights of loneliness. I started writing more than ever before and this time it wasn’t just high school teachers I was impressing, but college professors with doctorates who had been in the field for 50-years. 

However, writing then became even more than just impressing others. Two years into my college career I was able to separate myself from my family and I became my own person. With that freedom, though, came the weight of realization. I realized the abuse, the trauma, the horror, and everything that had been stolen from me. This turned writing from a hobby, into something I did to survive.

I was 20-years old, in the prime of my life, and the full weight of what I had been through as a child had just hit me like a load of bricks. There was nothing I could do besides carry it alone. Who exactly could I tell when I lived among hundreds of privileged college students whose biggest complaints about their families was that they didn’t send them money and buy them Gucci? However, then I came upon a word that I had never thought much of before, “healing.” I sat down one day and read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur and I realized how words could be healing.

I still couldn’t speak, but I could write. Then again, I asked myself, what good would it be if I relived my horrors to myself in written words instead of in thought? The only way I could heal, is if my story and my words could matter. If my suffering had a reason behind it. If my suffering could give my words something that no one else’s words had. And it did. I was meant to tell my story. I spent my whole life alone and my early adult years feeling alienated - feeling as if no one had ever experienced what I had been through. I know now that there are others who feel like that and who I don’t ever want to experience the aloneness that I did. I can help those people. I can reach those who are hurting, but also those who are indifferent to those who are hurting. My story isn’t just something that happened to me, my story is words so powerful they can make a difference in a world where abuse exists.

Today, I write to take back my voice. I write to take back my life that my parents decided to steal before I ever had the chance to live. I write to dissent against their warning to never tell. I write to dissent against them and the injustice, abuse, and selfishness that they embody. I didn’t exist for nearly 20-years of my life, but today I do exist and I exist through the written word. 

I write to exist.

Why I Write

By Rachel Ulatowski

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