It took me ten years to work up the courage to write about my childhood. In that time, I explored every field except nonfiction, earning an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) with a thesis my husband describes as “stories in which girls don’t act quite the way they should”. Fiction was a safety net-a space where I could address my sexual, physical and emotional fears without honestly admitting to them.

During workshops of my short stories, I often felt personally attacked as my writing was critiqued. While my peers were respectful of both what I had woven and my process, they recognized that the heart was missing. I was holding back.

I struggled to bring the heart to my stories, but succeeded only in writing further from my experience, ultimately from the perspective of characters born and raised in war in another country. I told myself I couldn’t address my life directly because it wasn’t fair to my family. I censored myself out of respect for them until I finally gave up completely. In all honesty, the reason I deleted the original version of this blog is because I was ashamed. On it, I had shared stories that were outside my comfort zone because they exposed my inner conflict-the girls in these pieces were often at odds with their families ideals, flailing against their loss of innocence and the shame surrounding it. In truth, these girls were me.

For years, I made lists of pen names. I knew that I needed to tell my story. There are so many of you out there like me, but how many of you had parents that turned it around? That stopped and recognized the shit of it and said, “No. We love you. This is a negative pattern developed out of our own fear, but we won’t let our fear control us.”? How many of you watched your parents tremble as they counted up from ten or down from one because they were so triggered it was hard to stay in their own heads and not lash out, but they did it for you?

I held myself back because anonymity felt just as dishonest as not sharing at all.

During this years, I birthed my children and warred with my history. My impulse remained to write. I started a memoir numerous times. I even wrote a fictive one that I posted on this blog. I have legal pads full of handwritten recollections, tearstained and marked up because I couldn’t bear to share the pain–to make my family relive the pain.

During this time, I sought help from multiple professionals. I opened up to the support of my spouse. I made a friendship that has taught me how to trust. I experimented with meditation, yoga, and found a home at a CrossFit gym where I have discovered that I am strong, and I can be strong-that the only things stopping us from being strong is ourselves. Somewhere along the way, my reality stopped hurting. I learned that I am not responsible for the stories of others, even when they intersect with mine. I left a yoga circle with an affirmation the group offered me: I can speak my truth with grace and respect.

There is shit in my story, and I will tell it, because if I don’t, you can’t see the incredible, transformative beauty that is possible. I know first-hand how important the example is–what we show our children is what they will show their children. My parents showed me their fear, but then they showed me their love. Because of that, when my fear slipped out, I shifted; I showed my son my love.


For some of us, it feels easier never to look back. The shit is messy and terrifying. We wash our hands of it, but when we do, we deny an integral piece of ourselves and the growth that can come from owning it. Yes, we can leave the past in the past, but I have learned that living for today means accepting where we’ve been without judgment. When we set aside judgment, we set aside fear, and we can see ourselves as fruitful trees rising up from the rich fertilizer of our histories.


Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

Discussion about this post

  1. SynDoll says:

    It’s so ironic that I found you when I did. For years I wanted to write fiction, to jump into a world of fantasy, as a child I used to write beautiful magical stories. As an adult I find I have lost my ability to delve into fantasy because my reality is so bloody dark, I haven’t found a way to escape it so I put my heart into my writing of non fiction. Beautiful how we can be so similar and yet so different no? Beautifully written piece, thank you for sharing it with the world. <3

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