Why I Keep Coming Back to Writing
When I was younger, my mother used to give me silent treatment whenever I disappointed her or made her angry with me.
And because she never told me what I did wrong, I was forced to figure it out on my own.
In the silence, I would handwrite apology letters to my mother to tell her how much I loved and appreciated her for all she did for me. In these letters, I would also vow to be a better daughter and never to do whatever I did to hurt her again.
By the time I was sixteen, I had learned to internalize my feelings without realizing long before I ever dared to tell others I was angry, afraid, hurt, or sad. I saw the trauma from many silent treatments bonded itself onto all my relationships, and instead of processing and letting it go, I kept reacting to it.
I remember a boy who broke my heart. After he had kissed me, he told me that he was in love with someone else. I remember leaving him at the rink and in the blistering cold, I cried until I reached home. I remember trying to not worry my mother because she had just left my father. So I didn’t tell her what happened.
Gradually, I danced around the truth—never saying too much or too little.
And as a result, how I differentiated healthy versus unhealthy relationships and boundaries became difficult because while I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone, I also didn’t want to be a burden.
It took me years before I saw that it wasn’t my mother’s fault.
She was given up as a child and was later adopted by my grand-aunt.
She was put in jail for trying to escape communism in Vietnam.
She was in a refugee camp in Indonesia before she arrived in Canada.
She was only twenty-four years old.
And she had gone through so much to be here.
I’m twenty-nine now and I can’t even imagine what that feels like—to have to risk her life for freedom; to come to a country where she didn’t fit in whatsoever; to leave everything she’d ever known behind. I think about what I would do if I was in my mother’s shoes. Would I have struggled less? Probably not.
It didn’t hit me before, but I realized why I write now. It’s because there are more words at my fingertips than at the tip of my tongue. Since I had learned to express my thoughts on paper, I had forgotten what it was like to sound them out. When I try, I feel them in my throat when I choke on the feelings forming behind my eyes.
This started as a trauma story but it’s so much more than that. It’s how I learned to express myself when all else had failed; how I continue to keep using this medium as a gateway into my life and experiences that I hope many of my readers can relate to; how to love myself more with every word.
I didn’t always feel comfortable with my past or was ever proud of it. I hated that I spent so much time looking for answers in the bottoms of empty glasses and bottles. There was a lot of deep shame. But if I look into the mirror now, I am proud that I didn’t turn bitter or become jaded because I was dealt some bad cards.
Now, as I approach my thirties, I’m aware of my mother’s past as she is more aware of mine (and somewhat closer to the truth). I know now that no one can run from their past, but they sure as hell can learn from it.
It’s interesting that no matter how small an action is, it can affect you for a long time if left alone. And when that happens, it’s also extra painful to have to re-open up old wounds like when you have a deep injury that didn’t heal properly and the only way to fix it is to break it again.
Oprah said on a podcast recently, “Trauma doesn’t always have a capital T. It’s really the way you were loved.”
This is just how I was loved… but it’s not how I’m choosing to stay.
My one piece of advice is to have patience—for yourself, for your loved ones, for strangers who might just become something or everything to you.
You never really know what a person is going through until you really listen and try to understand them without trying to fix or change them.
Annie Ngu is an Asian-Canadian author, a writer and a UX designer at EnergyX. She lives in Toronto, ON and spends her time discovering new music and exploring every kind of creative oulet. She’s on Twitter @AnnieNgu