Creative writing heals author’s trauma as sexual assault victim

The Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing hosted a reading event for creative nonfiction author Lacy M. Johnson in the Phebe Conley Art Auditorium Building's Room 101 on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (Larry Valenzuela/The Collegian)

Creative nonfiction author Lacy M. Johnson laid down the bare history of her life as she discussed her healing processes of escaping an abusive partner who had kidnapped and threatened to kill her for years.

As part of The Normal School nonfiction reading series, Johnson was introduced as the chosen speaker who had published excerpts included in the literary magazine for an audience of 45 Fresno State students, faculty and the public on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 in the Phebe Conley Art Auditorium Building’s Room 101 from 8 to 9:30 p.m.

The main themes of her two books, “The Other Side” and “The Reckonings,” focused on her survival as a sexual assault victim and her journey of overcoming her post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fears of the man who has forever changed her life.

“In my story there was once a man I loved very much and because of the self destructive way in which I loved him I didn’t want to leave him when he abused me, first with his words and then with his fists,” Johnson read from “The Reckonings.” “I told myself I could fix him, that this wasn’t who he was, not really. I let him keep showing me who he really was until I finally believed him and left.”

Johnson exposed the deepest parts of her inner self to literary fans and newcomers of her writing. The fear of seeing her abuser in other men as she goes about her daily life contrasts strongly with her own beliefs that justice in America strikes the immediate impulse for perceiving punishment for wrongdoers through the finality of execution and death.

A question that repetitively is asked by audiences nationwide at Johnson’s book readings and events surround the same insistent concern: “What do you want to have happen to him, the man that did this to you?”

In response to this, the idea of vengeance and retribution was brought up as an ancient idea that Americans seem to hang onto in taking “an eye for an eye.” If someone does something bad, then the reciprocative effect should be that something bad happens to them. That is justice being served to most, but Johnson disagrees.

By transforming the pain, the trauma and the fear of what she has lived through, Johnson fights this stigma of accepting that righteous justice for her abuser would simply succumb to his death.

Instead, the hope is that Johnson’s abuser gets the help he needs so he no longer remains a threat to anyone anymore. Violent people shouldn’t be thrown away because they did a bad thing, Johnson said. 

The takeaway for audience members on Friday was to remain vigil in understanding the context of where someone has come from and that there is no redemption for what happens to victims of assault if the only concern is to cause blood, death and revenge for satisfaction of the crime committed.

“I’ve called myself a writer now more than half of my life and during all this time I have learned that sometimes the hardest and most important work I have done has been turning a story I couldn’t tell into one that I can,” Johnson read from “The Other Side.”

The last 30 minutes of Johnson’s time at Fresno State was left for audience members to ask any questions regarding her life in general, her process of creative writing and inquiries about specific excerpts and life events from her published books.

The reading event was hosted by the Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing. 

The variety of books available for purchase, along with the option of meeting Johnson and getting her signature for the two books for sale, “The Other Side” and “The Reckonings,” were among the following: “The Other Side” for $17.25 and “The Reckonings” for $28.25; The Normal School’s last print issue for $5; and “The Spirit of Disruption,” a collection of excerpts from all of The Normal School’s past issues for $15.

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