Leaving it Behind

One thing I’ve always been bad at is letting go.

But as we reach the end of 2022, there is something I want to leave behind in this year.

Christmas and the holiday period has been a really difficult time for me for the past few years, because I’m estranged from several people in my family and I don’t see them.

It has meant that instead of feeling happy and festive, every December I feel deeply depressed. It’s a month of feeling shit and sad and angry and lonely.

It hurts, a lot.

I saw the below tweet from Dr Nicole LePera and it describes what I’ve felt the past few Christmases: grief.

As she stated:

“Few people talk about the grief that comes after ending toxic relationships. Intellectually, we know it’s for the best, but we also have suffered a deep loss many don’t understand.”

Tweet from Dr Nicole LePera on Twitter, December 2022.

It’s strange and difficult to end a relationship with someone you love, or have them end their relationship with you, or both. I’ve never thought of it as grief, but that could be the right word.

This post isn’t going to identify anyone, or shame them, or divulge details about family shit that ought to remain private. I’m not being cagey, just protecting the privacy of other people.

I am writing this with a more personal goal, because I have a demon to exorcise, personally and professionally, about the impact this has had on me. It’s affected my mental health, but it’s affecting my writing, too.

In 2021, I made a generic, relatively cautious statement on social media about having had an encounter with someone I went no-contact with years ago. I didn’t identify the person, I kept it vague, and I didn’t say much other than I was upset at having this person ignore my boundaries.

That comment was met with rage and abusive messages from several people I am related to. I was to be punished, shunned and ostracised for having told the truth that I was not okay in that moment.

That experience burnt me so badly, I haven’t been able to express myself properly since.

I blew several deadlines with my publisher for my third book as I couldn’t bear sitting in the emotional space required to write. I was too scared, and too emotionally rekt. I couldn’t do it.

I haven’t been able to write any short fiction at all since, either. Nor have I written any opinion pieces or other journalistic articles, both of which were goals of mine for 2022.

I’ve just been frozen.

When I did finally churn out a rough draft of my third novel in July, I rushed it, and I had to drink to be able to write it.

This, to me, is a bad sign, because it usually means what I am writing isn’t very good.

INVISIBLE BOYS, THE BRINK, and all my short fiction that’s been published – it has been written in a state of sobriety, when I am happy and peaceful, when I feel safe enough to excavate feelings and weave them into character and story.

When I am in so much emotional pain that I need to drink to numb it, I always churn out substandard writing. I did this for my Honours thesis and it resulted in a creative work that was okay, but didn’t dive deep enough to resonate on an emotional level.

And so it is with this third book draft.

Upon reading the manuscript draft, my publisher, accurately, pointed out to me that this early draft hasn’t gone deep enough into the emotion of what needs to be said.

And she’s right. I didn’t go deep enough, because I was too scared to follow two of my key principles of writing.

Firstly, from Ernest Hemingway, the edict to “write hard and clear about what hurts”.

Secondly, from Alanis Morissette, the advice to make self-expression paramount to the artist, regardless of what people might think of it: no sacred cows.

I have been unable to do either of these. I’ve been too concerned with getting attacked again if I say the wrong thing.

This year, I’ve focused on trying to heal on a personal level and make Christmas a happy time again. My husband and I realised we have never put up a Christmas tree despite living together for years, so this year we bought a nice Christmas tree, set up our own Christmas Day rituals and made time to see people we do have healthy relationships with. It made Christmas happy and festive again.

But as I sit here on the brink of a new year, I know I can’t fully move on until I remove the splinter that’s been in my paw for over a year.

I had to write this, and share it without any fear or shame, to leave it behind and move on.

Professionally, I had to prove to myself I can write hard and clear, and that I am not beholden to anyone else’s opinions about what I say or write: that self-expression is paramount.

Personally, I had to prove to myself that other people’s abusive rantings will not make me cower. I am not afraid of them anymore.

More importantly: I don’t want to shoulder the weight of this for one second longer. I don’t want it to colour my 2023 or the years beyond. I don’t want it to hinder my creativity. I don’t want to be unhappy and silent.

So, here is my little demon and here I am, exorcising it with a kick up the arse and a stake right through the heart. Get the fuck behind me and let me move on. I want to be happy.



Author: Holden Sheppard

YA Author from Western Australia.

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