I used to suffer from night terrors. For as long as I can remember, I was plagued by dark dreams of being chased, of being caged, of being tied down so I could not move, of having a befuddled mouth so I could not scream…
And then I began to write. I began to write dark things, and the night terrors ceased. I’m not psychoanalyzing myself here, because surely there were many things that contributed to my subconscious self-terrorization, but the point is that writing kept those demon dogs at bay.
Yesterday I spoke with a friend who has been going through a dark and terrible time in her life, and she is drawn to reading dark books and watching dark movies, the darker the better. She is surprised by that, because she has always been a positive, happy person. Not a Pollyanna by any means, but a happy, creative soul whose life was turned upside down in an instant by forces far from her control.
I believe she is dwelling in dark literature because it is darker than her current life situation. She is healing from a terrible trauma, and when we can’t imagine ourselves being worse off than we are, the dark fiction tells us that there is always someone worse off. And that’s comforting.
As I have grown older, I am less drawn to the shocking, truly dark literature. It has to be superbly written or of tremendous value for me to slide into that space any more. My writing has changed, too, but will always have the hard edge that speaks to the struggle of the human condition and the dark humor that affirms that our wounds are healing. There is power in the darkness, just as there is power in the light, if we wield this power—which is literally at our fingertips—for the good.
Do the night terrors return when I stop writing? Yes. I’m still human. I’m still healing.