Every Line is a Scream

Abuse, Art, and, Alchemy

Kelly Sundberg
Gay Mag
Published in
11 min readSep 10, 2019


Illustration: Louisa Bertman

MyMy new therapist asks me why I’m seeing her.
“Because I have PTSD, and I want to be normal again,” I say.
She asks what the symptoms of my PTSD are.
She asks how often I have nightmares.
“Every night.”
She asks what other symptoms I have.
“Do you think you stay awake because you are afraid to fall asleep?” she asks.
She asks what else.
She asks how often I’m disassociated.
“Almost all of the time.”
“Are you disassociated now?”
“Yes,” I say.

MyMy parents have an electric fence around their garden to keep the deer out, but the deer are starving, and once they get into the garden — once they taste a tomato — they will endure the shock of the electric fence again and again to get back to that sweetness. Well-intentioned neighbors feed the deer apples to spare them the fence, but the deer can’t digest the sugar, so they starve even more.

A year ago, I published a memoir about why I stayed too long in a violent marriage. I received a six-figure advance, published the book to critical acclaim, and women wrote me and told me that I had changed their lives (men, too, wrote and told me that I had changed their lives). Still, nothing changed in my life. I kept waiting for that alchemy — the magic of waking up redeemed — but it never happened. Maybe I am too attached to my suffering to be redeemed.

I have never been able to figure out if I write my story or my story writes me.

AAfter my husband hit me, his apologies were so sweet. I craved them. A starving woman knows nothing but craving.

All things rotting smell sweet as they spoil.

To be redeemed is to be compensated in some way for your suffering or to regain possession of what you had before the suffering. I can never be compensated enough, can never regain what I had before. My heart is inalterably different.



Kelly Sundberg
Gay Mag

Kelly Sundberg’s memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl was published by HarperCollins in 2018. She is currently working on a collection of lyric essays about PTSD.