Guest Post: How River Hayden Coped With Poetry

Deborah Sheedy

Deborah Sheedy

"She opens her eyes,
to a brand new day.
Emotions in check,
she's strong again."

Before I ever began writing books, I used poetry as a means to cope with the trauma I lived through and had to process as an adolescent. The above stanza is a small section from one of the many poems I’ve written over the years. It may not be the most beautiful piece of poetry that has ever been written--I’m no Frost, Poe, or Dickenson--but being able to let go of some of the pent up emotion inside me down on paper kept me from giving in to the pain I felt.

If I think back, I’m not exactly sure why I continued to write, but I remember the first poem I ever wrote: it was for a Language Arts class in high school. Before then, I had never talked to anyone about how much my grandfather’s death had affected me. Even now, over 10 years since I wrote that first poem about him, I’ve only written a total of two circling how much I cared about him. I was really closed off as a child since my family never liked to talk about what we were feeling. That first poem helped me process the emotions I had been feeling for years after his death but never spoke of. To this day, I’ve only told a handful of people how much my grandfather meant to me. Below is a portion of that first poem:

"Remembering the last eerie memory:
waking in the middle of the night
hearing your slow, silent snoring as soft as a sigh,
like a lullaby rocking me to sleep.

Silence pours into the room.
Where is my lullaby?
Straining to hear any sign of your existence.
What’s going on?

Slowly, I creep out of bed,
tiptoeing to the side of your hospital bed
laid out in the living room.

'Grandpa?' I whisper into the silence.
No answer.
My body starts to shake as I call for you once more.
Again no answer."

I even remember trying to read it in front of the class for extra credit. I read it so quickly I’m not sure anyone even understood what I had said, but by the end I was close to tears. I was never big on crying in front of people so being so close to it was embarrassing for me. The only emotion I ever showed was happiness and cheer. Many years later, I finally wrote the second poem dedicated to my grandfather, and it was just as heart wrenching as the first:

"You always loved me,
and kept me safe.
I could trust you,
when I couldn't hold on.

Now you're gone,
watching me from above.
I know you're there,
but sometimes it's not enough...

I miss your voice -
how you'd call to me.
Your smiling face,
and how you'd make me laugh...

I need that now,
that comfort you gave.
There's nothing I couldn't do,
when you were with me.

Even just seeing you smile
lovingly at me,
with that sparkle in our eye...
that's all I need to be okay."

It wasn’t until my best friend, at the time, showed me she wrote poetry, too, that I fully delved into this creative relief. She gave me the strength and courage to start putting my feelings into words and out on paper instead of stuck inside my head. Poetry gave me a challenge: to be descriptive about my pain, and yet tell it in a way that was mysterious so the reader could read between the lines to get to the meaning behind the text. I wrote hoping that someone would analyze my poems like we did in Language Arts with Frost’s poetry or Dickenson’s. I hoped someone would notice my pain and maybe reach out to help me. Of course, some of my early work practically screamed for help:

"Closer to the edge than ever before,
leaning over I begin to lose my balance.
Curiosity getting the best of me,
what awaits my inevitable arrival?

Whether it be demons and devils,
or angels and saints I care not.
At this point I’ll take anything.
Anything to rid me of this painful existence.

As the ground beneath races toward me,
I’m greeted anxiously by those that await me.
What lies ahead of me, I know not.
It can’t be worse than the life I left behind."

Between the ages of 15 and 17, I was very unstable. I’m sure the excerpts I’m giving as examples are pretty obvious indications. I had finally realized that I had been sexually assaulted for many years as a child by my older brother. In high school, I was a loner and social outcast, and no one seemed to want to date me. I couldn’t figure out why. I thought I was a nice, funny, and friendly person but not many people wanted anything to do with me. I learned that I was really clingy when anyone was nice to me and it turned a lot of people off to me right away freshman year. All of that, along with all the hormones a teenage girl deals with during puberty? I can say without a doubt, that if I hadn’t discovered the cathartic nature of poetry I would have committed suicide back then. It’s all over my old works:

"No one sees the heartache.
No one knows the pain.
She's neither dead or alive,
simply going through the motions.

Hidden deeper than ever,
the loneliness and sorrow.
Locked in her heart-shaped box,
the key lost forever.

She wasn't even aware,
the darkness was taking over again.
Consuming the light,
leaving a hole in its wake.

Then one day,
she noticed her cheeks were sore
the fake smiles taking their toll.
How long had it been?

Each moment passes,
a little more is lost.
her sanity along with it.
Soon there will be nothing left.

How much more can she take?
What will be her breaking point?
She wants it all to be over.
Maybe then there will be peace."

Some of my poems were even darker:

"All alone in my own little world,
who will save me from myself?
Run and hide, but there’s no escape.
You can’t hide from yourself."

I’m not sure what would have happened, what I would have done if I didn’t have poetry. I was never creative or artistic until I started writing. I would read and draw a little, but it wasn’t until I wrote poems that I started healing from my trauma. It took years for me to write a piece that wasn’t dark at all. With the help of this form of writing, I slowly healed. I was able to work through the confusion and pain I kept hidden for most of my life. It allowed me to finally let some honest joy shine through my art in April of 2015:

“Shadows consumed me,
night was my friend,
I no longer have to worry,
for you will forfend.

I have purpose,
I feel your love.
You're more than a gift
you've been sent from above."

Yes, it’s super cheesy, but you can’t deny the huge difference with this selection compared to the rest of the samples. It just goes to show you how powerful art can be for a person. I’ve always believed that art is a magnificent way to express yourself and help you shed the weight you carry on your shoulders every day. No matter what form you choose: painting, drawing, theatre, poetry, novel writing, or dance; art is the key to letting your inner self shine.

My "gateway" art was poetry; it gave me a profound respect and understanding of it that I didn’t have before. I also know that it isn’t for everyone. However, don’t let your self-criticism stop you from trying. Even if you think it is bad, you will have created something. Remember, you are your own worst critic. Don’t let anyone stop you from trying to create something--not even yourself. You may find a hidden talent you never knew you had. 



A Michigan native, River is a new author who has recently become part of the published ranks. She is looking to expand her expertise and write more teen fiction novels rather than just nonfiction works, but is open to anything and is happy to be able to pursue her passion. A survivor of sexual assault, River currently has an autobiography, titled The Road to Becoming a Survivor, published by ScribbCrib, available to read with many more books to come.