As I child, I had an extensive curse word vocabulary that I was terrified to use. Even the thought of cursing made me blush, and when I accidentally stammered things that sounded like bad words I wanted a hole to open up beneath my feet and swallow me whole.
My parents used to get into a screaming match nearly every night. The f-bomb would fly; they would call each other every name in the book. I was in third grade when my dad explained that after they screamed at each other, “we’d go in our room and fuck, because it was good after a fight.” He then graphically explained what exactly that word entailed in that context, traumatizing and horrifying me even further.
As that continued to boil, my classmates started to use those words, as it was taboo and thus scintillating. I would blush and balk and occasionally cry when things were said, and gestures were used, that made me think of home. Every curse word drew me back to that horrible world where I would take my siblings into our room and play something noisy to try and drain it out.
Arguments between my mom and stepdad are a lot more passive-aggressive than explosive, though that tension in the air still would make my hair stand on end. Even after dad was out of the picture, his spectre lingered. I was still afraid of him. I was still afraid to curse, and my classmates continued to find it hilarious to curse around me- sometimes at me, playfully- just to see me go red and run for it. I sheltered myself from the worst of the world, burying myself in books and avoiding current events and trends, to avoid language like that entirely.
When I was in college, I discovered the cyberpunk dystopian world of Appleseed, and drowned myself in it. I am a huge fan of cyberpunk and steampunk, and while dystopian stories make me anxious, if there is some sort of brighter world dawning by the end, I can happily chew through one of them and write happier endings in my head. And I did just that: I started to write stories in that universe, as I loved the love story of Deunan and Briareos. I had a problem, though. They lived in a war-torn universe, were seasoned, battle-hardened warriors, and swore like it. Just writing curse words made me anxious, but it was the only way to make the characters read realistically.
(Word of wisdom: if you watch the 1988 OVA, watch it in Japanese with subtitles on. When it was dubbed, they curse non-stop, to the detriment of the storyline. The subtitles were much more accurate to the original dialogue, resulting in dramatically different lines. My favorite example is a line where the English dub said “As private citizens, they’re fucking weird” and the subtitle said “As private citizens, they’re… eccentric.” Definitely better in Japanese. All of the movies are better in Japanese, but the newer two are definitely due to Briareos’ voice being knee-meltingly gorgeous. The dub is dramatically more accurate and not aiming for quite as much shock value as the OVA.)
I started hesitantly writing the characters more, well, in character, and the language flowed. Where once those words caused me actual pain, it was a simple writing exercise, where I was making sure that the characters talked like Masamune Shirow wrote them. It became easier over time, and I was no longer wincing when I saw various curse words on the screen. Dialogue flowed more easily and it felt good to do justice to the characters.
I started incorporating curse words into my own vocabulary a few years later, once I had my first case management job. I discovered that it made things feel better when things went badly in life. (The Mythbusters actually confirmed that actual pain is easier to stomach with cursing, with the most hilarious set-up ever.) I also discovered that, with repeated use, the memories I’d associated with those words were fading, replaced with more current anecdotes, or with my Appleseed writing. Hearing it in Briareos’ voice versus the screaming voices of my parents made it an awful lot easier to tolerate in my head.
I just started twitter late last week, primarily due to an article on Buzzfeed titled The Best Person on Twitter is a 94-year-old Quilter. She really, really is, too. She tweeted on Sunday, “I have made myself perfectly understood for 94 yrs without cursing. Try it! It’s a fun game.” I found myself replying that I’m not winning that game, as cursing has helped me face my PTSD.
And it really, really has. By reclaiming the f-bomb and all the rest, it’s helped me to face at least that one facet of my PTSD. My therapist thinks it’s a bit unorthodox and doesn’t necessarily approve, but really, any progress is good progress.