Saying too much

Words are so strong and complex. It's so easy to forget how powerful they are. I was reminded of it today as I read an article I shouldn't have read. That's more forceful than it should be, really; I didn't read the piece in its entirety. I've become pretty adept at knowing when to skim and when to completely stop reading, allowing me to avoid what I need to avoid.

Some links give me an off-puting, suspicious feeling, and I generally heed that internal warning. I know, by experience I suppose, that words are dangerous. Now, I'm not talking about logic or ideas that are opposed to mine. The phrase "trigger warning" has become a punchline of late, on the same level as "snowflake," but that's just a perversion of a real coping tool. Particular wording or details or imagery can trigger or provoke a dangerous episode for someone with bipolar (and other illnesses). A trigger can remind you of a trauma; it can mentally put you right back in the situation you're still reeling from. A stray sentence or two can knock you so far into a spiral it takes days to regain the ground you had -- if you ever do.

The phrase "trigger warning" has become a punchline of late, on the same level as "snowflake," but that's just a perversion of a real coping tool.

The subject of the article wasn't an issue. It was about alcohol I think, but the way it was written, the details, proved too much. The writer was able to place you right there inside her thoughts as she reminisced about her own alcoholism. It was that present and real description of her own pleasure; even now it is as if I was there and can very nearly associate it with a smell. When someone describes their own derangement in such close, experiential terms, those who are susceptible -- like me -- are no longer observing; we cease to be the reader and become part of the story. It's not flat words anymore; it's all images, tastes, smells. It's all close.

Then a beautiful example of the other side popped up in my feed. I just read this article from, and though the subject matter, sexual pleasure in marriage, should have caused warning, none was needed. The writers were full and passionate, but they were also careful. It reminded me of a story I wrote and gave a friend to read many years ago. In it was a scene of sexual assault, and when we talked about it, I remember my friend wishing I would have described the scene in a way that didn't drag the reader's mind through the actual experience. In the article, John Piper was able to do this; somehow, he could talk, valuably, about something deserving such privacy without striking up sexual imagery, so readily accessible in the mind. It's like the beauty and discomfort of the Song of Solomon, full of deep intimacy and passion but without delving anywhere near eroticism or lust. It's the choice of words that makes the difference.