headshot of a woman

To write, to heal Alumna finds recovery from rape and an eating disorder in writing new memoir 'Controlled'

Interterm, that six-week wedge between Chapman University’s fall and spring semesters, is ideal for study-abroad adventures, unique courses on campus and creative projects benefited by long work sessions in quiet studios.

Or for one alumna, pounding out the first draft of a book about an adolescence shattered by rape.

book cover for Controlled

New from Heliotrope is
by Neesha Arter ’12. It’s a story of overcoming the trauma of rape and an ensuing eating disorder.

That’s what Neesha Arter ’12 did back in the winter of her freshman year. Today, after much perseverance, guidance from professors and rewriting, that fledgling effort is now published.
Controlled (Heliotrope Books, 2015) is the memoir of Arter’s teenage years spent recovering from rape and anorexia.

Controlled quickly received critical acclaim in Newsweek and the Huffington Post, attention that has prompted a whirlwind of interviews and book signings. But an unexpected outcome for Arter is the outpouring of reactions from readers who have similar survivor stories.

“Surprising to me is the amount of people, girls and boys, that this has happened to,” says Arter, a New York-based journalist whose credits range from The New York Times
to Teen Vogue. Since the book’s publication teen readers around the world have reached out to her with their own stories. “They’re so young. I just want to give them a hug.”

In a sense, she does that in
Controlled . Arter chronicles how at 14 she was sexually assaulted in her cousins’ home one New Year’s Eve by two former friends she’d known for years. A battle with anorexia followed, the result she says of her attempt to shrink back into childhood and erase the agony of that night.

Laced throughout her account is regret that she didn’t seek out more help after the attack. As referenced by her book’s title, Arter sought to regain control of her emotions by obsessing about weight loss and refusing to address the emotional fallout of the attack.

For Arter, healing gradually began when after an awful night of purging, she picked up a black ballpoint pen and yellow notepad and began to write. Those efforts took a serious leap in a freshman-year English class. After that storm of Interterm writing, she returned to Chapman and began working on the story in earnest, eventually reaching out to professor and novelist James Blaylock, who teaches creative writing in the Department of English.

a graduate and professor

Neesha Arter ’12 shares a happy moment with her faculty advisor, James Blaylock, at  Commencement.

“We talked, and I don’t even know how this brilliant gentleman whom I love and admire so much decided to believe in me. I swear if it wasn’t for him, this wouldn’t have happened,” Arter says.

She honed the manuscript throughout her undergraduate years with Blaylock, as well as with Anna Leahy, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of English, even creating an independent study course on memoir writing. Blaylock recalls being awestruck by Arter’s tenacity and singular focus, even when the going was tough.

“Most writers, myself included, write heaps of not-good stuff on our way to writing good stuff.  She was no exception. It’s easy to quit writing a piece if it’s difficult, or if you know it’s not as good as it should be. She simply didn’t want to give up on it,” Blaylock says.

Arter also returned to therapy in those years, but she credits the long process of rewriting as the key to her true recovery from the events of that night when she was 14 years old.

“It was that process. They always say it’s the journey, but I didn’t really understand that until recently,” she says. “In many ways, this book set me free.”

As part of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, the initiative Not Alone.gov was established to provide information for students, schools and anyone interested in finding resources on how to respond to and prevent sexual assault.

Dawn Bonker

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