Many women have asked me to write their stories after reading my memoir, Unbridled, and Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife. Writing these books taught me the healing power of storytelling. While it is sometimes challenging to be honest and raw about aspects of our journey, the more we open up the better we can see our lives from a different perspective and make clearer decisions going forward. Putting our experiences into words transforms and heals.
With that in mind, here's the fifth post in my series on the power of storytelling. Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Let’s begin writing the stories of our lives whether we publish them or not. In August, I'll be leading a writing workshop for the wives of wounded warriors in partnership with Hearts of Valor, and will dig even deeper into these themes! If you're interested in attending, you can apply here to join Hearts of Valor.
But for now, let's talk about how writing can be a powerful tool for healing past wounds.
Living with trauma
We tend to use the word “trauma” a bit lightly, referring to crummy days at the office or terrible first dates as traumatic experiences. But a true trauma is an event of such magnitude, horror, or duration that it overwhelms a person’s emotional and physical coping mechanisms. The resulting fear, discord, and stress can interfere with the person’s functioning on a day-to-day basis, so the human mind has evolved many clever ways of coping. It can cause fragmentation, a splitting of the essential self, that makes us feel empty and hollow. Trauma can also appear dormant, but still influence our emotional states and behaviors. Our minds may put distance between the traumatic event and our present-day selves, which protects our emotions from being constantly ravaged but also keeps us to feeling and experiencing life to its fullest.
To truly recover, we must find ways to acknowledge and process trauma. Often that means working with a professional therapist or counsellor, or through a structured recovery program. But confronting trauma bit by bit through writing and creative exploration can be an incredibly effective and rewarding way to ease the process forward. And sometimes our most traumatic experiences drive us to create the most beautiful art, forge the strongest relationships, and be our absolute bravest selves.
Exercise: Journaling to release inner pain
In a few sentences, describe a trauma from your own past. It might be something that a person actively did to you, a painful loss of a loved one, or an experience that frightened you deeply. Write about it factually, using descriptions that are as straightforward and detached as possible. (Don't worry about whether or not your memory qualifies as “true” trauma. This exercise can be used to jumpstart healing for almost any painful or upsetting experience.)
Now write about those same events from a different perspective: Cast yourself as the hero of the story, undergoing a trial and facing it bravely, and write in the first person. As the hero you are never daunted, seeing only the challenge ahead and focusing on how to overcome it. Reimagine and rework your memories.
Next, write the same story but from your soul's point of view and focus on the lessons you learned or insights you gained from what happened. You never need view trauma as inevitable, something you needed to experience in order to grow as a person. You also don't need to mentally transform it into a completely positive occurrence. But your trauma likely shaped and taught you in specific and valuable ways, despite how difficult and upsetting it was to live through. The soul dispassionately focuses on the long view and its own evolution. Consider this experience through that lens.
Finally—and this will be the most difficult portion of this journaling exercise—write about your traumatic experience from the point of view of the one you feel is to blame. Write everything from this person's perspective, and try not to insert your own feelings. You do not need to empathize or forgive, but do your best to understand and process. Creativity can be a bridge to healing, making it possible to heal painful rifts and once again become whole. But to do this, we must be willing to examine our experiences from all sides.
Work worth doing
Finding our way back from trauma is never easy. It takes real courage, hard work, and perseverance to make strides toward healing. But consider the alternative: Going through the motions of living, wondering why we feel nothing, losing touch with the sacredness of life. Facing those scarring memories will be a colossal undertaking, but one that can lead us toward brighter, better times. And coping with trauma through creative re-tellings of our stories is a gentle but constructive step we can take in our own time and on our own terms.
Can't wait to share more on the power of storytelling with you next week!