How to Write about your Life and recover from Trauma
We all experience trauma: Big T and little t and all-points-in-between trauma. Relationships end. We fail at things. People die. We meet more people. Lessons get learned. And each life holds a unique story that could be a page-turner if mined deeply. We can write our troubles into beautiful prose if we choose.
Why bother? Some of you already love writing. It helps you take unformed thoughts and press them into beautiful sculptures of depth and meaning. Your childhood longings foreshadow your adult passions. Heartbreaks shed light on why you do what you do. Loose threads of confusing experience come together to form whole scenes with pattern and purpose.
For example, in my own Life-Writing, I discovered why the aesthetics of spirituality matter so much to me. Why I felt so drawn to the Church of England and the cathedral choir and the organ and the bells – and why I had always been such a snob about informal religious services and their repetitive songs and their rock bands and PowerPoint slides and impromptu speakers. This was not just Deborah’s shallow, judgmental side. It was me channeling my father’s complicated spirituality: both his yearning for depth and beauty – and his lifelong entrapment in fundamentalist religion.
And why not? I mean, it happened, right? The past is always going to be what it was. Not writing it serves no purpose. Not writing our lives only leaves the memories sitting in the proverbial attic gathering dust . . . when we could try on those old clothes, rifle through the trunks and scrapbooks of our earlier days and make new sense of them.
So, here’s how to start Life-Writing:
1. On notebook paper, make a list of important scenes from your life. Include the worst memories and the best. Leave space between each scene.
2. Cut your list, so that each scene is a small strip of paper.
3. Fold each scene strip several times and put all scenes together into a container with a lid. Shake the container. Set it aside. Take a nap.
4. Each morning, or each week, depending upon your writing schedule, remove a random strip from the container and write that scene as if you were writing a screenplay. Use as much sensory detail as possible.
After a few weeks, take a look at all your pages together. Do some more writing. Add scenes to your container as you think of them. Check your pages after a month.
What do you notice? Tell someone you trust – someone gentle and kind. If you have a favorite scene, allow that person to read it. Ask them to give you their honest reaction.
Set your scenes aside for a week and journal about them. Do they make you want to keep going? Do they inspire you to take a writing class, to refine your skills? Do they inspire you toward a goal? Just notice that.
And keep writing . . .
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