Memoir, Writing

Finding Healing After Trauma Through Writing


healing trauma

“Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained.”

Thomas M. Cirignano

For those of you who have read Our Story, you know already that I lost a brother; I actually lost two – the first was eight, the other was only five weeks old. I was also, along with my siblings, removed from my home by CPS and placed in foster care twice. It goes without saying that these were traumatizing and life-altering experiences, and since then, I have had to live with the fear that it could happen again. I have had to endure the nightmares and face the old memories of loss, of separation, of tragedy.

Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that I needed to write our story. I was only ten, but I had no qualms about doing it. I knew it needed to be told, and it seemed to make sense to me that I should do it.

At thirteen I started writing.

At first, I could only work on my book during the afternoon or the evening. I was setting myself up for a miserable day if I worked on it in the morning. Depression would set in and I would find myself confronted with the all-too-fresh memories, the ones that I only wanted to bury away.

 “…it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both.”
James Baldwin

It was a battle to write. It is still a battle to write. It’s only gotten incrementally easier, and that’s only because I’m slightly more confident now that I have several years worth of experience beneath my belt.

But if someone were to ask me today if I felt healing through the writing of my memoir, I honestly wouldn’t know what to say.

Writing my memoir was messy. It was confusing. It was painful and scary. It is only upon reflection that I can look back and see the ways in which I was able to grow from it.

“The features of character are carved out of adversity.”
Rick Barnett

I made peace with certain memories.

This seems strange to say, but I found acceptance in my heart about certain incidents that happened after I wrestled them out on paper. Somehow, seeing it there in black and white was a form of restitution. Everything was stripped from me as a child – my family, my home, my security, my innocence, even my sense of safety. Being able to put into words what that was like was powerful. It didn’t restore what had been taken – only God could do that – but it gave me hope that by sharing what I had gone through, I could lay to rest the things that had always haunted me privately.

I found a voice.

I felt powerless as a child, a victim of circumstance, of injustice and prejudice.

I read in this superb article a quote by David Kessler, that “Grief must be witnessed.” I so completely agree. It is terrifyingly lonely to experience loss of any kind. We feel as if no one on the face of the earth has ever known the depths of what we are experiencing, and to be unable to express our pain is a choking feeling that leads to suppression; it leads to feeling invalidated.

As a child, I was denied a voice. I felt hidden in plain sight. People walked all around me and they seemed oblivious – in a sphere all on their own, untouched by tragedy of any kind. Did no one see what I was going through? Did no one care? Being able to – finally – tell what I had experienced was liberating. In some ways, writing restored elements of what was stolen from me.

I faced the ones I was afraid of.

There were men and women involved in what happened to me whom I hold, in my heart, most responsible. I am on a journey, right now, towards complete forgiveness, but these faces were the ones that haunted me at night. How could I face these people, even in my writing? How could I bear to repaint their features so they became real again, to infuse their words with those accents I despised?

At first, writing about them angered me. At times, I was afraid. I feared the repercussions. For a long time, I was afraid of turning 21, because I was afraid they would find me – they would track me down and accuse me of libel, of defamation of character. I insisted upon being kind to their memories, even when they did not merit it. I wrote as truthfully as possible, and when I was unsure, I erased rather than proving, even to a fractional degree, that what their ghosts ranted at me in my dreams was true.

But eventually, I grew accustomed to seeing their names in black and white, over and over again. I stopped seizing up with dread and anger upon facing their existences in my story. I confronted every terrible moment, and I triumphed over them by writing them. Rewriting them. Reading them over and over and over again. I didn’t let their strength prevail against my need to see this story told.

“Aren’t autobiographies born in a question we ask ourselves: how did I get to this point? Don’t we look back over the path and tell ourselves a story? This is how it happened. This is who I am.”
― Frederick Weisel

How did writing – in any of it’s forms – help you come to terms with your past? Have you ever considered writing a memoir?

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