“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Rumi
I have been writing as long as I can remember. Poems, stories, journalling, first person essays, and more. But it’s only in more recent years that I have been exploring the connection between language and trauma, and storytelling and trauma. As a writer, I am fascinated by how we can use language to express the inexpressible. Sometimes it helps to process our life stories alone, and other times processing through language and with others we trust can be healing. I am not a therapist, but I have enjoyed reading and learning from articles and books on writing, storytelling, and trauma.
So much healing can come for those struggling with trauma, when they have a safe place and safe people with whom to tell their story. Recently after struggling through a traumatic incident, a trauma counsellor asked me to write out my story in detail, and then share it with him. This is a careful process that can help us not only process the event, but get it out of our head and onto the page, thereby beginning to release and let go.
Through a writer’s lens
As a writer, I am particularly interested in learning more about how our heightened language in poetry, memoir, and first person essays allows us to process our trauma events. This might be with direct, concrete language, but others might find significant healing in using words that transcend reality, such as symbols, images, and metaphors. When I can find metaphors that fit my experience, they can sometimes transcend my experience in a much larger way than literal words can do. It is like the size and depth of the metaphorical image matches the size and depth of my emotional experience.
I believe that spoken and written language is very limited–words are only symbols that allow us to have basic shared understanding with one another. And yet, when we find the right way to articulate an event that cannot be articulated, it brings healing. In other words, expressing the inexpressible. That is what many poets have spent centuries trying to do.
Kobe Campbell shares on trauma and storytelling
Recently I watched an excellent video by Kobe Campbell, a trauma therapist, who runs and posts on The Healing Circle called Trauma Informed Ministry: Utilizing Storytelling (part of the Church Mental Health Summit). I also heard her speak in my course with Laura Howe and Hope Made Strong. She offers several key steps involved in vulnerable storytelling of one’s trauma, including: a) using emotive language to identify your emotions clearly b) making your story personal and detailed, and being clear about what you need. She explains that trauma-informed means keeping at the forefront that people have experienced trauma and are in pain and in need. She also shares how our brains recall things that have experienced in the past as if it’s happening now, in the present. In other words, our stories matter, and the way that we tell our stories matter.
I also read an interesting article recently, Storytelling, Neuroscience and Healing Trauma by Debra Hosseini. She says that “PTSD is marked by an inability to construct a coherent story of our past. Traumatic memory is like a series of still snapshots without music or words that reside in the right hemisphere of our brains.” She shares several key points which demonstrate that storytelling of traumatic events is healthy: journalling is a free-flowing way to process and let go of trauma; rewriting our stories to move ourselves from place of victim to place of strength; and finally, we can help create a compassionate place for our story.
Finally, I was inspired by Jenny TeGrotenhuis’s post on Reclaiming Our Stories From Trauma. She discusses “identifying and navigating enduring vulnerabilities that we bring forward from our past, and how we need to communicate with significant others what these are because otherwise, we will continue to struggle with trauma hi-jacking our nervous system and keeping us in a pattern of protection rather than connection. Sharing our story or some parts of it, can help us build stronger relationships.
I would love to hear from you!
I am curious: are you a writer? what is your connection with language? And have you had experiences with writing, language, story, and trauma? I’d love to hear your comments below.