Writing about trauma


Let the darkness out.

I’m a fan of Brené Brown and the wonderful work she does around vulnerability. Listening to her talks and prompted me to think about my own bravery, my willingness to share my story and not hold back.

But vulnerability was not an area I felt comfortable with. Didn’t know how to do it, didn’t like the feeling of my emotional wounds being exposed.

I know there is purpose in sharing your story. There is power created when you bring light to your pain and speak about the challenges in your life.

I’ve written about domestic violence, rape and bereavement. I’ve read books and watched films that cover the same topics. I’ve been amazed by how my mind takes me to dark places when I write, how my imagination creates horrendous scenarios for my characters to face.

The beginning

Years and years ago, long before I wrote my book, I was an avid member of Writing.com I wrote short stories and would share them online for feedback. My stories mostly covered domestic violence, I was a bit obsessed with it. I believed then in writing what I knew and I guess this was reflected in the stories I wrote.

But that’s all they were, just stories. So when readers responded with concern, convinced they were anecdotes from my life, I retreated. I wasn’t ready.

The middle

In my years of writing and publishing my books, I’ve explored different ways of telling stories about women. Poetry, short stories, even a book about writing. I’ve held workshops and Facebook Live videos with writing tips, which is all pretty interesting but I’ve learned something new: people want to share their story.

And what’s key here is to recognise that while writing is my own passion, other people are equally driven by the desire to be heard.

So I stepped back for a minute, rethought my whole brand and my whole way of existing in this creative community. I don’t always want to talk about writing, not in the teaching sense, not in a way that takes away from the power that comes from it. I love writing, but I love the magic that is created when someone writes their story.

I’ve coached women who are planning and writing their life stories, and marvelled at their bravery in sharing so much.

And I’ve wondered why I can’t do the same, why I’ve been holding back for so long. Then I realised; I hadn’t begun the healing process. I hadn’t acknowledged and accepted the enormity of what I’d been through.

How can you write about an experience you haven’t processed yet? No wonder I was reluctant to start, I was scared of what might come out. I was scared to read my experience back and know what it was. It made it real. It made it something I couldn’t hide from or deny.

But it was the only way to move forward. Unpicking my own trauma through counselling has given me the tools I needed to finally start writing about it. To say, yes, I am a survivor.

The now

I’ve been writing my life story. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. It was like I’d turned a tap on and the truth just gushed out.

To give you an insight, I thought about the lessons my life had taught me. I wrote them down. They have become my chapters. Then I made notes under each chapter. That became a rough outline. And then I just wrote, not tying myself to a particular order or anything like that. Right now I’m concentrating on giving my inner child a voice and telling that story through my writing.

Any apprehension or fear I had before has gone. I don’t feel as emotionally tied to my past as I once did. I understand that is not my current experience, and writing about it is really just bringing light to a cry that was never, ever heard.

Writing about your trauma

I understand that writing about yourself is scary. People tend to worry about the consequences of telling their story, others don’t really care. I say it’s better to just write about it and then decide at the end what you’re going to do with it. Looking at it as a complete piece of work will give you context, editing will give you clarity on what you are happy to share and what you need to take out, taking time to do this will help you heal.

There are a number of ways to write about your trauma without explicitly stating that it is based on truth:

Short stories – think of them as snapshots of your life, with a few fictional characters to shake things up a little.

Poetry – In the past I’ve found poetry a great way of expressing my hurt and anger. It is quite literally a tool for turning pain into art.

Blog posts – You can turn your experiences of trauma into How-To’s, Tool-kits, Top Ten’s etc.

Self help – You can indirectly use your trauma to write a guide for overcoming it. What did you face? What did you learn? What helped you?

Writing about it in this way will create some distance between you now and you then. It will help you to feel more in control in what you share and how it affects you. You’ll focus less on telling your story and more on how to draw the lessons or inspiration from it. But ultimately, you will put pen to paper and start the process.

None of this is particularly easy, but inside of you is a cry that was never heard, never comforted.

It’s time to bring light to that darkness and let your story be heard.

I’m listening.

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