It won’t surprise any of you that I’m a big fan of writing in PTSD recovery. Many of my clients do free writing or journal writing or even fiction or poetry writing – as a way to find language, explore ideas, and discover emotions. There is documented evidence from the work of Dr. James Pennebaker that writing can aid recovery:
When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable. Individuals may see improvements in what is called “working memory,” essentially our ability to think about more than one thing at a time. They may also find they’re better able to sleep. Their social connections may improve, partly because they have a greater ability to focus on someone besides themselves.
Trauma psychology often mentions the importance of integration of the past into the present personality, plus the need to be able to tell the story of your trauma. At the beginning of my recovery I couldn’t do either of those things. In an effort to try, I took on the enormous task of writing my story. Well, what began as a short writing assignment for myself turned into an entire book!
I’m excited to share with you today some big news: I have completed the final edit of BEFORE THE WORLD INTRUDED: a Memoir of Trauma, Survival, Identity & The Pursuit of Joy, which will be published in 2011. I’m even more excited to share a part of the book with you today. You can download for FREE the first 5 chapters here .
I’m not suggesting that you plunge into writing a story as long as mine, but have you considered writing about or around your trauma? Often, taming the words in a set of margins gets the chaos out of your head and begins making order out of it. Try this:
1 - Write out the facts and details of your story from beginning to end. No emotion, just write out the order of events.
2 - Write the same facts and details and add your emotional experience.
3 - Choose one aspect of your trauma and only write about that.
4 - Give yourself the prompt, “I remember….” and just write whatever comes to mind.
The best way to begin writing is not to care about what comes out or how. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax or anything else you were taught in school. All that matters is that the words cross the bridge out of your head and into the world. Start with just 5 minutes, and then each day add 5 more minutes until you have enough time to really explore your thoughts.
As a reward for this kind of internal work, plan something fun for yourself afterward! Go out for ice cream, watch a movie, or meet up with a friend. Bringing things up and out may cause you to experience symptoms and emotions you’ve been surpressing. This is important for healing, but there’s no need to stew in those feelings for the rest of the day. Be gentle with yourself even while you push yourself to move forward.
Are you already using writing? Share your experience and discoveries in the comments!