Giving a voice to trauma through writing

Giving a voice to trauma through writing

What images does your mind conjure up when you hear the word ‘trauma’?

Trauma was not a word I truly understood until fairly recently – which considering my own ‘story’ is rather ironic. For me, the word trauma was a bit like the word ‘stress’. In my world, stress was bandied about with such frequency and was attributed to so many of our less desirable behaviours that I failed to realise the impact actual stress had on us as human beings.

It wasn’t until I began working on a health publication in the UK, many moons ago, that my education really began around what actually happens within the body when it’s flooded with stress chemicals. I was surprised to learn ‘stress’ is not just something in your head, nor is it just something to say when someone is red in the face with anger or exasperation. It affects your mental and physical health and, yes, it can be a killer left unchecked. Which brings me back to ‘trauma’.

If your mind brought forth images of limbs being lost through war, or horrific incidents or death-defying accidents you’re not alone. The sad reality is, while yes trauma does indeed happen in these scenarios, trauma can often begin at home.

Domestic violence, sexual abuse, mental and emotional cruelty or neglect, serious illness, the loss of a loved one and suicide are all forms of trauma within the home. It can be a one-off event, or it can happen over and over, again and again. Trauma can take the form of an extreme event or betrayal or lots of smaller more insidious occurrences.

Research now shows how damaging trauma can be. In fact, trauma fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities. Up until I committed to my own trauma counselling – I had no idea how much my trauma had shaped me – even though I thought I’d spent most of my life making sure it didn’t!

Recognising that you have lived through trauma can take many years, let alone how long it may take you to be brave enough to actually turn up at a trauma counsellor’s appointment. However, that appointment is just what’s required if you are to take the necessary steps toward healing.

I wanted to help a friend who was having some challenges, so in between writing workshops and healing sessions I was doing a bit of extra reading. I happened to come across an article about stress and anxiety being a by-product of trauma.

The article drew me in and suddenly a wave of emotion swept over me with the realisation that I myself displayed and felt the whole range of ‘classic symptoms’. I read further and further until I realised, those things I’d put down to my sometimes ‘feisty’ personality or extreme PMT, were actually the hallmarks of Trauma.

I didn’t go to war – not in the conventional sense – but my home-life growing up was my very own personal warzone where I was constantly under attack of enemy fire. This childhood experience propelled me into further abuses and ‘traumatic’ experiences. As I got older I observed my own reactions seemed to veer chaotically between the manifestations of fight, flight, freeze and ‘befriend’.

So yes it can take a long time to acknowledge you are a survivor of trauma – particularly if you have never truly understood what the word encompassed. However, gradually, you begin to realise life isn’t meant to be lived this way- and the best bit is – if you are willing to do the work – you can change your life!

And here’s where it gets REALLY interesting!

Trauma lives in a place that can be very difficult to reach with normal words and language or description, and might only be accessed, initially at least, through the ‘symptoms’.

At best trauma can manifest in indescribable anxiety, a sick feeling or a heavy, empty ache … either quite randomly or as the result of a smell, a place – or even someone’s expression! At worst, trauma can meet you through uncontrollable rage, addiction or life-limiting behaviour. Sometimes all of this and more …

In order to reach the trauma – to give it a voice – you must find a safe way to express it. This is where ‘expressive arts’ can come in very useful. Without getting too deep into the detail here, a qualified expressive arts therapist will combine psychology and the creative process to promote emotional growth and healing.

This intermodal approach to psychotherapy and counselling utilises our inherent desire to create, as a therapeutic tool to help the desired shift occur. The difference between expressive arts therapy and art therapy is that expressive arts therapy draws from a variety of art forms, while art therapy tends to be based on one particular art form (such as writing, painting, music or dance).

Indeed, when I look at my own family I am astounded to realise we walk the ‘creative’ art side of the track (in terms of our professional life and our personal lives too).

My brother and my sister are artists and nowadays they work as teachers in Art & Design – my brother also plays music (another expressive art form). My daughter designs brand identities. Now admittedly, my whole family inherited their natural creative talent from my mother who was also a gifted and talented artist. However, co-incidentally, having lived in an orphanage with her brother from the age of 5, it’s fair to say my mother had her fair share of trauma too. And then there’s me – a writer and practitioner.

Had we naturally found the tool within to ‘save ourselves from our trauma’? After all, the 3 of us had experienced what it was like to live in an abusive household – albeit from very different perspectives. By following our collective creative dreams we had the means to access that gateway to healing!

Who knows, as a writer and a healer – perhaps I knew on some level that I had the tools within to make sense of the events in my life – and have made sense of them through a lifetime of writing and the appropriate counselling – brought these learnings into my healing practice to help others find their way back from their own trauma.

Perhaps we three siblings had a strong survival instinct and dug into our inner worlds to make sense of the outer world …we just didn’t know it at the time.

The wonderful news is – according to the research post-traumatic stress disorder is reversible. The human brain can be re-wired. The brain may be a finely-tuned instrument but it is heartening to know that the brain also has an amazing capacity to regenerate and heal.

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