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Heal PTSD: Five Steps to Stop Sanitizing Your Stories

How to W.R.I.T.E. your trauma experience.

Key points

  • People who suffer from PTSD may find it hard to share their trauma stories, though it's essential for healing.
  • Society sanitizes trauma stories , which keeps PTSD in place for those suffering.
  • An ancronym W.R.I.T.E. can help those suffering with PTSD journal to not only write but right their trauma.
  • Writing can help those suffering from trauma come to terms with the reality of what happened.

My husband held my hand as I cried. "I don't know why that therapist thought I was making up my story." We had gathered in an Asheville, NC, bookstore to read Eve Ensler's The Apology, a fictional letter Ensler wrote to heal from her father's abuse. Participants were to write and read an apology they wished for from their abuser.

After I read my letter, the cofacilitator said, "I'm so glad you identified yourself as a storyteller and your share was fictional. It triggered me, I almost stopped you."

I responded, "I'm sorry. All the facts in my letter happened to me when I was eight years old."

He said, "You should have stopped sharing your story."

I never went back.

My husband consoled me, "Michelle, just because people have a hard time hearing the facts of your story doesn't mean you shouldn't share." He explained that society doesn't allow the abused space to share horrific details.

It had me reflect on my silence. When i was 17, my testimony put in jail the pedophile who had abused me as a child. After that, I tried to forget the abuse had happened. Even people close to me said, "Why would you want to be defined by that story?"

Perhaps the silence is why abuse victims find themselves middle-aged with a body and brain still stuck in something that happened in childhood.

Imagine cutting yourself with a knife and instead of protecting the wound from further dirt, you smear more dirt into it and pretend it doesn't exist. The wound would have a hard time sealing skin to protect the opening. Keeping my sexual assault details silent—even from my therapist—stalled my ability to heal from them.

Now at age 52, I realize I sanitized my story because every time I tried to share it, I was encouraged to leave the horrors in the past and not relive them. How can you come to terms with what happened if you're constantly in a haze about the details?

I believe I didn't fully heal my mental injury until I embarked on writing a memoir about what happened to me. My husband encouraged me to write it all down. In the process of writing, I created a new process I call "W.R.I.T.E. the trauma."

If you're not willing to dig into the dirt of your trauma's details, the reality and horror of what you experienced will continue to haunt you. It did me. This affects your body, mind, and ultimately your spirit to live and thrive. I don't pretend that it's easy. I didn't tell my family and support network the complete details until I was in my 50s. I hope my experience and the process I created help you take one step closer to facing your story and healing for good.

Wasabi Publicity/Adobe/tirachard/used with permission
Sharing your authentic story helps you heal and society become trauma-informed.
Wasabi Publicity/Adobe/tirachard/used with permission

Write the Trauma Process

1. Write down your trauma.

2. Relate to what's real about your trauma.

3. Interrupt the internal, incessant chatter about your trauma.

4. Tell your story to people who have earned your trust.

5. Embody the experience with exercise, theater games, therapy, brain training, sensory stimulation, and more.

Music, Movement, and Books Soothe Mental Injury

As I write—even now —music helps me focus. Without music, I'm lost in my looping thoughts. Mental injuries cause this. I've stopped fighting this. Like blinders on a horse, I either tame my thoughts with beta waves of music or books to lull my attention away from self-sabotage.

I find I must move my body daily, especially after writing, so 12 years ago I became a group fitness instructor. To pump my body's endorphins and keep my blues at bay, I teach group fitness. It's a structure that really works for me.

Get a Hobby. Play Outside.

Theater games are also good if you don't like movement. In high school and college, I loved being part of improv games and actually carried them well into my adulthood by performing them at children's birthday parties..

You can also find me whitewater kayaking or mountain biking to work out the memories my body wants to pacify. Writing is my first step to sort out the details of what I'm experiencing. Moving helps me move the trauma out of my body.

Share Your Story with a Trusted Listener

My husband and I developed a lovely ritual. After I write in the morning, he loves to listen to my stories after dinner. Whether the stories are humorous or horrific, he embodies unconditional love just by listening. Find someone in your life you can trust to simply listen to you without judgment.

Those of us dealing with complex PTSD may always have a body that relives memories we work to forget. Today, instead of suppressing the memories and stories that come up , I allow them, write them down, share them with someone I trust, and then move to celebrate being alive. I hug my sled dog, cuddle with my husband, or rage down a steep downhill mountain biking trail.

I move the memory from one that's frozen to one that moves me into flow, the flow of being and experiencing being alive. Here's to you moving from the fight, flight, freeze to flow. Write to right what's wrong.

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