Writing About My Trauma Set Me Free

memoirs writing tips Dec 14, 2023
Trauma Writing Set Me Free

I never planned to write a memoir. Even though I had spent a good part of my career ghostwriting and editing other people’s stories, it never occurred to me that I might one day want to tell my own. I convinced myself that others' experiences were much more harrowing than anything that had ever happened to me. What would I write? How my dad didn’t hug me enough when I was a kid? 

Well, as it turned out, this was the first slice-of-life story I wrote as part of a narrative trauma therapy group I first participated in about ten years ago. Once a week, seven or eight other women and I would gather in our therapist’s office (or on Zoom during Covid) to learn how to write about the hurts and harms we had experienced in our childhood years. One or two of us would read our micro-memoirs to the group—snapshots that portrayed a moment in time when our sense of self had been deeply shattered. Sometimes the incidents were heartwrenching, especially stories of childhood abuse. Other times the trauma was less dramatic but deeply damaging, like not receiving affection from my dad.

As we stepped into these past pains, we recounted incidents that had shaped our personal narratives. We learned about the power of particularities—how to write with unblinking detail about our trauma. Utilizing all of our senses to recreate memories as vividly as we could recall them, we relived experiences that had shaped us and allowed ourselves to feel their full impact. By telling our trauma stories within the safety of a close-knit group, we received the validation and connection that happens when others empathetically bear witness to our pain and tragedies.

Doing group story work for nearly a decade has been the most transformative, healing experience of my life. In telling the truth about childhood traumas that had haunted me well into adulthood, I was finally set free. Shame cannot survive the light. And telling our truest, most closely held stories to ourselves and others is a sure way to begin to experience triumph over trauma.

It was this group narrative therapy work that led me to write my first memoir and to realize my mission in life: to help people discover their stories and learn how to give voice to them. This is why I started Write Your Own Life.

Writing about trauma may sound about as appealing as surgically repairing an ingrown toenail. After all, who wants to relive their most painful memories? The fact is the traumas we experience shape us whether we acknowledge them or not. What we think and believe about ourselves and how we relate to others is formed in large part by the hurts and harms we experienced in our most formative years. Time alone does nothing to diminish their power and effect.

Until we confront our trauma stories, we’ll miss the opportunity to re-story our lives—to write a brave new redemptive ending to our most painful chapters. Imagine being free of the burden of shame and fear, and writing your memoir from a place of deep truth and authenticity. When you’re honest in your writing, you invite readers to say “Me too.” Telling the truth breeds connection and has the power to transform you and your readers.


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