ISSUE No. 4

Clerestory

A clerestory is a window which allows light and air into the body of an old building. Clerestory Magazine stories explore the personal, social, and political dimensions of human flourishing.

The Clerestory Podcast S1 E14

Life Together: A Community Special
Loading... 00:00:00 / 00:31:20

Healing Trauma through the Writing Process

Please be advised, this essay discusses sexual violence and domestic violence. If you or someone you know is looking for resources and support, visit RAINN or The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“You healed yourself through writing.” a friend said to me, her eyes locked to mine through the Zoom screen, as I finished telling her my story of how I became a writer.

“How did you heal yourself through writing?” she asked.

I looked at her. I was shocked, hearing these words for the first time, even though I had been writing for almost three years. For the first year and a half, I wrote anonymously under my Instagram pen name, “Sincerely Miss Mary,” which I created in 2018 when I began journaling about the gaslighting and manipulation I was experiencing in an abusive relationship. I wrote from an open wound. I was still living, breathing, and entangled in the abuse after I told my partner (now ex) that his best friend sexually assaulted me.

During this time, I wrote poems to myself every day, multiple times a day, every time my former partner gaslighted me into silence so that I could never condemn his friend’s actions.

When he made me cry, I wrote.

When he made me angry, I wrote.

When he victim-blamed me, I wrote.

Every single heartbreak poem posted anonymously on Instagram.

I split in two, taking on two postures. In one, I coped with a response called “fawning,” in which you befriend your perpetrator in an attempt to protect yourself. In the other, in my writing, I was a heroine, who stood up for herself and spoke her mind.

As I wrote more frequently, my dialogue became more assertive. I began to embody the persona I created through my writing, which eventually led me to condemn the assaulter publicly. My identity behind my anonymous pen name was revealed to friends and family. The person behind the pen name stepped into the light.

Sincerely Miss Mary was integrated into my mind, body, and spirit. Not only was I no longer playing small in my writing, I was also behaving this way in my actual life by no longer letting others dictate my worth.

Before the creation of Sincerely Miss Mary, I was a codependent people pleaser who spread myself thin by putting everyone first, including the man abusing me.

Writing in the future tense of a persona I desired to become allowed me to easily step into this role as someone who didn’t tolerate abuse of power. I was now unapologetically myself.

Writing was my tool of survival. It rescued me from a life that was unsafe and guided me to use my voice. I unknowingly used this type of trauma-informed healing modality taught by mental health professionals. Fascinated by my healing modality, I began to psychoanalyze my healing process by speaking to trauma-informed licensed therapists, certified life coaches, and spiritual thought leaders.

Allie Davis, an ecofeminist therapist with a Ph.D., in healing women from interpersonal violence, described the early stages of my writing as entering the role I needed to play to escape the abusive relationship. She explained that I wrote as the future version of myself, which led me to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was never one to advocate for myself before writing. From a young age, I was taught to be silent and complicit, to not create chaos or disrupt the peace. I tolerated a prolonged period of abusive behavior because I was culturally conditioned to keep the peace by being accommodating. Standing up for myself through writing gave me the sense of agency to feel empowered to advocate for myself. I was now giving myself permission to raise my voice about the injustices happening in my life. I was cultivating feelings of worthiness within, rather than seeking it outside of myself.

By writing this way frequently, I began to build neural pathways in my brain that were initially blocked through a trauma bond: an attachment formulated with your abuser that makes it difficult to leave. Creativity can help us get unstuck from trauma. In my case, using poetry as my creative outlet was my saving grace.

Trauma writing is an exploration of the emotional truth of our experiences. We relive the challenging moments again, but this time, we give ourselves permission to feel everything freely. We often suppress emotions that cause us pain and turmoil. When we do this, though, we quiet our inner knowing, which affects our ability to listen to our intuition, the root essence of being human.

Stephanie Venditto, life coach and dear friend of mine, described my writing process as a gift that came to me at my darkest hour. Living in the darkness of my abuse, I was able to meet myself, my fears, and my truths I was avoiding through feeling the rage, betrayal, disparity, and letting the words flow freely.

In moments of vulnerability, we meet our true selves. Permission to immerse ourselves in the full range of human emotion can help unblock trauma that can get stuck in our bodies. We are always valid in how we feel, how we choose to feel it, and when we decide to feel it. We must accept ourselves where we are. Through the writing process, we learn about our beliefs, where they came from, and let go of the shame we carry from the weight of trauma.

Heidi Landis, aLicensed Creative Arts Therapistwho also co-leads part of my Trauma Writing Mastermind Program, says, “Trauma is transformed when you can thank the roles you once played that helped you survive and allow it to retire so you can create space to become the author of your story.”

She is describing the healing power of storytelling. When my poetry slowly turned into full-length personal essays, I relieved the story of my trauma, while witnessing my story from a safe place, far from my abuser. Writing from my scars allowed me to explore the lessons of the past and reframe the experiences of pain, betrayal, and rejection through belonging and safety. Taking charge of my story arc as both the main character and the observer of the emotional truths of my experiences allowed me to transform my trauma into a chapter so I could move forward as the author of my life. In this explorative process of writing our stories, we can learn to forgive the past version of ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know. Self-forgiveness paves the way for growth.

When we can make meaning out of painful experiences of our lives, we can reclaim the narrative and reclaim our power. By speaking our truths, we humanize the trauma, learn to forgive our past selves, and hold compassion for the parts of ourselves that no longer serve us in the present moment. This is how we turn trauma into transformation.

Trauma can separate us from our identities, thus making us feel like we don’t belong here. It can lead to depressive episodes, emotional flashbacks, and cyclical feelings of unworthiness. By writing our stories, we can rebuild our sense of worth and the foundation of who we are. Someone with trauma desires safety and security to be their true selves. Michelle Mouthis, LCSW, Licensed Therapist and relationship coach, says, “The most aligned relationships outside of you holds fast to the anchor of your most authentic self within you.” Michelle speaks to cultivating authentic self-identity to create an inner world of safety that will then translate to our outer world.

Sharing my vulnerable stories paved the way for me to feel safe being myself in this world. By creating a sense of safety in my inner world, I was then able to create an outer world of safety with healing relationships. Relationships can break us, but safe relationships can heal us, which can begin by sharing our stories in safe spaces. Writing heavy moments from our lives is a step towards self-empowerment. We heal through unraveling our stories and moving towards self-discovery. When we decide to share our stories with the world, we can heal others through sharing experience. We can heal as a collective and be empowered to be ourselves in the space of acceptance.

My life and career coach, Jackie Ghedine, of The Resting Mind, has taught me to share my stories without fear of judgment. “People will judge you no matter what,” says Jackie. To have acceptance for differing opinions of others has helped me to focus on the right people in my life. This advice allows us to focus on the right audience that will resonate with our story. The ones who will feel less alone from reading our words are the ones that matter. Trusting our courage will manifest our stories reaching those in need of a silver lining.

Trauma writing is a powerful tool, which humanizes trauma. It gives us permission to feel our full emotions without shame, validate our lived experiences, and explore old belief systems no longer serving us so that we can move forward as new versions of ourselves. We all have the desire to be seen, heard, and validated, especially when an event out of our control compromises our ability to be who we are and take up space in the world. We are all deserving of telling our stories, passing our courage, and creating a safer world where we can heal as a collective.

Maryann Samreth is a trauma writing coach helping people write their trauma stories and heal through the process. She has published over 100 poems and personal essays online and has reached over 1 million people with her stories and through her podcast, Mental Breakthrough. She is the founder of Sincerely Miss Mary, where she hosts group courses for trauma writing. Join her next trauma writing course.

.

Discover more from Maryann Samreth.
essay Gentle-Therapy: An Interactive Fairytale

There is no magic deeper than re-telling a story, for you are giving yourself agency to assign meaning and (most importantly) to assign usefulness to time and events. When fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “Our lives are fairytales written by God’s fingers,” it was not just a cute ditty— it was a magic healing spell. 

interview On Embodied Liberation: An Interview with Leadership Coach and Founder of Embodied Black Girl, Thérèse Cator

Thérèse Cator is a mother, leadership coach, embodiment practitioner, storyteller and founder of Embodied Black Girl, a collective dedicated to the “embodied liberation,” flourishing, mental health, and wellness of Black women.