I spoke with someone today who was relieved to learn that she can write without writing about the details of her trauma – and still find healing.
“Abuse isn’t my story. Abuse is the story of those that abused me. How I live with post-traumatic stress, as well as how I parent and pay my bills and love, that’s MY story.” I told her she can write about what she’s struggling with or thinking about right now.
While I’m all about challenging shame and silence and secrecy. I reject the notion that sexual abuse is “my story.” It’s not.
I am clear on is this:
Sexual abuse is the story of the person who perpetrates violence and not the story of the person they violate.
Knowing I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse tells you nothing about my life, my personality or me. It tells you what I lived through.
How I and others live through that is as varied as the number of people who survive.
The trauma of sexual abuse impacts me as an adult and it impacted me as a child.
It doesn’t now nor did it ever define me though.
Which for years I didn’t even know. I honestly didn’t know.
And I still live with post-traumatic stress. But that reality takes up far more of my air and brain than does the details of my abuse. It’s my life I’m living – not the past. Of course, the past impacts the present. A lot. And abuse is one of the causes of my post-traumatic stress. And causes are crucial, central and important to understand. If we don’t understand the causes we we can’t effectively talk about prevention.
But it’s not the only important part of my story.
And it sure as hell isn’t my entire story. As an adult I get to choose when to (or not to) discuss, detail or write about the cause of my trauma. In therapy. In my diary or in conversation.
Totally my choice. Always.
We need a shame-free society in order to make this a viable and real choice. For f’n ever now silence has been virtually the only choice. Luckily, that is changing so this problem of people feeling compelled to tell is kind of new.
But people are saying they feel pressured to share and audibly exhale when told it’s not necessary ever unless it’s desired and wanted, craved or needed.
In other words – please don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Please don’t feel bullied or belittled if you choose to heal in a way as unique as you are.
I say I’m the author of my story because for so long that wasn’t clear or obvious to me. I was a character in the play of my life and I didn’t get to write my own lines or choose the characters or setting I lived in. That’s what it is to be a child.
But I’m not a child now and abuse is not my story.
Survival is my story. Creativity is my story. Parenting is my point. Love and hope and curiosity are high priorities.
We are all entitled to be and heal in ways that serve us best. Even after abuse and adversity. Especially after.
In fact, the more of my energy and healing and life-force energy that is in the present, the more I know the healing work is happening.
I’ll probably always want to share openly and honestly in writing about what’s going on in my daily life. I’m guessing that would be true even if I didn’t have PTSD. I can’t say.
There are still some days of nightmare hangovers and being post-traumatically stressed. And there are days when I’m in bliss and a witness and a friend to another holding hope as well. Sometimes both in the same day. Often both.
But my ultimate life goal is boring and sublime simplicity and to feel and ingest the experiences of my ordinary life. To parent. Walk the dog. Pet the cat. Hug. Hold hands. Plant something. Share a meal.
There’s a saying, “You can’t say yes until you can say no.” I love that.
I’d add, you can’t stay silent until there’s a choice to break silence. We’re starting to have that now. And so, relieved of shame, in whatever ways we find that work for us, we have all new choices.
For me, the top is boring bliss and sacred ordinary.
That never felt like an option while I felt there was a ticking bomb in the bone marrow.
Writing was one of the ways I used to help restore balance. Yoga too. Guided imagery. Connection with others. And sinking into the beauty of routine.
But it’s just one path not THE path.
There’s no pressure TO BREAK SILENCE or tell or share or do more than you want, need or are ready to. Don’t let anyone try to trump knowing what works best for you.
Because I have a blog called Heal Write Now people are surprised when I say, “You NEVER have to write about abuse or trauma. Ever. You don’t have to go into more detail than you choose.”
Honestly, right now, I feel empowered when I refuse to tell “my story” as though it’s the central fact about me. When I get a new doctor who wants me to talk about early childhood, I say, “It’s in the file notes. I’ll wait while you read them if it feels relevant to you. It doesn’t benefit me to speak about in detail. Ask me anything.”
I rarely feel better if a stranger wants me to discuss the most painful parts of my life.
Saying, “Not here, not now and maybe not ever with you” feels great.
Sharing in more detail than I want or if it’s early or I’m stressed or I don’t feel safe or the response is lousy usually makes me feel uneasy and unsettled for minutes to hours to days.
I don’t have to go through that if I don’t want to.
Neither do you.
Plus, a lot of what is asked when it comes to early abuse or trauma, ends up with me explaining stuff abusers or parents or others did or didn’t do.
I don’t speak for them. I don’t even wish to summarize their choices. I can speak only for me. This is a way of releasing shame and responsibility for choices I didn’t get to make.
It feels great!
I get to decide which parts to fill in or leave blank.
You get to do what soothes and speaks to you. And you get to NOT DO whatever doesn’t speak to you. And in your own time and if and when it feels safe and healthy and helpful to do so.
Maybe you love yoga or writing or surfing or coloring. Or hiking or traditional talk therapy. Maybe you need to detail all you lived through and how hard it was and how epicly strong you are. And maybe you don’t.
100% YOUR CHOICE!
Remember when the talk therapists said, “You have to feel it to heal it” and that was the only way?
And then later learned actually, too much talking is re-traumatizing and makes symptoms worse?
You decide what works for you now and in this moment. Only you.
Even the experts aren’t always right. Especially when it comes to trauma.
If you want to write about living with post-traumatic stress or complexity and never want to write about what caused the symptoms, that’s fine. That’s great. I love not censoring myself when I free-write.
It’s empowering too know the choice is mine. The choice is yours.
And if you wish to break silence and share every part of your life story, including details about abuse, that’s available now too. There are even survivor led groups and workshops to do that with peer and in community and outside of clinical settings if that speaks to you. That wasn’t always true.
Say It, Survivor has a workshop coming up in Weymouth in June which will empower survivors. They are awesome and share their story and invite you to be with others exploring theirs.
You get to decide on any given day what your story is and which parts, if any, you wish to share.
Or not. You are not required to share in a certain way in order to heal or via styles that don’t work for you. There’s no one right way to heal. None. Many of us lost our power as children. We might not always feel like we have power as adults. But we do.
And there’s nothing more healing than being your own advocate and knowing and honoring what you feel and need.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.