A Writer’s Warning: Writing About Trauma

Dear writers of trauma,

You and I both know that writing about trauma can be cathartic in any form, be it fiction or nonfiction, novel or personal essay. We are encouraged, as writers and storytellers and trauma survivors, to “write our truth” so we can heal but there is an underlying occurrence that I don’t think anyone is talking about.

I know for me personally, I wasn’t even aware that something else — something other than healing — could occur until it happened to me last night.

As I started re-reading my writing, mind you from a reader’s perspective initially, to “get back into the story,” something happened. Somewhere between factual events and character development, between that foggy road of pretend and reality, I started to panic.

As a writer with a diagnosis of PTSD, I wasn’t expecting the intrusive memories to take over or form into a flashback. I wasn’t expecting to remember.

And that surprised me. But it shouldn’t have.

I’ve been with my therapist for five years. He always tells me not to put a timeline on healing but I still try to anyway. “I should be over this by now. It’s been six years!” Most of the time, he doesn’t respond verbally. He usually gives me a look that says, “OK, and…?” He usually smirks and listens patiently as I sit and try to explain to him how I should be better and healed and not traumatized anymore because it’s been so long, because I’m now so far removed from the traumatic situations.

But healing doesn’t work like that. That takes time.

This is not to dissuade you from writing about trauma or from trying to heal by writing; by all means, continue to do so. I mean, that’s one of the main reasons why we write, right?

All of this to say, while writing is cathartic, it can also be painful and triggering. Be careful when opening old wounds.

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