Telling your story can make all the difference. After having experienced trauma, however, it can be difficult to vocalize, organize, and summarize what you went through. It takes time to craft your narrative. It is helpful to remember that you get to decide how to tell your story. You ultimately determine how to interpret the trauma and its impact. Often the rationale behind horrific experiences does not exist. However, our rationale for how we cope provides valuable insight to help us heal. The narrative approach to recovery helps you gather your thoughts to convey understanding for yourself and others.
Gathering Your Thoughts
After a traumatic experience, you may feel hurt, scared, saddened, angered, or just generally off. Trauma shows up in weird places. It may manifest months or years later through an obsessive thought or a recurring nightmare. Completely unrelated events may feel heavier or strange as the iceberg of suppressed emotions surfaces in an unexpected fashion. Pinpointing the cause of these seemingly unrelated symptoms takes time. However, piecing together a painful memory can serve as the turning point in recovery.
Organizing Those Thoughts
Once you have recalled the traumatic event, it may be helpful to start organizing your thoughts by answering the following questions:
- How old were you when this happened?
- Where were you when this happened?
- How long did the trauma last?
- How did you cope during the trauma?
- How do you cope now?
These five questions can provide a lot of insight into how the trauma affected you at that moment and thereafter. Take some time to consider the questions about coping.
- Did you turn to a support network or keep the problem to yourself?
- Did you start using substances?
- Did you compartmentalize?
Avoid judging yourself for how you coped or are coping. There is no right or wrong way to handle trauma. It is difficult to navigate the victim/survivor paradigm. At times, you may feel weak and that you’ve had so much stripped from you and your life. In other times, you may feel grateful that you made it out and that you survived. How you handle this flurry of emotions will depend on where you are in life and the resources that are available to you.
You may notice that the way you cope has changed. You may dedicate more time to growing healthy relationships now than you did in the past. Alternatively, something may have come up where you feel more isolated and like you cannot open up to others about what you have gone through. No matter where you are at – it is O.K.
Telling Your Story
You get to decide who you tell. No one is entitled to hearing your experiences.
After you have organized your thoughts, you may notice some cause-and-effect trends. Weave that into your story. In a previous blog post, we mentioned some Steps to Empowerment. In Step 2, which is reducing self-blame, the cause-and-effect layer of your story makes all the difference. Maybe you coped with the loss of a loved one through drinking because that is what other members of your community were doing and it felt comfortable at the time. Acknowledging yourself as someone functioning within a larger system will help you craft the unique role you played in the circumstance.
Safeguarding Your Experience
Again, you get to decide who to tell. No one is entitled to hearing your experiences. Choose people who make you feel safe. Take time to assess how they might respond to your story by giving small doses here and there. If you ever feel stigmatized through sharing, consider taking a break from the story for a while.
Healing from Stigma
Sometimes you may share your story and it is not well-received. At this time, it is important to acknowledge your feelings of being misunderstood. Consider some facts about the respondent to your story: Do they have enough experience to understand your perspective? Do they have a different set of values than you? Depending on the answers to these questions, you can determine the source of the stigmatization. Hold on to your experience and remember that you have grown differently from how this person has grown. Your way of growing matters just as much and hold just as much value.
Sharing Opens Doors
When you share your experiences, you can meet like-minded people. Not everyone is going to stigmatize you and some people will open up on their own in return. You can form a sense of connection and shared recovery. This can help you maintain sobriety or participate in other healthy coping mechanisms that you have identified work for you. There is a lot of opportunity on the other side of sharing your story.
The narrative approach to therapy allows for you to learn how to tell your own story as a way to heal from trauma. First, you can gather your thoughts, then organize them into a cohesive story that can express what happened and how it affected you. When you tell your story, make sure to safeguard your experience and take time to heal, especially if you ever experience stigma as a result. Sharing your story has the potential to open doors for you as you heal. At Valiant Living, our men’s-only residential treatment facility in Denver, Colorado, we will teach you how to craft your narrative. Our expert team that treats addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses will equip you with the tools to better understand and relay your past experiences with trauma. For more information, you can reach out to us at (303) 952-5035.