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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Skynrd

Trauma Recovery: How to Write Your Own Story


Recovering from trauma is like writing a book or a movie script, and now you get to be the author and hero of the story.


Everyone experiences trauma of some sort. For example, since early 2020 everyone on the planet has been dealing with the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.


 

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”― Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

 

Skip to the End

What is your happy ending? Think about what things look like to you once you have recovered from your traumatic experiences. Write it down if you’d like, it can be a good reminder and motivator. Once you have a clear picture of how your story resolves, it’s easier to find your way there.


Writing a Great Story

Every good book or movie has five elements: Characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. Your trauma experience has these elements too. You already know the characters and setting.


The Conflict: What Happened To You?

Instead of asking “what’s wrong with me?” ask the question “what happened to me?” Your trauma and reaction do not define who you are, they are things that happened to you. It is normal to withdraw and not want to think or talk about the event. There are some things you can try that might help you identify and begin to understand what happened without suffering the extreme emotions connected to it.

  • Watch Your Own Movie. Imagine your favorite actor or actress is playing the role of you in a film about what happened. Mentally observe the events, but try to disconnect your personal emotions. This can be difficult, and it may be helpful to have a counselor or therapist guide you.

  • Change the Narrative. Guilt and shame are common feelings associated with trauma. You might think if you had done things differently or made different choices, the terrible event would not have happened.

The first thing to remember when these thoughts occur is that it did happen, but it is in the past. Beating yourself up will not change what happened.

Next, instead of imagining different outcomes, focus on what actually happened. Look at the parts of the event that you had no control over, such as choices other people made that affected you.

Finally, recognize that the choices you made were based on survival. “Fight, flight or freeze” is a natural, normal response to trauma. We rarely have control over that response in the moment. Be gentle with yourself and recognize that you did the best you could in that place, situation and moment.


The Plot: Stages of Trauma

The plot, which is the part you are in now, follows the three stages of trauma. These stages do not necessarily follow a logical timeline or order, and sometimes repeat. Each person experiences and navigates these stages in their own way.

Stage 1: Stabilization and Safety

Stage 2: Mourning and Remembrance

Stage 3: Integration and Reconnection

Many people withdraw following a traumatic event. You might be experiencing uncomfortable or overwhelming emotions such as anger, fear or guilt. Often people do not feel safe, experiencing anxiety and panic attacks even doing normal daily things. This stage can take a long time to work through, and many people benefit from the help of a counselor or therapist to process their experience and begin to feel safe again.

Trauma involves loss. You have lost something, whether it is a tangible loss such as the death of a loved one, or loss that is difficult to identify such as losing trust in other people. If you are in this stage, you are probably looking for meaning in the event and grieving your losses. The key here is to find a place where you can remember and process the event as if you were reading about it, or watching it on television. Observe it from a safe emotional distance. Again, a counselor or therapist can help guide you through this.

Experiencing trauma changes your view of yourself and the world around you. In this stage, you begin to recognize and understand these changes and incorporate them in healthy ways. By recognizing the traumatic event as part of your history rather than allowing it to define who you are, you can use your experience to grow stronger and more resilient.


The Resolution: Recognize and Use Your Strengths

Now that you have identified, observed and changed the narrative of your trauma, you can use that to write the next chapters of your story. Recognizing the things you CAN do instead of focusing on limitations puts you in a recovery mindset. You do have strengths, evidenced by the fact that you survived your trauma and are here reading this. You are so much stronger than you think you are.


This is where you get to decide what the hero of your trauma story does next. Maybe you collaborate with a counselor or close friend to set some goals. You might use your experience to help others, such as writing a blog or leading a support group. Discovering your strengths might motivate you to change careers, go to college, or move to a different city. You are in control, you get to write the story. You might have to make some edits along the way as you run into obstacles or challenges, but that’s okay. You survived this, and you are strong and resilient.


I would really like to know, what does the next part of your recovery story look like?



References

Anderson, K. (n.d.). The stages of trauma and recovery | claritytherapynyc.com. Clarity Therapy. Retrieved July 6, 2022, from https://www.claritytherapynyc.com/stages-of-trauma-and-recovery/

Dokkedahl, S., Kristensen, T. R., Murphy, S., & Elklit, A. (2021). The complex trauma of psychological violence: Cross-sectional findings from a cohort of four danish women shelters. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1863580

Dye, H. (2018). The impact and long-term effects of childhood trauma. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 28(3), 381–392. https://doi.org/10.1080/10911359.2018.1435328


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