June 17 Fact

Telling your story

Telling your story of trauma is a powerful way to get resolution, put the trauma behind you, and move on to a new life. Sounds fairly simple, right? In fact, to many PTSD sufferers, the thought of telling their story is almost as terrorizing as living through the trauma.

To tell or write their story, PTSD sufferers must revisit the trauma and describe all the fears, feelings, pain, shock, and betrayals they experienced. But believe me (and research), it’s worth the pain and effort to put this trauma behind you. When I finally described my story in detail on paper, I started to feel better at last.

Researchers say that when people get PTSD, it’s because the trauma gets “stuck” in a part of the brain that believes the trauma is still happening. The simple act of telling your story could clear out this blockage. It’s almost as if you are reassuring this protective part of your brain that it can let go, and you’ll take over. By describing your emotions, the setting, and what you saw, heard, or felt, you process the story logically, giving other parts of your brain access to the trauma information. Then they will do their jobs to help your brain heal and to help you recover.

A war veteran* explained that, “As I went through these exercises, put the truth down in black and white, something clicked. I started to not just hear the truth about the situation, but to believe it.” Telling your story gives you power over what happened. It’s your story, and you can tell it however and whenever you want.

Clinicians who support sharing stories of trauma also know that sufferers must tell their story over and over again. Once is not enough. I must have told my story 50 times before I finally decided to write it down. That act made it clear that it was my story and it actually happened. Then I began to get control over the story and over my life.

Careful preparation helps PTSD sufferers benefit most from writing their stories. For example, you could develop a “preparation plan” by considering:

  • What’s a safe place to tell or write your story?
  • Do you want someone with you? Who would be a safe person to fill this role?
  • Will you tell it all at once, or share parts of it over time?
  • Think the process through ahead of time, so you’ll have an idea of what to expect.
  • Remember that you can stop at any time. You are in control.

In my book, “Hope After Trauma and PTSD,” you’ll find a series of writing prompts that can help you organize and fully describe what happened to you. I hope you’ll take a look the next time you visit Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1984917153

*Association of the United States Army, “Words Matter: Telling Your Story as an Alternative to Medication for PTSD,” Diana Clark Gill, November 16, 2017