Memoirs as Trauma Therapy

The first ‘trauma’ memoir I read was, Piece of Cake, by Cupcake Brown. Some parts of her story parallel mine, and some are very different. Through her words, I began to imagine what it might be like to tell my own story. Reading her book was the catalyst for me to start examining and healing my past.

Perhaps the most insidious part of childhood trauma is the message we receive: from our parents, from other adults, from society, that what happened to us didn’t happen, or didn’t matter, wasn’t real, that we were, ‘making it up’, that it wasn’t a big deal, or that we were weak, maybe even annoying, or stupid for not getting over it.

Even now, more than 25 years after, what we might call, “shit that happened in the past” my chest tightens, and I feel panic when I share, or even think about sharing, parts of my story. It’s as if I’m not allowed to speak about my own life history.

The trauma is that we weren’t given a voice. Something awful, or hurtful happened to us, but we weren’t able to speak about it. Maybe we were too scared to do so. Maybe we weren’t listened to. Regardless, we weren’t protected and weren’t able to recover. We felt, and often were, alone, and we may even have begun to doubt and shame ourselves or talk ourselves into thinking that the hurt we were going through is normal.

Reading others’ stories helps remind us that we do have the right to tell our own and gives us the courage to start doing so. It helps remind us we can confront the narrative: what happened to me wasn’t okay. I think reading others’ stories helps us heal, even if we never decide to share our own out loud too (but please do share your story). It helps us know we aren’t alone, and studies show witnessing others’ healing creates real change and healing in our own brains.

One of my current favorite memoirs (thank you to my client who recommended it to me), is “What My Bones Know”. Stephanie Foo does an amazing job not only of telling her own story but also of explaining Complex PTSD.­­

Important to note – Some of these books deal with significant, capital T trauma. I’ve often heard clients say their own experiences feel minor in comparison. Sometimes we fall further into the trap of thinking we don’t have a right to be upset: other people have had it worse. Remember as you’re reading, the premise is the same: there is power in acknowledging and sharing your story and confronting the idea that I should be quiet about what happened to me and acknowledging that what happened to me affected me. If they can tell their story, we can tell ours. If they can start to heal, we can too.