Honoring Silence……….

What happens when we can’t write? When the ability to write abandons us? How can we make sense of this and explain the not-writing periods?

Selective mutism is a response to trauma where people stop speaking (Celie, the heroine of Alice Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is rendered mute by the abuse she suffers, eventually writing helps her break the silence). Harriet Shawcross explores the phenomenon of selective mutism in her book Unspeakable, part memoir, part investigative journalism. It happens all over the world.

Yet when writing isn’t happening it’s called Writer’s Block which suggests an external wall rather than an internal response to the inexpressible. Anais Nin, the 20th century feminist diarist said:

We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospect.

so it seems to make perfect sense that we should not want to taste out trauma twice and that writing would desert us in order to protect us.

There have been two significant periods in my life when I couldn’t write – in my teens and just the last few months (slowly now the ability to write in coherent sentences is returning, but not yet the ability to write story). Both times it was after a major trauma. Yet each time I felt frustrated because the very means by which I make sense of the world and process experience had deserted me.

Having been a journal writer since I could make marks on the page, it was extremely distressing to have a period in my teens when I could not write—I literally could not write—a neurological event utterly disrupted my mental and physical processes. The re-learning was slow. I was unlanguaged and felt cut off from my very self when I could not write.

(Thompson K. & and Wright J. 2015 Honoring Silence in  Adams & Thompson (eds)Expressive Writing  Counseling and Healthcare: Rowman and Littlefield)

I see over and over again that some clients who have suffered childhood abuse find it possible to write before they can speak about it. But this is a slow and tender process, one that must be broken down into small and contained parts. Traumatic memories are stored in the non-verbal parts of the brain and restoring the narrative requires access to words.

Prompt: If writing has become hard or seems to have disappeared then remember that one word counts, that a phrase or an image contains much more than itself. So, write the word  and without context. Do not try to put it into a story. Do not yet try to tell the story of your trauma. Story time will come later. And for once, do not re-read, do not reflect, leave your marks on the page and come back to them when time has passed.

Above all, be gentle with yourself.

 

 

 

Choose Memory 2……..

Not the time Jane threw a coffeepot at Don,
but the time they swam with turtles in Puako Bay.

The poem looks at how different memories are associated with events, people, places in our lives or in history. It pairs a negative memory with a positive one, implicitly inviting us to choose the good rather than the bad.

Journal prompt: write a series of couplets alternating negative and positive related memories,  beginning each:

Not the time……………

But the time…………….

cropped-dsc01256.jpgNostalgia, the bittersweet emotion, that mixture of regret for what has gone and sweetness of what it was, offers us the choice of focussing on the sadness and loss or the happiness, not wallowing in loss or bitterness but celebrating the good parts of our experience.

Nostalgia researcher Krystine Batcho says: “When we reminisce nostalgically, we want to bring the best of our past into our present”. She suggests that ruminating on a friendship that has ended can take us in two different ways – we can choose to focus on the loss, things that went wrong or we can focus on the good aspects of the experience:

Journal prompt: explore a friendship that has ended

What did you get out of it?

What did you share?

What are the things you want to remember?

How did it become a part of who you are today?

A recent study identified by Tokyo Metropolitan University identified  two characteristics of nostalgic memory:

1) they are personally significant

2) they are ‘chronologically remote’ and have not been much mulled over so that when they are recalled there is an element of novelty.

Nostalgic memories are often triggered by seeing an old photograph or an object from the past or hearing a tune or sound connected with an old event.

Journal prompt: look at a photograph or listen to a piece of music from your past

Set a timer for 15 minutes (so you don’t disappear into the past for too long).

Notice the sensations evoked in you. Write in the present tense about any memories that come to mind, describe them in detail.

After 15 minutes, read through what you’ve written and think about what you want to keep, what aspects you’d like to re-kindle (for example qualities or activities that you have allowed to lapse)  and what you have learnt.

 

If you have thoughts about these prompts please leave me a comment.

Notice: there are places still available on the half day workshop in Boulder on June 29th workshop

Expressive Writing for Health, Trauma Recovery and Wholeness: customise your journal for your needs

Choose Memory…..

6 degrees
6° F – so cold and bleak

In January people are often concerned with looking forward, making new resolutions , moving on. But what about remembering? What, or rather how, do you choose to remember?

On Tuesday it was 6°F, bitter cold – but a few days later it’s 60° F. I can choose what to remember about this and how to remember it  –  the temperature was a fact but there was beauty and some excitement in the extreme.

Joy Harjo’s poem Remember (which I have used in groups recently  – one person said ‘at last you’ve found one I like!’), invites us to remember many things about ourselves and the world. She exhorts us to connect with our lives and our worlds, and encourages resilience and strength. It begins:

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.

and continues with invitations to remember many things including:

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

The poem calls us to Remember, as an injunction, 15 times.

People in my groups wrote deeply and movingly in different ways in response to this. Several people wrote about mothers, living or dead, someone wrote emotionally about her mother but also compassionately about her troubled self when her mother died. Some people wrote about their values and their beliefs, others wrote about specific people or events. They saw that they could choose what and how to remember – in writing about the past they chose how to think about it.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that there are things about the past that can’t be changed or denied, the facticity, but we can choose to change our attitude to those things.

In Christmas Days – 12 stories and 12 feasts for 12 days Jeanette Winterson echoes this:

…it’s a fact that our memories change as we do….you can go back in time, you can heal the past. It may be fixed as a fact – what happened happened – but it isn’t fixed in the ongoing story of our lives.

 

6 degrees and sunny
6°F and so beautiful and sunny

Journal prompt: Think about things you want to remember, choose the details and the attitude. Write a list poem (or simply a list) beginning each line:

Remember…

When you’ve finished read it through and give yourself some feedback beginning:

When I read this I feel………….

As 2018 begins – choose what you want to remember and what you want to bring with you. Leave a comment below.

 

 

Hope is the thing with feathers…….

Winter snowHere is the link to the third in the series of free audio workshops on Writing for Resilience: Shifting our emotional landscapes that Mary Reynolds Thompson & I put together in response to the fires in northern California, the floods and hurricanes in other places and the general turmoil in which we live. In this one we begin to look at regeneration and renewal.

Thank you to everyone who has commented on these, shared their responses with us and the links with others.

Continuing this theme – here’s a poem by Denise Levertov, another transplant from the UK to the US, who swapped the landscape of her birth (Ilford, England) for the landscape of the west (Seattle, USA).

Hope It’s True

I have a small grain of hope –
One small crystal that gleams
Clear colors out of transparency.
I need more.

I break off a fragment
To send you.
Please take
This grain of hope
So mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
So that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
Will hope increase,

Like a clump of irises which will cease to flower
Unless you distribute
The clustered roots, unlikely source—
Clumsy and earth-covered—
Of grace.

–Denise Levertov

©material used for educational purposes.

Journal prompts:

DSC01229.

 

What is hope for you?

List the people with whom you share hope

Write a letter to someone who gave you hope or to whom you gave hope.

Write an 8 line list poem, beginning each line

I hope………..

 

 

Literary landscapes…..

20160811_101102The second free mini workshop in the series Writing for Resilience: Shifting our Emotional Landscape is available for you to listen to here. (The link to workshop 1 is in the previous post.)

In this Mary Reynolds Thompson and I guide you through a two part write about a favourite literary landscape. This exercise is adapted from our chapter Inner and Outer Landscapes: bringing environment into the therapeutic relationship through expressive writing in Environmental Expressive Therapies.

There are many books with a strong sense of place, where the landscape itself becomes a character. I can remember many books I read as a child that featured strong or memorable scenery – some landscapes were familiar to me, others gave me access to new and different worlds. As an adult, reading books set in previously familiar but now distant landscapes is another joy and way to re-connect with my past.

Journal prompt: Make a list of landscapes in books that have made an impression on you. What do you notice about this list? Make notes on the significance of each one.

Do let me know what books with strong landscapes have made an impression on you, an impression that perhaps you have retained. Please leave a comment on this post.