Healing or Avoiding?: The Pros and Cons of Writing About Personal Trauma
By: Alexandria Roswick
Years ago, I published my first #MeToo story on social media. I was very deliberate about how I shared this essay with a majority of the people I knew. Instead of sending a link to my friends and family, or even letting them know that I was going to post it, I simply waited for people to see it and read it. I assumed that if they wanted to, they’d reach out to me.
I was not interested in asking my family or friends what they thought about it. I didn’t promote it or begin conversations about it. I was content to post it, log off and silence my phone.
To this day, as you can see, I still write about my experiences with sexual violence on Medium and the Say It Loud blog. However, I’ve come to a bit of an odd realization. What seems like such an empowered narration of my traumatic events is actually a little bit of self-protection.
Of course, writing this essay years ago is what allowed me to find the confidence to relinquish control of my narrative and lift my once-silenced voice. It was certainly a defining moment for me, and the beginning of my writing career.
That being said, I can’t deny that casting the article out into the ether was, to me, much less vulnerable than confiding in people face to face. And deep down, I knew it would be.
I’d already talked to a handful of people about my story before drafting my essay and decided that I hated leading those conversations. It made me feel squeamish to talk about violent circumstances and personal emotions out loud. I felt like I was not in my body while it was happening. I was too aware of other people’s feelings in response to my words.
When it comes to journaling poetry, publishing on Medium, or writing anything anywhere, I can drop my truth bombs without having to deal with all of that. Obviously, I’ve seen my share of disrespectful reader comments. But when strangers are ignorant assholes, it doesn’t phase me so much.
Alternatively, there are many risks involved in sharing details with the people I know personally.
In the past, people’s reactions to my traumatic disclosure have disappointed, hurt, and even embarrassed me. Some made me feel so incredibly alone, I wound up in the darkest places imaginable.
Being constantly faced with doubt and shame admittedly caused my view of the world to become very cynical. I avoided being vulnerable with the people around me. I saw no point in it because I’d already believed that nobody would ever understand.
To be honest, I’d never been good with vulnerability, anyways. Growing up, authentic emotional expression wasn’t exactly encouraged. I kept it all in and became an expert on my own emotional makeup. But communicating what's inside? Eeek! What a nightmare!
So, when I began to divulge these details, I found myself spinning the story with humor or sarcasm to cushion the blow of potential flippant, insensitive, victim-blamey responses.
Other times, I’d straight up trauma dump, which is so dysfunctional — but we’ve all been there, right?
Nowadays, I’m getting better at authentic, open conversations. But I’m still very selective about the types of people that trust. I tend to only share with safe survivor communities, my immediate family, a trusted few friends, and my romantic partner.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I have to be cautious of reaching unhealthy levels of isolation. I’ve learned there’s a fine line between having boundaries and putting up walls.
Now that I’ve been writing about trauma, sexual violence, body image issues, and mental illness every week for the past two years, I’m used to documenting as I process my rawest emotions and then revealing them to the internet.
The heavy emotional work is baked into my writing process. With every draft, I prepare myself to bare my soul. Each edit gets me closer and closer to awareness and acceptance. Once it’s complete, letting it go feels natural.
Readers may observe this as a courageous feat, and they have every reason to. But for me, it doesn’t feel that way.
At this point, it’s no big deal for me to pass these confessions along to an editor — who is often a stranger or acquaintance. Since I’ve already had a hard conversation with myself, I’m skipping the vulnerability of communicating about it to someone else. The editors’ feedback is usually concerning the technical quality, which feels very safe.
On the other side of things, I also have to be careful not to overshare with my readers or followers. Sometimes I get so comfortable with the safe distance from my audience, I treat social media like it’s a diary.
Finding balance is very difficult as I suffer from emotional dysregulation and often feel like I have no control over my state of mind. Oddly enough, writing is what helps me to connect the dots and gain awareness of my behavior. So maybe I overshared something one day, but being able to look back at the post allows me to reflect on what led to this.
Surprisingly, I’m someone who gets choked up when responding to disclosure from other survivors. Due to the sensitive topic, I’m at a loss for words. Seriously, I forget my entire vocabulary. It’s something I feel tremendous guilt and anxiety about.
Obviously, these moments are never about me, but I can’t help that I know the other side. I know how fragile this moment is. I know that it can make or break a person’s hope.
I know how it feels to be let down by someone’s response and I would never ever want to burden someone with that heartbreak.
I so desperately want to ensure that anyone who shares with me does not walk away feeling alone or unsupported. Because that’s happened to me, and it caused irreparable damage to my psyche. It may have even caused me to emotionally distance myself from many people and situations.
In those real-life confessional moments, I didn’t want a solution. I didn’t want commentary. I didn’t want a series of questions that made me relive and rethink the events. I didn’t want to apologize for the way my story affected someone else. I just wanted someone to be there and to help me feel heard and safe.
Now, my stories are shared on my terms. By me. For me. My writing process is how I cope with internal chaos, and I’m not sure if that’s wrong. Half the time, I don’t know if I’m numbing myself or avoiding reality. What I know is that I feel safe.
Little did I know that as I was writing my first #MeToo essay, there was a litigation risk that I’d failed to consider. But emotionally, I don’t remember feeling intimidated to hit publish in the slightest. In fact, I was more fixated on the quality of the piece. I spent weeks writing this essay, and it was only about five hundred words.
Maybe I used perfectionism as a distraction. Maybe it was (and still is) a tool I used to compartmentalize my grief. Who knows. That was two years and one compounded PTSD event ago. The memories have started to blur together.
I wouldn’t dare conclude that writing about one's personal trauma is the easy way out in general. I’m professing that I suspect it could be for me, and I’m wondering if others have found similar habits within themselves.
Healing is tricky because while you’re doing it, you’re the only one holding you responsible. How do we trust ourselves to always do the right thing?
Again, I’m unsure. I’m unsure about so many things. But, if my healing journey can help others to feel less alone in their pain, it’s doubly worth it to keep recording.
I only hope to provide a safe space for other survivors.
So maybe being brave isn’t what matters about my confessional writing. Maybe I’m just doing my thing and wishing to make a difference. That’s enough for me!