Trauma And The Power Of The Pen
Everyone experiences some kind of trauma within their life, though not everyone develops emotional and mental afflictions, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We all react to trauma differently, and how we deal with it is the determining factor in how we think, feel, and perceive ourselves and the world around us. They are a natural part of everybody’s life and serve a vital purpose in determining the type of people we are.
“Time heals all wounds,” is the famous saying. But is it true?
Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or anyone who has been abused emotionally or physically can tell you how this claim is merely an illusion, much like time itself. Time only gives the perception of healing as a result of one simply getting used to living with such trauma, better known as “coping”. This is nothing more than suppressing or dissociating from the painful event, wherein no healing actually occurs. Healing comes from a conscious choice to change your perception—no longer seeing yourself as the victim—and embracing the pain based on a fear of reliving the past experience.
Pain or suffering
The traumatized brain looks very different from the non-traumatized or ‘healed’ brain, primarily in three ways: the thinking center is under-activated, as is the emotion regulation center, with the fear center being over-activated. In other words, if you are traumatized, you may experience chronic stress, vigilance, fear, irritation, and have a hard time feeling safe, calming down, thinking clearly, concentrating, being aware, and sleeping. All are symptoms of a hyperactive amygdala.
Despite all of this science jargon, when it comes down to it, all of these symptoms stem from a choice to remain in such a state. No matter the circumstances, one must be honest with oneself and realize that living in this state is a choice. Pain is inevitable in life, but suffering is always optional. In the death of a loved one, someone’s life has already been taken, so why let this traumatic event take yours? If you’ve been abused, why let that moment dictate who you are for the rest of your life? Why not transform it into an experience to learn from, seeing it as something that has made you stronger, and showing others what you’ve learned? Many choose to sit in suffering because it’s comfortable. It’s nice to be the victim-blaming everyone else, but in the long run, the real prize comes from the moment we learn to let go of the traumatic event. The rewards are profoundly powerful and beneficial to your life as well as those around you.
This is done through genuine self-reflection, which leads to a reinterpretation of the meaning and significance of past events, and therefore a rewriting of our personal history. However, it can be a terrifying task for many people due to traumatic events during childhood that they’d rather leave alone. The thing is, they don’t just go away on their own; instead, they are responsible for faulty behavioral patterns, an avoidance of responsibility or facing up to fears, and taking on challenges that would lead to personal growth. Those who choose to stay like this remain stagnant, stuck in negative emotional states resulting from a fear of facing their fears.
Often people blame their inability to take productive action on their anxiety, depression, or lack of confidence in their abilities. Before they take the steps necessary to pursue their aims, such people reason that perhaps they must first get rid of their negative emotions, but this is a misconception that inevitably leads to failure. We are constantly looking for an easy way out. If we experience pain, depression, anxiety, any form of discomfort, we see a doctor who prescribes medications that temporarily mask symptoms of a disease (dis-ease) by numbing the mind and body, rather than dealing with the source of the problem. We then become dependent on these temporary, instant fixes, making matters worse. Rather than listening to the opinions of anyone other than yourself, such discomfort should be seen as a cry for things to change, yelled by both your mind and body. Looking to others or external things to aid our pain and discomfort has become our self-created conditioning due to not working on ourselves. Even if we are constantly searching to help others, it’s still a distraction from seeing ourselves. How could you honestly assist another if you can’t even help yourself?
The idea of solitude terrifies these people.
In The Immoralist, Andre Gide explains, “the fear of finding oneself alone—that is what they suffer from—and so they don’t find themselves at all.”
In other words, a fear of being alone is grounded in fear of oneself, making solitude a prison sentence in isolation or solitary confinement. Clinging to others to avoid ourselves only results in a slave-like dependence with them in exchange for a false sense of love, self-worth, and identity. In this situation, a profound change is needed, something to disrupt this paradigm of unhealthy patterns that will ultimately lead to the succession of something better. A traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one or hitting rock-bottom, can instigate such a change. But sometimes, it doesn’t even take that. Time voluntarily spent in solitude— without others’ judgment—where one reflects on self and focuses one’s energy on creative outlets can lead to self-discovery.
In doing this, we become more sure of ourselves and less in need of validation from others. Self-reliance, in turn, ushers in satisfying interpersonal relationships; for, to truly love someone, you must first truly love yourself. As above, so below; as within, so without. Even in the worst of times, the best of humanity is revealed. Through letters and eyewitness accounts, displays of kindness, compassion, and generosity were seen and talked about among those who had experienced the horrors of the Holocaust. Such human characteristics can very well be seen through acts of cruelty. Although there are many known and unknown reasons for the attacks on September 11, 2001, one could argue the primary reason was to cause fear and panic throughout the country. But amidst the chaos, we saw a nation band together in support of one another. Leave it to politicians and the media to take that support and turn it into angered patriotism aimed at foreign countries.
In dealing with such traumatic events and post-traumatic stress, therapists, counselors, psychologists, and the like, constantly urge one to talk about it, which seldom works. Verbalizing past events only reinforces the trauma in your mind, which can further traumatize an individual. Talking has become such an automated response that it takes little to no effort and thus less activity in the brain. Writing, however, shifts the emotionally incomprehensible over to the logic and reasoning side of the brain (prefrontal lobe), making it understandable. There, the reality of the past can be dealt with logically.
“The pen is mightier than the sword”—something we’ve all heard, but not everyone truly understands—is usually something one hears in times of war. Yet, dealing with emotional trauma is nothing short of an all-out war with your greatest enemy: yourself.
Dealing with trauma
Thinking and talking about a past trauma is like viewing the past in a dissociative manner or bird’s-eye view. Writing, however, allows you to view your mind’s screen through the eyes of the part of you that endured it.
The simplest way to gain self-knowledge is to get a small book, one that will fit into a pocket or handbag so that you can carry it about all the time. Start with your earliest memories; begin to recall your likes and dislikes. You can have a separate page for each and enter foods, music, situations, relationships— as many categories of items as you can. As it is a secret, no one will give you crap if you write about how you have read every Twilight book and can’t stand the unnecessary number of recycled superhero movies being made.
Once you begin to see how you were as a child, in what way you developed, and what sort of a person you have become, you will be able to judge how subsequent changes have affected you. If you have been frightened and made uncertain by what seems to be happening around you, this basic understanding of yourself may give you a solid basis on which to build. You will learn to become calm; to cope with situations that once seemed beyond you; to flex and bend rather than stiffly resisting until you are forced into a different pattern. You will learn to control the changes, decide upon them and carry them out to suit your own purposes, but you will need to understand both yourself and the causes of change.
If you ask, “Where am I going?” the answer can depend a lot on where you want to go. If you have no clear plan for yourself, you can easily be carried along by every passing current. If there is a new religion, political party, or any other mass movement, and you have no definite plans, then you may be swept along with it, perhaps against your choice. You will need to list in your secret notebook the directions in which you would most like to travel on the road of life. In the fields of home, job, partnerships, friendships, and achievement, you may already realize where you would like to go. In each category, it is best to look closely at the next step (preferably a small one) you need to take towards your personal goal.
The surprises this practice can bring into your life are unimaginable until you step onto the hidden path that now lies at your feet. In a year, if you can look back at this moment recorded in your journal, you will know what this can be like. The more this is practiced, the more control over memory and the mind is ultimately gained. A true sense of self-actualization develops and continues to grow once a whole new perspective of yourself and the world is achieved. If only doctors and psychiatrists prescribed a notebook and a pen rather than a multitude of colored pills that temporarily mask the painful symptoms, never healing the actual source of our pain. I can only assume that many in the field of psychology either haven’t figured this out or choose to live by the motto “wealth over health,” keeping you talking about your past to keep you coming back. Many psychiatrists couldn’t help fix the problem anyway, mainly because most of them are in need of help from their own profession.
Why is this practice not being used within psychiatry?
Psychiatry is a suppressed science of the mind, with a one-sided mindset centered around behaviorism, with no consideration of consciousness or the soul. It possesses a built-in capacity for abuse greater than any other area of medicine. A simple diagnosis of mental illness permits the state to detain an individual against their will, where they insist on treatment based on “his” or “society’s” best interest. However, this is no longer needed anymore with the vast amount of versions of basically the same chemicals that merely mask unwanted symptoms instead of discovering and dealing with the source of the matter.
Yet, we are invariably told to see these people whenever an inner crisis occurs.
We do it because we are held within either a conscious or unconscious state of submission, where we will do whatever others want us to do in order to fit in and not to cause conflict. If someone deems something politically incorrect, the traumatized mind knows never to do or say whatever it was not to cause trouble. We need conflict, though. We need to speak our minds. The more we suppress our thoughts and feelings, the more we feed our shadow selves.
By no means am I saying that it’s as simple as it sounds. It’s not; at least, for me, it wasn’t. However, it did get more manageable with the more I wrote about each event. I am glad I started with what I had thought would be the toughest one—later finding out through writing I had been fooling myself the whole time and discovering hidden trauma from childhood. Recovering from a ten-year addiction to heroin, I had a lot of time on my hands that needed to be filled before boredom triggered the phenomenon of craving. I decided to write out my history of addiction, then eventually my whole life. While writing, I’d felt compelled to do more than just write, so I started to publish chapters on my social media pages (leaving out actual names, places, and any incriminating evidence). This was a big deal for me, considering my drug use ultimately stemmed from a fear of what others thought of me. That fear disappeared real quick. I lost some friends as a result, but the number of random people who got in touch with me, thankful for my shared experience, which gave them hope, was worth everything.
I’m not saying you should post your writings on the internet. That can cause more harm to yourself if the wrong people see it. I had felt an inner need to do so, and I went with my gut. Somehow, it worked out for the best. But just the act of writing alone is enough to overcome what hinders your personal growth. Just the act of sitting within a moment that had caused such pain, long enough to smell the smells and record every detail, will end up being the greatest therapy you’ve ever experienced. Now, I still experience emotions, such as anger and sadness, but they disappear as quickly as they came. Forgiveness comes without effort, and grudges are never held. It becomes easy just to let go and finally live.
The pen truly is mightier than the sword. This will give you control over your memory and, ultimately, your mind. Writing is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
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