At our recent memoir and life writing retreat I came across an article in Womankind magazine about Gloria Anzaldua’s theory of the stages in reconstructing self after trauma. And blow me down if it didn’t also work for structuring trauma memoirs! I’m not saying it’s the only way to heal or that the stages of recovery or stages of a memoir need to follow this order, but for anyone struggling with either trauma or finding a structure for the writing of traumatic events, I hope this will help.
As with the stages of grieving first put forward by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, there is often a to-ing and fro-ing between stages or phases of emotional growth, sometimes all in one day.
However, a familiarity with how other people have found the experience and stages to identify can be most useful. And for writers having some kind of structure, any kind, is very welcome, especially when grappling with wrestling real-life trauma onto the page.
TRAUMA MEMOIR STRUCTURE IN 7 EASY STEPS!
- THE EARTHQUAKE – this is it! The trauma hits and our world is turned upside down. The story we’ve been telling ourselves about ourselves is destroyed and our old beliefs and identity collapses.
- LYING IN A HEAP – this is when we’re lying in the debris of our old lives, not knowing who we are anymore. Not knowing which way to turn. We may try to pretend that nothing has changed, we may try to return to who we were before, the lives we used to lead, but find it is no longer possible.
- ROCK BOTTOM – we realise the damage has been done and there is no going back to who we were. We are stuck, unable to move, unable to find a way forward. We have fallen to pieces and can see no way to stick ourselves together again.
- CALL TO ACTION – you break free from your old ways of coping and reconnect with spirit. We let go of all that no longer serves us and begin to see a way ahead.
- RECONSTRUCTING OURSELVES – now is the stage where we collect all those thousands of little pieces we fell into and attempt to put them back together again. Not as the old “us” but a new creation made from the same stuff rearranged, re- membered.
- THE BLOW UP – returning to the world and reconnecting with others as our new selves.
- EXPRESSION – here we experiment with our new reality and new self, expressing ourselves in creative activities – writing, art, dance music, healing, teaching, spiritual activism.
If you’re writing a trauma memoir you’re in stage 7! YAY! I can certainly relate to all these stages and applaud all of you who, like me and Gloria, have picked up all those mixed up, broken pieces of yourself off the floor and created a brave new you and wonderful new life filled with creative expression.
Creativity is a powerful tool for healing emotional pain. Write it all out, paint it, dance it, play it on a guitar, whichever way works for you. Create beauty from the pain.
Let me know if this structure is helpful to you, in understanding your own trauma journey, or for structuring your trauma memoir. I hope it works for both!
With lots of love