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Thread: Returning to Painful Memories

  1. #1
    Sleep Writin' ZDavid's Avatar
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    Returning to Painful Memories

    I think this is in the right place. My apologies in advance if it's not... I'm still poking around.

    Obviously, this is mostly applicable to nonfiction of a personal nature such as [fictionalized] autobiographies, personal essays, and memoirs.

    How do you return to moments or eras of your life that were incredibly painful for you? I am really talking about the events that shape us as people (e.g., the death of loved ones, our own big mistakes, etc.). I find it can be quite difficult to ruminate too deeply about some of these things because of their nature, and also that it can be hard to remember all of the pertinent details.

    So how do you go about it? You personally, not a general "you." Do you find you need an outline to accurately retell a piece of your life? Do you need to take breaks when writing about something particularly traumatic? That's basically what I'm asking, without revealing anything more than what you're comfortable.

    I'm just so curious!

    EDIT: Maybe this would have been better in Bio, Autobio, and Memoirs?

  2. #2
    Old dog, a few new tricks
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    I appreciate your post but I can't offer much help. In fact, I've found that writing about traumatic events in my life is just too difficult for me. I've survived some very dramatic experiences -- but when I try to write about them, memories and emotions tend to overwhelm me. I might end up with a paragraph or two but I am exhausted and can't continue.

    I hope others will share their experience -- and please, keep this thread here!

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW patskywriter's Avatar
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    I haven't suffered anything tremendously traumatic, but I have written about a couple of the saddest points in my life. Once I wrote a little piece about the night I got a call from the hospital telling me to get there quickly because my mom was going to die that night.

    I find that packaging memories like a story you'd tell someone else helps with getting the facts down on paper (or onto a computer screen). Take a break if you need one, and it's okay if the break lasts for a good while. Then, read it over thoughtfully and try to recall what you felt when the 'incident' occurred. Soon, you'll be able to weave your emotions and thoughts into the story, and after you work with it for a while, you'll probably end up with something that's pretty good. After taking another break, you might be able to look it over objectively and really make it shine.

    And you'll feel better afterwards. A good cry never hurt anyone.

  4. #4
    Sleep Writin' ZDavid's Avatar
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    I don't know, patsky, is it possble for the death of someone you love to not be traumatic? No matter, just thinking...

    And yes! That's exactly how I do it, like I'm telling a story to someone else. In fact, sometimes if it's something particularly hard to face I will first record myself chugging through it (speaking, that is) and then return, transcribe it, and go from there. I find this can be really good when it would be frankly too painful to write out from scratch. Transcription is a mindless exercise, and if I just focus on the words I don't tend to think about the facts as much. Then I have a working draft.

    All that said, I've never had a particular problem writing about even the most difficult points in my life, but there are some things that feel next to impossible to analyze and probably always will. But usually those are the things most worth writing about.

    As for a good cry, well, I hear that.


    Thanks for the responses so far!

  5. #5
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I did an autobiographical solo show, and talked about a difficult point in my life. It was an incident that I had sort of just "danced around" in my mind ever since it happened, and it was tough to deal with head-on and write. But I had a consultant helping me in the writing process, and a director after that, both of whom were very supportive and understanding. Their support made it much easier to relive the story in front of rooms full of strangers.

    So having someone who is reading your work as you go may be very helpful. Also have a strong sense of how these events made you feel in the moment, and concentrate on conveying that emotion rather than a laundry list of facts (if you're having trouble remembering).

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW CraftyCreations411's Avatar
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    I think a lot depends on the traumatic event. Some can handle death as easily as breathing others (like me) fall apart at the seams.

    I'm a rape survivor. Ten years ago I would've said that it didn't happen and everything I was feeling was strictly my imagination running wild. It took me many years of therapy to finally admit it. Someone could tell me that I'd been raped and I shrugged it off. But when I finally admitted it to myself - it became a massive battle for my sanity and I almost lost.

    One of the therapies I went through involved writing about it - every nite. It was wild. The first few times I didn't really remember a lot but afterwards and more writing, I started to remember sights, sounds, colors, voices, my personal thoughts, just all kinds of things. I got physically sick. I spent more time in the bathroom than I'd care to admit to. I cried the more I wrote. Almost went into hysterics a few times. But the more I did it, the easier it became to deal with.

    Another therapy that I went through involved using this light thingy. For the life of me I can't remember what it's called. There's this light that goes back and forth and while you're watching the light, you're talking about whatever. It has something to do with the brain not being able to handle two things at once - or something like that. I know it helps settle the brain and not make things quite so painful. After a few weeks, it made things a whole easier to deal with.

    Candy
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  7. #7
    The ever absent-minded CChampeau's Avatar
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    I've wondered this...it takes a lot of bravery to expose yourself in writing, even if you don't even intend to share it with anyone else - never mind publish it.

    I do think being able to talk to someone close to you about things is critical to gaining insight into how what happened to you changed you and how best to deal with it, and thus critical to being able to write about it well.
    C. Champeau

    "The truth will set you free."

  8. #8
    Sleep Writin' ZDavid's Avatar
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    Sorry I haven't returned to this for a few days! I think I'm having a glitch with my subscriptions, maybe. None of them are showing up. Do I need to subscribe to threads manually? (I also asked this question in FAQ, too, so no worries about addressing it here.)

    I don't have anything new to add to this right this second but I continue to think about other techniques of handling these painful memories. Crafty, you are absolutely right that different people just handle them differently, too. I guess I'm somewhere in between those who can handle the tough stuff as easy as breathing and those who fall apart. Depends on the day.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank everyone who has posted here so far. It has been very enlightening for me, so I just wanted you all to know that I really appreciate the effort you've made to provide some insight.

  9. #9
    Old dog, a few new tricks
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    ZDavid: this thread has given me a lot to think about. My first encounter with writer's block came when I tried to write an account of a very bad wartime experience. I'd always been able to crank out thousands of words at a sitting when I had a hot topic in mind. In this case, however, I hit a total wall -- even after many attempts I failed to get as much as a single word on paper. I'm thinking of trying again, with a vow to myself that it will be entirely private, "for my eyes only".

  10. #10
    figuring it all out Lia_joy's Avatar
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    I'm sensetive & one of those who falls apart at the seams so while i don't have experience writing really traumatic events, maybe some of my approach for writing emotional, intimate & sometimes difficult aspects of my own story will be of use to you. I started by just outlining each instance that was important to the book (it's not a memior, so my story is just one chapter.) in order down the page, so i could come back & fill things in. I knew the events that would be more emotional. I need more time, space and quiet for those points so I'm practically meditating, looking at the past from my higher self's perspective. I struggled a lot with concern about getting details right til I started to write from how it felt in the moment -- the stuff I remember IS the important stuff, after all it doesn't need to be all linear... I sort of put myself back there (and this is no doubt the hard part if it's trama you're writing.) A big chunk of it I wrote third-person and that helped a lot... To write the emotions/perspective of my past while acknowledging I'm not "her" anymore. There were even parts that didn't fit with the book that I felt I needed to write out to get past & found the whole thing extremely therapudic. Now I think everyone should write a book. Getting it out and being outside/past the experience can be really empowering.

    I just read this blog today (it's about the death of a child so very emotional) http://lovelightlaughterandchocolate...for-today.html

    the author talks about allowing herself one day a year to really immerse herself in the pain of her daughter's death. That was the first thing I thought of when i read your post. Maybe setting aside time to work on the most difficult material and allowing for all those feelings in that specific day/week/ or whatever would help so the pain isn't connected with writing the book overall& holding you back.
    Lia Joy Rundle
    Typing one-handed with a baby on my lap. Please forgive typos and the hurried nature of my posts!
    Self Directed Woman -- Self Directed Childbirth

  11. #11
    Swan in Process Siri Kirpal's Avatar
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    Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

    Memoirist here. The way I handled writing the hard stuff was to wait to write it until something else in my life upset me. Then I would take that negative energy and use it to write the scene I didn't want to write.

    I also always keep in mind WHY I'm writing the story. If a painful thing isn't relevant, it doesn't go in. If it is, and someone else will be helped by it, I can write it easier.

    Hope that helps.

    Blessings,

    Siri Kirpal
    "The only freedom any of us ever has is the freedom to choose how we will not be free."

  12. #12
    Counting My Blessings spirit110's Avatar
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    Curiously, I just joined this board today to see the response of others engaging through the slings and arrows of life in memoir form. Counting My Blessings from Zero to One is the story of a gender transition that has left friends, family, and my three children in its wake. It is hard enough to deal with the death of a loved one, it's harder still to deal with a world that considers you dead.
    My own therapy has been laughter. I perform stand-up comedy and speak about the conflicts that were once too heavy to bear. It was Lenny Bruce that said "comedy is tragedy plus 10 years." It's taken longer than that, but now I can talk about the most sensitive stuff no longer burdened by self-loathing or anger.
    Besides, being funny sells.

  13. #13
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin April Days's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ZDavid View Post
    So how do you go about it? You personally, not a general "you."
    How I do it is to place myself back in that scene. And no, it's not easy to relive. I wrote about some very painful childhood memories, but I didn't write them as "memories", but as if I was living them now.

    And I had a really good cry. I personally found the experience to be cathartic.

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