Write from the wound to survive trauma

Lorraine Ash, author, journalist, essayist and writing teacher is my WOW! Women on Writing blog tour guest today. Her second memoir, Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, is a spiritual memoir about taking stock of the traumas, losses, and disappointments we all experience by midlife. In Lorraine Ash’s case, the major one was the stillbirth of her daughter, her only child.

“After a time,” Lorraine says, “what happens to us can feel like meaningless assaults to the self. But the book shows us meaning can be made of our life events, however disparate, if we bring them down to the soul level. In the end, it’s the quality of our inner life that determines what forces thrive in our psyches and so our lives.”

I can certainly resonate with Lorraine’s story. After the suicide death of my 27-year old son, Paul, I was able to find new meaning in my life and actual gifts that resulted from his death. Writing my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, was a huge help in my healing.

Here Lorraine discusses writing deep memoir.

© Roxana González | Dreamstime.com

© Roxana González | Dreamstime.com

Survival And Triumph: Writing from the Wound 

by Lorraine Ash

Our own narrative stories can be, and often are, about emotional or spiritual survival. Even before there were words, stories always have been about survival. When a new group of folks arrived in a prehistoric cave, they needed to look no farther than the paintings on the wall for a good story about the bravery of their predecessors during hunts. Memoirs provide places where old events are mined for seminal questions and imbued with new insights. They are a kind of cave wall for modern readers.

A wound starts a journey
By definition, memoirs are stories of the self and, by dint of being alive, every person is flawed or wounded and seeks relief, if not redemption. So our personal wounds present each of us with a natural journey. As May Sarton wrote in The House by the Sea:

At the heart of life is the flaw, the imperfection
Without which there would be no motion and no reason
To continue.

Of course, not every wound will be healed in the act of writing. Indeed some memoir writers can achieve no more than accepting fate and achieving a better understanding of themselves and the human condition. Both are significant and profound accomplishments.

In my spiritual memoir Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, I explore the lingering effects of the stillbirth of my daughter on my own inner terrain in the decade after she died. Clearly, the loss of a child is not a wound that is ever completely healed. In learning to live with it, though, I created numerous ways to open my “self” to the deeper layers of my soul.

Personal conclusions
In so doing, I was challenged to move beyond the religious platitudes about what it meant to lose my only child and create my own personal and dynamic wellspring of faith concerning my baby’s death. Here’s a passage that illustrates the point:

Faith is no longer something just received, though receipt is important. It can be born in Scripture—yours and mine and his and theirs—but it grows in the heart, the mind and the unfolding of life. Faith is something to be engaged and matured.

A good memoir certainly helps its author grow in compassion for his or her own journey, but there’s more to it than that. When readers come along and absorb the story, integrating it into their own experiences and questions about life, they heal a little, too. They also grow in compassion because they took the time to learn about how it was for someone else in another corner of the world.

A human mosaic
If you buy the idea that each of us has a divine core—and I certainly do—you may be willing to consider another idea posed by Frederick Buechner, a Protestant minister. In Telling Secrets: A Memoir, he suggests that each of us is part of a larger human and divine mosaic:

Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity … that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.

So writing and reading memoirs, the most honest and detailed witness stories there are, may do no less than unite us in the crucible of the human condition — and help us understand our place in the universe.

Questions:
Do you live with an unhealed wound? Have you ever read a memoir by an author who had a similar experience, just to gain a different perspective? How would writing about your wound help move you toward healing?

Thank you, Lorraine.

selfandsoul1500x2400Book Synopsis:
Are you living a life of quiet desperation? Questioning what it means to succeed? Wondering if your efforts matter? In this uplifting memoir, Lorraine Ash uses her own life experiences to explore inner landscapes where the seeds of divine healing and insight reside. These are the landscapes on which we create our own meaning and find the resiliency to thrive in a changing and challenging world.

Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life is available in a variety of formats and online stores, all presented here, http://lorraineash.com/selfsoul.htm. It has also just become available  as a digital audiobook. Find it at Audible.com and Amazon.com as well as in the iTunes store.

About the Author:lorraineash2072x3104
Lorraine Ash, M.A., is a New Jersey author, award-winning journalist, essayist, book editor, and writing teacher.  Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, is her second book. Her first memoir, Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing, was published by NewSage Press  Lorraine also is a veteran journalist whose feature articles and series have won seventeen national, state, and regional awards and have appeared in daily newspapers across the country. Lorraine belongs to the Story Circle Network, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Bill.

You can reach Lorraine here:
Website/blog: www.LorraineAsh.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LorraineAshAuthor
Twitter: @LorraineVAsh
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/lorraine-ash/45/77/650

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Comments

  1. Madeline and Lorraine,

    Thank you so much for sharing these words from the heart today. Madeline, as a person who has battled severe depression all of my life, I am so sorry for the loss of your son, and am very interested in reading your book. In answer to the question you posed, I guess my unhealed wound is that I survived a very unstable childhood, being uprooted by my parents every few months until I was about sixteen years old as an only child. Sometimes those moves were caused by financial struggles, sometimes just because my step-father “needed a change.” I suffered the emotional damage of having to change homes and schools constantly, and I had to work very hard not to fall behind in my studies because every school I attended had a different curriculum. It was very hard for me to talk about for many years, and after I read “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls, I discovered there was someone else out there who “got it.” Shortly after that I wrote an essay titled “Moving,” which was very difficult to write. I am now starting to think about writing more about my wounds but I struggle with being truthful and not coming across as “poor, poor me” in the writing.

  2. Madeline Sharples says:

    Dear Renee, thanks so much for sharing your wound. I think the beauty of posts like Lorraine’s is that they help open us up to talking and writing about our wounds – the first step to healing and survival. I wish you all the best in your writing journey. Don’t worry about how your writing comes across – at least in the first drafts – just get it all down. Madeline

  3. Renee, You hit upon something key when you wrote about Jeanette Walls. Just reading a memoir can make someone feel less lonely in the world, and how huge is that? A memoir is a gift of presence. Also, I have discovered, ironically, that those who worry about coming off in a “poor me” way, don’t. So keep going.
    Madeline, thanks so much for hosting Self and Soul and heartfelt condolences on the loss of your son. You are a kindred spirit. You know memoir writing dissipates, unburdens, fuses old experience to new insight, and generally helps on all levels.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Thanks for being here, Lorraine. It is indeed my pleasure to host you and share your insightful words. Best success with your book.

  4. I agree that writing from the wound can be very healing. You have to face the pain and go through in order to move past it and heal. I am glad that you found it so helpful. I did too when writing my memoir.

    I have read memoirs that touched me when I could relate to what it is going on. Surprisingly though the books that have touched me the most have been fiction mainly because I extracted meaning from them I could take to my own life such as my favorite book East of Eden.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Sebastian, You make a fine point. The best narrative writing, nonfiction and fiction, is inspired by real life. The book that made me want to write books is “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving.

  5. Madeline Sharples says:

    Both of you, Sebastian and Lorraine, are spot on. Reading is the key to all our writing.

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