Writing to Discover My Story
Written by: Michelle Lauren, Phoenix Fellow – Youth Supportive Programming
When people ask “what happened?” they’re referring to my burn injury and what caused my scars. Often people act like I’m that one story, or that story is all that I am. They ask about the one day — always the same day — May 19, 1996. I tell them the story of how I was burned at age 2 when my drunk stepmother dropped a cigarette ash on my bed, igniting a house fire that left me with burns on over 91% of my body and with severe inhalation injury.
My response to the question of “what happened” throughout my life has had little meaning to me, and has never felt like my story. This is because I have very little memory of that day. My story is more than that one day.
This caused me to ask: “If my story isn’t solely about what caused my injury, then what is it?” Through the journey of writing a book about my story, I was able to recognize that my story is actually a collection of stories about everything that happened after the fire. My story has many chapters, each with different lessons about moving forward and learning to be a survivor. My scars are a part of me but do not define me. Having limitations due to my injury also does not define me. In fact, accepting my limitations has proven to be a strength because it allows me to make adaptations so that I can thrive.
I started journaling after attending a young adult retreat. While there, I realized it was easier for me to process and make sense of the things around me through words. Since then writing has then allowed me to reflect on what’s going on in my life, and then process the event.
Writing can improve a person’s emotional, psychological, and physiological health after trauma. Writing allows the writer to slow down their thinking, which helps clear their mind and sort out their thoughts. Doing so improves mood and provides hope through a fresh perspective on life. It can also help the writer deal with emotional pain, forgive others, and better understand their experiences. Writing is a great way to better understand emotions and process traumatic experiences, life events, or day-to-day happenings.
Tips for Journal Writing
The following are tips for journal writing for healing, growth, and change:
- Time — Dedicate some time in your schedule and find a quiet, private place. Instead of trying to quiet your mind, let your mind speak to you, and write your thoughts down.
- Topic — Just write what’s on your mind and heart. Start with writing about a specific event, memory, people, or even objects that are on your mind. State the feelings you have surrounding that topic, and why you think it made you feel that way. For more mindful writing, chose a specific topic to write about with a designated intention or desired outcome, for example, developing a gratitude list to create more thankfulness in life.
- Don’t Stop — Write continuously until you’re done processing what is on your mind.
- Write for yourself — Don’t write to meet other people’s expectations, write for yourself.
- Find purpose and meaning — Find a way to make meaning and heal from what you’re writing.
I encourage everyone to pick up a journal, or notebook, and write. If you are unable to write, using speech-to-text software or voice recording can help you verbally process what is going on. Expressive writing is simple. Start by writing what is on your mind and heart. Write to reflect and process what has happened in your life, and lastly to discover your story. You can begin by using the following prompt: What’s my story? How have I grown and what have I learned from my story?
Michelle Lauren is a Minnesota native who learned how to navigate life with her scars on her sleeves. After attending a camp for burn survivors in Colorado, she fell in love with horses and is now an equine specialist and a certified therapeutic riding Instructor. Michelle earned her bachelor's degree in animal science-equine management and recently completed her master's degree in strategic leadership. She is currently pursuing her master’s in business administration. She is writing a book about her burn survivor journey and the lessons she has learned along the way. Visit her website (http://www.survivornotvictim.com) for more information.