Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Tips for Writing Painful Past Experiences

“The only thing I hate writing about the past is writing about the past.”


This thought lingered in my head on the day I sat down to write about a frightening paranormal experience I endured at one house I lived in. Before the time came to start writing about this experience, I tried to mentally prepare myself for the task. I knew it was going to make me uncomfortable and that it was going to be hard to remember things that I’d rather forget, but at the same time, I also knew that it was very important to write about this experience. That experience brought challenges to me. I encountered things I hadn’t before in my experiences with the paranormal. I learned what I had to do in order to tackle those issues. This important lesson is something that needs to be shared with others, in the hopes that it will help them should they have this experience as well. That way, if they ever read my story, they can get a couple of tips on things they can do.


And that’s the thing about writing about our past. It needs to have that takeaway value. It needs to serve as an educational tool to help others should they ever end up in the same situation. Yes, we are writing about a difficult situation, but the fact that we are no longer in that situation is ultimately what matters. By writing about it, we are saying “I survived this and here is just how I managed to do that.”


On the other hand, writing about the past can serve as a form of entertainment as well. I love sharing funny stories with others, and it’s always appreciated when someone who is writing their life stories shares humorous anecdotes as well. These bits of humor can help alleviate any tension, make the reading experience better and enlighten an otherwise boring situation.


But what happens when the past experiences we are writing about are too traumatic for us to write about, let alone talk about?


There are actually some things you can do.


Take your time to write about it.

You don’t have to write about an unpleasant experience in one sitting. Sure, it’s probably better to just write all of it and get it over with, but don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. If you need time to write about it, take the time. This is especially a good idea if that unpleasant experience included many difficult moments.


Double check your memory of it, if you can.

We usually make unpleasant memories worse than they really were. This is part of our tendency to blow things out of proportion. And sometimes, the memory can be so bad, the emotions we end up feeling because of it make it seem it was a lot worse than it really was. If you journaled or blogged about your experience, read over what you wrote to verify what really happened. The same goes if you posted about it on social media. Finally, if you shared the experience with friends or a counselor, double check with them as well.


Talk to someone to help you through it.

If you have a partner, close friend, close relative or a therapist, ask them to coach you or be a shoulder to lean on while you write about painful experiences. If it is too much for you to do alone, then don’t do it alone. You also might find comfort from your faith, a member of your church, or through meditation.


Look for something good that came out of you surviving it.

Are you a survivor of abuse? Did you beat cancer? Did your child survive a horrible illness? If so, hold on to that point in your story. These are the GOOD things that came out of your experience. There was a happy ending or it’s all over with now. As you recount your painful past experience in your writing, try to see something good that came out of it and hold onto this one good thing to help you get through the writing. If anything, chances are pretty good that you are stronger just for surviving that very thing.


Writing about painful and scary past experiences can be hard, but it is therapeutic. I gotta say that after I finished writing about that experience, I actually felt better. Memories about that experience no longer lingered in my mind. I “got rid of it” by putting it all down onto paper. It didn’t have to exist in my head or memories anymore because now it would exist somewhere else.


I was also reminded of the good side of that bad experience: The memories of the people who helped me to get through it. I once again felt grateful to the people who took the time to help me out with that and offer advice on what to do.


And, finally, after writing about it, I was glad to just get it over with. I wrote about it. That uncomfortable task was done. I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. I was able to go ahead and do other things – specifically, pleasant things that helped me to feel better. I read books, laughed over funny memes I saw on Facebook, and got hot cocoa with my kids while we were out. Doing something pleasant after having to do that unpleasant task of writing about a bad memory helped me to get over the discomfort and renewed sense of fear I felt from writing about it. And it just made getting through that task all the more worthwhile.


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