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Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama
In promoting Ronda Miller’s trauma writing workshop in Hutchinson, the main attraction of the Kansas Authors Club meeting, I predicted it would appeal to writers, teachers, therapists, and survivors. Turned out, attendees included people who identified as writers and survivors.
And if you think about it for a minute, we’re all survivors. My friends, family, and I have all experienced unwanted shock, sadness, and tragedy. If you don’t think there’s a lot of trauma in the world, just ask someone!
Miller, a life coach in Lawrence, Kansas, has experienced deep personal trauma. Her mother died by suicide when she was three; her father was a homicide victim when she was in her twenties. At seventeen Ronda attempted suicide.
She has healed from these horrific experiences and now, as a life coach, helps others who have been traumatized.
I learned there’s more to leading trauma workshops than telling people “write something pretty.” Miller insists: “This is their truth, their story; they don’t need to be ‘judged’. Truth is beauty.”
Ronda Miller, state president of the Kansas Authors Club, introduced herself (including her traumatic history) to our group. We learned the best places to find her poetry. Three of her books are WaterSigns, Going Home: Poems from My Life, and MoonStain.
At the “Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama” workshop we discovered that as a child, living with her grandparents, Ronda was told “don’t talk about it,” (meaning her mother’s suicide). And Ronda’s sister reinforced that message telling Ronda that talking about their mother’s death gave her a headache. As if to prove that everyone’s different, for Ronda, not having an opportunity to talk about her deep personal loss was pure agony.
Miller gave us an overview of the importance of talking and writing about trauma.
It can save lives. We talk about our family history of diabetes or cancer so there’s no reason not to talk about mental illness or suicide.
The first rule about trauma writing is that it’s important to speak freely without judging others or yourself.
The age you experience trauma has a lot to do with your memories. Perceptions of trauma change over time. As children we don’t have the life experiences to explain the whys.
When you write trauma, your point-of-view changes; it gives you the understanding that the event wasn’t your fault.
You accept what happened and give Voice to something, and then the trauma gradually lessons.
In order to be safe it’s best to write or read your trauma when you have a support system present. Don’t force it.
Solitude can make trauma worse. Trauma can be like a recurring nightmare. Each new loss can take a person back to the original event.
Everyone’s different. Some people are able to talk about their trauma right away; others are not. Ronda recalls the day she was a guest on a radio talk show and had a breakthrough; she was no longer ashamed. That was the day she stood taller and found relief and release.
With acceptance comes amazing creativity, and hope with change. Acceptance equals change and change equals acceptance.
Once Ronda no longer felt guilt or shame she gave others permission to share their stories. That was evident as our workshop attendees shared their fears, their coping skills, their stories, and their poetry.
Ronda gifted us with the reading of her poem, “The Milky Way Woman.” Here is some background information: “I met a Lakota woman at a suicide survival retreat. Her sister had died by suicide. She told me the Lakota tribe has more suicides than any other tribe. They have a belief that there is an old woman, called the Milky Way Woman, who guards the heavens. When someone dies, she either sends them back to earth if they did not live a good life or on to heaven. Stars are the campfires of those souls as they make their way to heaven. I think that’s such a haunting and beautiful image.”
Ronda dedicates this poem to the Lakota people, all of those who have lost someone to suicide, and to her mother, Peggy Miller Wiggins.
The Milky Way Woman
By Ronda Miller
When I was three
and you sent me out
to play in the snow while
you put a bullet through
your heart, I did not cry.
I curled into a ball and
closed my eyes.
That night, when daddy
came and said,
“If you look up into the sky,
you’ll see your mommy’s face
in the stars,” I did not look.
I did not want to see your face
so far away and small.
But now I’m grown,
with children of my own,
I want to stand on the edge
of the Milky Way, with you
hand in hand.
When the Milky Way Woman gives the command,
you and I will make that leap together, wait for me.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
Susan Alexander says
This workshop sounds like it was wonderful. I wish I had been able to attend. Miller’s poem at the end is very touching. I wonder if she’s written any books besides poetry, such as a memoir. Thanks for your report on this workshop, Jim.
Jim Potter says
Susan, thanks for your comment. Yes, “The Milky Way Woman” is a touching poem! Ronda’s writing her memoir titled “Gun Memories”. It should be out in September! Can’t wait! My next blog will have a poem I wrote about trauma. It’s titled “Suicide Joe and Buffalo”. Jim
I don’t know if I ever told you this or not but it came to mind while I was listening to you read the story about Ronda’s past. At the age of 15 or 16 I had overdosed at school. They could not get a hold of my mom so they called my dad and he took off work and went to get Mom (who was hanging clothes on the line) and came to school. Dad wanted to talk to my teachers to see if anyone know what triggered this or what needed to be done. So Mom and I went to the little cafe for a piece of pie but as soon as I got in the car Mom looked at me and said, I know what happened, you’re fine, and we’re not going to talk about it; and Jim, we never did. I have never felt so alone as that time. I had things to say. I wanted to poor my heart out to someone and no one was there to listen!
Jim Potter says
Thank you so much for sharing this memory with me! I’m sorry that in your youth you didn’t have a person with a receptive ear who would allow you to talk and to be heard. If and when did you get that opportunity? Were you able to figure out that trigger? If so, did that help? Sincerely, Jim