Writing about Trauma and Why my Logo is the Sacred Heart
In this blog, I wanted to write about why my logo is a take on Mary’s Sacred Heart. Then I remembered, I write about this in my book. So let’s let the book do the talking shall we? In Chapter five of Birth Your Story: Why Writing About your Birth Matters, titled “Write to Heal,” I talk not only about how we can write to heal but also about a personal healing journey of mine and the Sacred Heart’s role in this tale. This excerpt is what appears below.
Also worth my noting is that Chapter 16 of the book, “How to Write about Trauma,” covers how to write about trauma in greater detail.
“When we experience something as traumatic, the innate intelligence of our being seeks ways to process and digest this experience. This may manifest as recurrent dreams, intrusive thoughts, intense emotions, an intense desire to share (or, conversely, to suppress), physical symptoms signaling discord in our beings, and more. While it may seem like adding insult to injury, these are attempts to create opportunities for personal healing.
Most of us experience these as uncomfortable and even overwhelming, so instead of trusting and leaning into these innate impulses, we pull away, stuff down, numb, avoid, and reject. We often lack permission or a safe container to explore our traumas. Still, the body and soul yearn for the expression of what is true, however painful.
Repressing our traumas takes a major toll on our well-being. On the physical level this repression can compromise our immune systems, reduce our capacity to fight off infections, increase our risk of heart problems, interfere with sleep and digestion, cause headaches and body aches, alter hormones, decrease libido, and so much more. On the mental and emotional levels, repressing our traumas can cause irritability, anxiety, depression, and numbness. On a broader level, we can feel stuck and unable to move forward in our lives. We may be less able to show up fully in our lives in a way that feels good.
The energy it takes to resist the truth is greater than the energy it takes to look it squarely in the eye and find safe ways to process, express, and move through it.
Over the last few years, I have been journeying through what I’ve experienced as trauma. Following my birth, I developed reproductive health problems that diminished my quality of life and threatened my ability to have more children. I spent a lot of energy resisting what was true, suppressing my grief and fear, and desperately trying to find a way out of the discomfort. As I traversed my own healing process, I began to recognize that the only way through this ordeal was in and through it. I couldn’t go around it, I couldn’t stay on the surface of it, I couldn’t just stay where I was. I had to go all the way into the heart of this trauma and move through it.
At the time, the image of Mother Mary’s Sacred Heart started showing up everywhere—it was referenced in books, magazines, and interviews; it showed up on walls, tee shirts, candles, paintings, restaurant menus, and even socks. That famous heart was everywhere. I do not consider myself particularly religious; in fact, I’ve had my own resistance around organized religion and its icons. But there she was, with her heart aflame, practically everywhere I looked. So I started to turn toward this recurring image and get curious. Okay, Life, I’m paying attention, what is up with this heart on fire?
Let’s consider the heart: one of the first organs to develop in utero, it transmits the most powerful electromagnetic field in the body. Sixty-five percent of the heart is neurons, and it beats up to 40,000 times a day. What power, what intelligence, what devotion. In Sanskrit, the word for heart, anahata, means “unstuck” and is considered the place within us that is untouched by any wounding or trauma we experience in this lifetime. We also associate the heart with our emotions, and, for some, our souls.
Let's consider the fire. Fire is the element of transformation, purification, discipline, movement, passion, compassion, catharsis. It can keep us warm and facilitate nourishment, or it can destroy us. Fire can be the force that symbolically burns away all that is not true or that no longer serves us (as with the yogic concept of tapas).
The Sacred Heart was really the perfect symbol for me at the time. My health problems centered around my uterus, literally the “mother” organ, considered by some to be the body’s “lower” heart. This heart became a symbol of my creative capacity; healing my relationship to “mother;” the presence and support of the Divine Mother; my expanding capacity to live from the heart and be willing to feel it all; a reminder of the initiatory, transformative power of fire and the birth/death/rebirth cycle; my own sacredness and the sacredness of my body; and the call to move all the way in and through my life experiences. The Sacred Heart’s constant presence began to feel like a gift. It was a source of solace in an uncertain time and it remains a potent reminder of this journey and these lessons as a tattoo on my low belly, where my uterus once dwelled.
Among the rich symbolism of the Sacred Heart is a sword (or many) piercing through it. When I first began to connect to this image and to its symbolism for my own healing journey, I wanted to omit the sword. Just more violence and destruction, I thought. No, thank you. But then I began to understand what that sword meant. The sword is about piercing all the way into and through our emotions, our wounds, our suffering. It reminds us that we can’t get to the place that is unstuck, that is untouched, that is whole, holy, and healed, by going away from or around our truths. We must go in and through.
Writing is a sword in the Sacred Mother’s heart.
Writing offers a way into and through our wounding and our traumas as a means to heal.
Writing offers us a chance to symbolically represent our initial trauma with words, and in so doing, begin to honor that innate impulse to heal and move through our pain. We draw on the wisdom and benefits of our creativity and our imagination, to support our more fundamental needs for safety, security, belonging, and well-being.
Writing will not eliminate our pain, but it can alter its effect on our lives. As Judith Harris writes, “Writing about painful experiences defends against the world-dissolving powers that often accompany trauma, depression, and mourning. When writing is healing, it can intercede for us by demonstrating our strength to confront our own pain without descending directly into the abyss or retreating into lethargy.”6 The memory of the pain is still there, but it doesn’t rule or cripple our lives as it once did. We can begin to see our own strengths, our own resiliency; we can begin to connect to self-compassion, empathy, and understanding. It can change everything.
The benefits of writing to heal are many, and as I see them, inextricably linked to the freedom from having to repress our truths. On the physical level, studies have shown that writing about trauma boosts the immune system and increases the body’s capacity to fight off infection; it reduces the heart rate and brings the body into a more relaxed physiological state similar to those reached in yoga and meditation. It can produce behavioral changes and reduce anxiety and depression. Studies have found that writing can produce as much therapeutic benefit as therapy. These benefits hold true whether or not you ever show your writing to someone else, and regardless of your perceived “skill” as a writer.
While the research overwhelmingly supports the profound benefits that can come with writing about trauma, there are a few caveats. It’s not just any kind of writing that produces therapeutic benefits, but rather a certain approach or framework that is most useful.”
I talk more about this approach in my book Birth Your Story: Why Writing about Your Birth Matters.