avatarDeanna Bugalski


Harness the Power of Trauma Memoirs for Your Catharsis

How true-Life stories helped me navigate through life’s challenges

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Lately, I have been reading a lot.

Growing up, I read all the time, but since having a family and running a business, it’s like I forgot how to read.

Of course, I knew how to read words on paper, but I couldn’t find any books to immerse myself in. I couldn’t find a genre that got me excited, and truthfully, I didn’t have the time to try that hard.

I sunk into a deep funk—let's call it depression—in the last few months of 2023

Nothing pivotal changed my brain chemistry from a jovial, happy chick into a sullen, angry recluse. The mental load I was carrying had built up to a place beyond where I could compartmentalise how to deal with each situation.

So, I shut down.

On reflection, as I get older, rather than spitting out rage-filled rants, I find myself shutting down and going inner.

Going inner, it looks like I do not have the ability to say much. I am stuck in my head and can’t begin or continue conversations around me because I’m too depleted in my mind to spare space for more noise.

When I shut down, I had no life left inside. I become easily exhausted, and nothing can motivate me to regain my mojo.

I know when I get like this, I have to be left alone long enough for it to pass. When I’m hassled about snapping out of it or too much is asked of me, it just prolongs the time that my funk will remain.

In the past, I can’t say I am aware of what I did with my time when I was in my funk

However, during my last episode, I picked up my iPad Mini and downloaded some books to read.

For whatever reason, I felt compelled to be whisked away by words and stories and immersed into a different realm than the one I was in.

The first book I read was A Brilliant Life by Rachelle Unreich. I came across this novel due to some divine intervention, I suppose.

That particular week, I attended an event at the Melbourne Holocaust Centre. As a proud Jew, my family had contributed to its recent renovation, and we had been invited for a private tour.

The tour was incredible, and it inspired my husband and I to travel to Poland later this year to learn more about our families’ heritage and history.

While sitting on the couch another evening during that week, I saw the author, Rachelle Unreich, interviewed about the book. She discussed how it was a memoir written about her mother’s survival in Auschwitz and the story of how she overcame her experience during the darkest part of human and Jewish history.

I purchased and downloaded the book immediately.

I couldn’t put it down. I read it in two days. It remains one of the best memoirs I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and it ignited a thirst for more within me.

The next book I read was The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

I had always loved the feature film The Help, so I was curious to read the book. I was transported to the year 1960 in Jackson, Mississippi. Page after page, I followed the stories of the black maids and the racial inequality they faced from the women around them.

Upon finishing that novel, I was still not satisfied. I needed to read more

By then, I was on a family vacation in Thailand and had ample hours to sit in the sunshine and continue my reading obsession.

I wanted to read more about Thai culture, but I also wanted another memoir or a tale about real people.

I began reading Thai Girl by Andrew Hicks.

This book described the exact scenery that I was looking at. The white sandy beach, the swaying palm trees, and the beautiful, hard-working Thai people who sold every imaginable object along the shores where the tourists spent their days sipping cocktails and suntanning.

This book delved further into the reality of what life sometimes looked like for many of the Thai people we met. It explored the problems of prostitution and cross-cultural relationships and gave me a fantastic insight into the struggles behind welcoming smiles.

My vacation and my insight into the turmoil that others had written about helped me slowly emerge from the fog and funk that I was in

There I was, reading tales about true adversity while I was sitting on a beach in a 5-star resort, and whatever my first-world issues were, they were nothing like what I was reading about on my iPad.

Because I’m obsessive-compulsive, when I find something I like, I keep on reading.

My curiosity about humanity's darkness compelled me to start reading Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, A Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight.

If you are unfamiliar with this book, it’s a memoir that tells the story of Michelle Knight’s tumultuous childhood in Cleveland, her estrangement from her family, and her fight for custody of her son, as well as being abducted, raped, tortured, and kept in captivity for over a decade at the hands of her kidnapper, Ariel Castro.

Yes, that Ariel Castro.

Ariel Castro was the horrific monster who was charged with kidnapping and holding captive three women in Cleveland, Ohio. He subjected these women to the most atrocious, vile tortures and rapes.

The book was not easy to read. It was graphic and tormenting, yet I couldn’t put it down.

I have realised there is quite a pattern to the genre of books I have been reading

Each was a memoir based on true-life events. Each novel delved deep into the worst parts of human behaviour, and each story featured an incredibly strong woman who had survived her ordeal, indeed, against all odds.

While the material was terrifying in a weird way, these books were uplifting.

Unlike trauma porn, where people like to consume traumatic stories, films, or images because it evokes some excitement within them, this was more like trauma education for me.

I’m no stranger to my traumas, and they are each the topic of a whole other article, but reading these books made me see that I am no different from these women.

Each protagonist in the story is just a person who may have been born at the wrong time and place. They were put in unexplainably horrible situations, but they got through.

They lived to tell the tale.

I am just a person who has gone through many of life’s ups and downs. I have seen and done things that I had to do to get through the situation I was in at the time.

I lived to tell the tale.

Last night, I started reading another trauma-infused memoir, but for the first time, I had to stop and put it down

I found myself exhausted by all the complex material and craved the need to have a good laugh again.

This is the very essence of being human. We can be faced with so much wrong but also so much good. We can wallow in our heads or shut the book and find some joy.

I will keep reading because what I have found is not a love for adversity but a love for a healthy hobby that can sometimes give my mind the escape it needs.

If you have any great book recommendations, I would love to see them in the comments.

If you would like to consume more incredible stories written by women, check out this publication:

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