The Healing Act of Storytelling – An Interview with Counselor and Author Lucille Zimmerman
We all experience pain. The way our brain processes pain and the sensory experience during trauma is critical to our recovery. Counselor and author, Lucille Zimmerman, has been studying Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for over eleven years. Equipped with her license for professional counseling and her own personal experience with PTSD, Zimmerman has helped countless people manage symptoms and prevent recurring PTSD patterns. Found within the pages of her new book, Finding the Upside of Down, a helpful tool for post traumatic growth is storytelling.
In our interview with Zimmerman, she shares her own experience with the healing powers of telling stories. Fictional stories can heal a writer too. The key is to get the painful experience out in the open, find your community, and own your personal growth.
The excerpt below was selected by Zimmerman from her most recent publish, Finding the Upside of Down. She encourages all readers to step out and discover your greatest story.
Think about what you did the last time you faced a crisis. When my dad died, when the 9/11 events happened, and when I was bitten by a dog, the first thing I did was contact my people. After the Columbine tragedy happened in my hometown, scores of counselors showed up to talk to the kids. Parents sobbed and hugged their children, but many of the kids just wanted to be around their friends. They piled into the churches so they could hang out together and eat food that area restaurants provided.
Despite our Western society’s Lone Ranger mentality and its pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mantra, God created us to be deeply connected to others. Those who are not connected to others have likely been wounded, probably at an early age. They learned not to share, need, or love. But don’t be fooled; most likely, they are suffering on the inside.
One of the most primal fears for humans is the threat of abandonment. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night.” What is trauma but an encounter with our own personal night?
MK: Lucille, you wrote, “The happiest people are those who learn how to trust, reveal themselves, and reach, need, and create safety with others.” Writing and sharing stories is a big way to reveal oneself. Do you have any tips for readers getting over the feeling of panic when we reveal something personal?
LZ: Sharing our stories can be terrifying but as readers and listeners we crave authenticity. We aren’t interested when people don’t share the messy journey. Researcher Brene Brown says, “Vulnerablity is the one trait we most appreciate in others, and it’s the one we least want others to see in us.” Of course, you cannot go around dumping great piles of stuff on people who are not safe. Institute balance. Learn who trustworthy people are and then take small risks. See what happens with what you share.
MK: Could a person craft a fiction story about their experience and feel the same effects of healing?
LZ: Yes, there is a strategy used called Theophostic Counseling. A person reimagines each painful scene from their past but with healing aspects. Creating a story could be a way to accomplish this. With my patients I use a technique called reframing. Sometimes I help someone see how there might be another way to understand what was happening that they have never considered.
MK: You begin your book, Finding the Upside of Down, with a very personal story about the death of your mother. Why did you choose to tell your readers this first?
LZ: I wanted readers to know I identify with their pain. I am a trauma survivor and so many of us are. During my formative years I cared for my terminally ill mother. Though my mother, a nurse, and my father, a doctor, understood mom was dying, they protected the children from knowing until three days before. It seemed so sudden when my dad told us mom had gone to heaven. The next morning he put the younger kids on the bus to go to school like it was a normal day. For years I struggled to cope with no healthy coping skills. I wanted my readers to know this and have hope there is help and a chance for recovery.
MK: When you wrote the first draft of Finding the Upside of Down did you start with the knowledge of PTSD from your counseling background or with the stories from your own life?
LZ: When I started this book it was with a purpose of describing trauma and PTSD from my counseling background. However, I pulled from essays I had written a decade earlier. I wrote those essays not knowing they would ever be published. I wrote them as a way to process my pain. There is a great book called Opening Up by researcher James Pennebaker that describes how writing through our pain heals us emotionally and even physically.
MK: Do you prefer to tell stories or listen to stories? Why?
LZ: That is a tough one! I love to hear people’s stories because every person’s life is so unique and rich! But I like to share stories of redemption or when I have seen miracles happen. People need to hear about hope. They need strategies for dealing with the painful parts of life. If you suffer depression and anxiety, you are in good company. I don’t know very many people who do not struggle.
MK: Thank you, Lucille! We are all so thankful for the stories you have shared with us in your process. Readers, be sure to snag Lucille’s book and any one of her recommendations for more great reading.
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, Colorado. In the past she enjoyed teaching psychology and counseling courses at Colorado Christian University. She is the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World and Finding the Upside of Down: How Tragedy Can Lead to Remarkable and Dramatic Breakthroughs
For the past thirteen years Zimmerman has studyied self-care, vulnerability, emotional intimacy, PTSD, and posttraumatic growth. She has a passion for helping people find their identity, set healthy boundaries, and heal past hurts.
Lucille and her husband, John, have two grown children. She is on a mission to find what’s good about each day whether it be the gurgle of a coffee pot, sunlight on a snowy field, or the smell of lilacs. Her favorite word is cozy, and her favorite place is anywhere she can put her feet on her husband’s lap and talk about the day.
Visit www.LucilleZimmerman.com to learn more.