I am often asked why I write books. It is a hard question to answer. I enjoy writing. A day spent writing feels like a day off for me. Am I also motivated by other things – recognition, appreciation, inspiring others? Yes, I wouldn’t be honest if I said that these things were not important to me. I write books for many reasons but at its heart it is quite simple. I want to share stories.
My father was a great storyteller. I remember also my grandmother telling me stories. I am sure it goes back a long way. Growing up I always felt a strong motivation to write and to be read. The heart of my ancestors is also beating in me. Telling stories is part of who I am.
There are some moments in life when you find yourself in the middle of a story so rich that it needs to be told. You want to share it with others because you can see its importance. This is a story which can guide others.
‘A Tiny Spark of Hope’ came out of one of those moments.
“Understanding is a powerful tool, guiding ways to help ourselves and to help others whom we are supporting.”
(Golding & Jones, 2021, p26)
The story emerged bit by bit during the process of therapy. Alexia asked for help to feel more authentic, to feel less alone and to feel whole.
“I don’t know who I am any more, but I know I want to be more than the parts of myself. I can’t live fragmented, but I do not yet feel whole.”
Alexia’s request for help was the start of a three-year therapy journey that we describe in our book.
The therapist in me had huge compassion for Alexia and for the life experiences she had endured. I wanted to help her heal and grow from these early experiences.
The psychologist in me was fascinated by the story that was emerging. A story about a little girl born into an environment of abuse and neglect and then growing up in foster care. A story about how this childhood experience had impacted on her development and led to a layer of defences that helped her to survive. A story about how as an adult these same defences were restrictive and imprisoning and how with my support she was able to emerge from these restrictions and to heal.
The author in me was holding a story that wanted to be told.
“[Alexia] wanted to find her real self, to feel authentic. To achieve this, she would need to integrate the experience of loss and trauma. Far from perfecting ways to avoid emotional experience, Alexia was learning that she needed to embrace it.
To achieve authenticity Alexia would have to discover why she had developed the defences we were exploring, and to understand the fears underlying these. Alexia needed the courage to face what she had been hiding from all her life: her vulnerability.”
Of course this was Alexia’s story, and it could not be written without her. I can’t remember exactly when I first suggested the idea of a book. I know I was tentative. I know I didn’t want to get too attached to the idea. If Alexia did not want her story to be written it would not be written. Somewhere towards the end of the therapy we seriously discussed it. Alexia was enthusiastic and cautious.
Her story was highly personal and also had elements that were shared by many others. Sharing the story could be helpful to others. It would also be a sharing of huge vulnerability for Alexia, hidden though she would be behind a pseudonym. Alexia also had to consider what it would be like not to be able to publicly share that this was her book; to see others reading it and having to remain concealed. This was not a decision to be taken lightly. Up until the contract for the book was signed Alexia could move forward and retreat from the idea. I was glad she hesitated even whilst we were writing it. She needed to be sure because once in print it could not be undone.
We did not start writing the book together until the therapy was finished, at least for the time being. There might be more therapy in the future but for now it had paused.
“I was a different person from the one who had started therapy. I now had a coherent sense of who I was; a sense of self based on authenticity rather than trying to please others…..The tigers are not stalking me anymore.”
(p166 to 167)
We had space to move from client and therapist to co-authors. Dual relationships can be difficult, and we had to negotiate this change carefully. There were still boundaries to our relationship, but these boundaries were shifting and needed to resettle in a way that was comfortable for both of us. This also had to allow Alexia to come back for more therapy in the future if she felt this would be helpful.
We next had to figure out how to write together. Writing can be an intensely lonely experience. This suited me. I liked space and aloneness to write. This did not suit Alexia. Our intersubjective relationship was the centre of our therapy relationship. Alexia needed this to also be the centre of our writing. We therefore came up with a process where I would write alone and then share what I had written. Alexia and I would then sit together, and we recorded our conversation as she told her story to me. We shared it together and then I put her words into written form. The book emerged very easily once we sorted out this process.
‘A Tiny Spark of Hope’ was published in January 2021. It describes our therapy journey illustrated by stories and the creative writing we engaged in during the process. Alexia and I combined our perspectives to create an account of the healing power of a relationship which helped Alexia to work through the challenges she faced as a survivor of childhood abuse. It describes the trauma that Alexia lived with and the post-traumatic growth that comes with healing. This part of Alexia’s story is written.
Of course her story continues:
“As we finish writing this book it feels important to acknowledge that I still have more work to do. This isn’t the end of the story. Do stories ever end?
I came to therapy with the intention of being fixed, all tied up in a bow. I discovered the impact of my experiences: they have left threads that are always going to be with me. There will be times when I will pick these threads up again and seek therapeutic support. Life is a kaleidoscope with beauty and flaws, both equally in need of appreciation.”
A Tiny Spark of Hope. Healing Childhood Trauma in Adulthood is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in the UK and is available in all good bookshops.