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Week 7, Session 1: Building a narrative that feels right

Hello everyone! Welcome back to Week 7 Session 1. 

As always, if this is the first session you’re reading, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!

The goals for this session are:

  • Start to build a narrative of our life that feels right
  • Reflect on the positive aspects of our lives

Remember, you’re going to need paper and pens for this session, so if you don’t have those with you now, please go and get them. 

This is a very exciting session. Building our narratives is a really grounding and meaningful way of rounding off this journey we’ve taken together through this course, as we build our sense of self, and the continuity of our lives. 

But firstly, as always, let’s start with our grounding exercise! 

So, today’s first grounding exercise will be… pick a color that you like, maybe one that makes you feel calm, or makes you smile. Now, look around the room you are in and try and identify all of the things in the room that are that color. As you find them, say them outloud. Try and find at least 4 things in your space. If you can’t find anything in your room, try looking out a window, or conjure a picture of four things in your mind and say them out loud.

Fun question: What is a word in your language that you love or connect with deeply?

Next session is the final session. Wow. As the end of this course approaches, let’s use this session to really integrate what we’ve learned about our own experiences. One of the most difficult things to do after experiencing trauma is integrating it as part of our lives. We are possibly in different stages of processing what has happened to us, and of course we’re not trying to force you to feel like you have to talk about these in any particular way. These conversations should happen within a contained and safe environment, and we have walked you through some tools that can be helpful with this, such as developing your resilience, asking for support, etc. We can, however, work together on identifying other important events in our lives, positive and negative, that have been a big part of our story. This will allow us to place our traumatic experience or experiences as part of a larger narrative. Present, but not dominant.

So today, we will be making Storylines. Our own Storylines. They are ours and we have full control over them. We are the ones to decide what goes into them, how much space they take up and how we integrate them as part of our life story. 

Let's get started! We will start by drafting our storylines, so don’t worry if it looks a bit disorganised at first; you can transcribe it into another page when you are ready, and your draft is finished. You can even make multiple drafts, as you remember more events! 

So the first thing to do is to draw a long horizontally along the middle of the page. This is going to represent your timeline: your life from your moment of birth until now, so make sure you draw it with impetus! 

Second, mark your year of birth at the beginning of the timeline and the present day at the end. 

Next, think about your important events that we asked you to brainstorm, and look at your list of important moments and events, if you have one written down. Maybe start to write a list of events you really want to include. Place them in the top side of your line in chronological order, and write the years when they happened. 

Take your time to think about your important events… maybe you haven’t had the time or energy to think about this until now. That’s okay. Some examples of important moments might be:

  • the birth of a sibling
  • moving houses
  • starting or finishing University
  • getting your first job
  • meeting your best friend
  • an important trip or holiday you took
  • the birth of your children

Now on the bottom side of your line write the places where these happened, the town, cities or countries. If you have never moved towns, you may want to specify which house you were living in at the time of each event in the top of your line. 

An important note: you can, or cannot, place your traumatic experience as part of your storyline. It’s up to you. Some people prefer including what’s been challenging for them in their storylines, and some don’t. For instance, someone may want to include the death of a loved one as it was in an important moment and they want to acknowledge that. Or maybe receiving a particular diagnosis was an important part of your life. 

Another important note is about time, and whether to represent it linearly. This is another thing that’s up to you. If you represent time in a linear way, that is you leave an even amount of space for each year on your timeline such that time is evenly distributed across the timeline, it may offer a sense of perspective on how long it has been (or short it has been) since certain life events, or between different life events. Some people find it grounding to place these markers as an objective way looking at time.

On the other hand, representing time in a non-linear way, whereby you give the most space on your timeline to periods in your life which had a lot of people, places, and events in them, can also be helpful. For example, you might not have a lot of events that you want to mark in your childhood, and would rather make your childhood years small so you can focus on the events that happened when you were older if these feel more meaningful. Again, it’s totally up to you, and feel free to try out a couple of different ways as you work on the draft or drafts of your timeline. 

As you are doing this, you might be remembering some stories about when each of these things happened. You may want to reach out to some family members or friends after this to share your storylines with them. Remember, these storylines are not static! We can add things to them as we remember them or it might be that someone we know reminds us of an important life event we hadn’t included initially and now we want to. This is your story so you decide how to tell it.

And, maybe you’d like to include some photos! If you have photos, feel free to add them to your timeline; this may work better if you have a larger or longer piece of paper to work with, so keep that in mind. If you have digital pictures but you can’t print them out, maybe consider doing a timeline on a digital platform like PowerPoint, where you can place digital pictures. 

Or, if you don’t have any pictures at all of important things in your life, either because they were lost, you had to leave them behind somewhere, or they were never taken, that’s fine too! You don’t have to include them. Or, perhaps you’d like to look up pictures of things you’d like to include on your timeline online: a picture of your hometown, maybe, or a picture of something you love doing like a piano if learning the piano was an important part of your life. It’s up to you.

Another note on format: as we discussed, where and how you draw this timeline is up to you! Digital or paper, with as many drafts as you need: you do what works for you. If you want it to be something which is easy to store, or you are worried about someone finding it in your house, you can tape three A4 (standard print size) sheets together which you can fold over each other. This way, you can store your timeline as you would a normal sheet of paper, and it keeps it safe. Or maybe your timeline is something you would like to celebrate! You could get a big big piece of paper, and display it somewhere. Again, it’s up to you.  

If you notice your storyline is focusing only on negative events, try to make a conscious effort of thinking about some positive things to include in it. If we are able to include events of a different nature, this can have a positive impact in our historic memory and the way we look at our lives. Your trauma is not the only thing that happened to you and it does not define you. There are so many pieces to who you are and how you tell your story. You can take a different outlook on life if you are able to see your traumatic experiences as a part of a line of events. You might remember how you overcame other things, how much you have achieved, and really connect with the person you are today. Like we have been going over these past few weeks, connecting with the parts of yourself that got you through the good events and the bad ones can give you a great perspective on your resilience and growth. 

How is it looking? How is it feeling? We hope this activity has made you feel connected with yourself and your story. If you feel comfortable, think about sharing this with someone close to you before the next session. It can be a really good opportunity to learn how to tell your story in a different way. 

**The homework for this week is…**For the next session, try finishing a first draft of your storyline - maybe you want to move it into a bigger format like we talked about and add some photos, drawings or any decorations you want to them. Also, have another piece of paper ready to use in our next session. As we wrap up in our next session, we will be thinking about the future, so we’ll be adding to our timelines. 

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