Healing Homeless Trauma Through Writing

healing homeless trauma through writing

I don’t know what made me feel “normal” and “not homeless” while quietly sitting alone in a dimly lit Starbucks with my laptop, but I did. This is how I spent a lot of time maintaining my sense of normalcy while homeless. In fact, it was the Starbucks right outside the train station in Jamacia, Queens, that made all the difference.

It wasn’t just the sense of “blending in” that made me feel safe and comfortable. The location also covered all my basic needs – access to water, Wi-Fi, and a bathroom. Most of all, it was somewhere far away from the shelter, guards, and metal detectors. It was a quiet, safe place where I could take refuge while processing the events in my life.

I was young and alone and had all of these negative emotions inside of me, which I felt would not mesh well with the spaces I found myself in with my case manager and shelter staff. In those moments, I felt abandoned and let down. In the hundreds of calls and emails I’d made to different organizations dedicated to homeless services, no one could help me.

After fighting in court for months, I had just been taken out of my home by a millionaire slumlord. Even the minimal legal advice I’d received didn’t do much but keep a roof over my head for a short while longer while my then-landlord put a hole in my living room wall and cut off my water, heat, and electricity.

Encouragement to Write About My Experiences

At the time, I had an internet friend in Sweden I’d been talking to regularly. We had a lot of similar struggles with mental illness, disability, and poverty. He encouraged me to write about what was happening to me. Even if it didn’t help, he said, people would read it, and they’d know about what’s going on, what’s really happening out there.

So that’s what I did. I got up daily, signed out of the shelter, walked to Starbucks, and started from the beginning.

Eventually, journaling turned into blogging, which turned into 20,000 words, then 50,000 words. Before long, I had enough words to fill a book. All of this led me to Invisible People and writing for you, reader. It led me to publish all of this first on my blog, to beta readers and editors, and then on Kindle Vella.

Sequoia, my friend in Sweden, who supported me through all of this, didn’t know if it would have helped me get housed, and it didn’t. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t help. In fact, it helped a lot. It helped me survive homelessness. It helped me not kill myself on a lot of days.

Beyond that, it helped me connect to people at a time when I felt most invisible. It helped me feel human, cared for, and seen.

Healing Through My Words

Writing and sharing my experience connected me to others while also helping me process what was happening. I was in my 20s, a recent college graduate, and going through a traumatic event that would ultimately change my life forever. I went from having my whole life ahead of me to having nothing.

My life had been reduced to a duffel bag.

I had nothing to call mine, no steady ground under me, and I had just lost the roof over my head. Writing was a way for me to regain my footing. It was a way to make sense of all that was happening. The fear, anger, and sorrow were being redirected at the blinking cursor, leaving some room for survival and navigating this very difficult moment.

In ‘Lit therapy’ in the classroom: writing about trauma can be valuable, if done right, by Yannick Thoraval of RMIT University, we learn that “the health benefits of writing about trauma are well documented. Some counseling theories — such as narrative therapy — incorporate writing into their therapeutic techniques. Research suggests writing about trauma can be beneficial because it helps people re-evaluate their experiences by looking at them from different perspectives. Studies suggest writing about traumatic events can help ease the emotional pressure of negative experiences.”

Moreover, trauma is quite complicated. Trauma is more than “stored memory to be expunged.” Our minds, brain, and sense of self can all change in response to trauma.

That change in my sense of self troubled me most during and after homelessness.

I forgot who I was entirely. My identity had been completely remade by that trauma, by those events, and I completely lost sight of who I was. Those around me were rewriting my identity with their views on poor and homeless people. Unwillingly, I stepped into those shoes.

From my experience with homelessness and having spent a lot of time with homeless friends, I do know that homeless people lack an empathetic space. Stereotypes around homelessness prevent this from happening. If it weren’t for Invisible People’s support group online, I would have nowhere to seek empathetic support and understanding.

But it’s more than that. Supportive spaces like this help us heal, and they help us come back to ourselves. This is a vital part of the recovery process that is often ignored. Through writing about my trauma, I could remember some fundamental characteristics about myself – one of the most important being that I am a writer.

As I continued to write about my homelessness experience, I realized it’s not only about the traumatic, darkest moments. It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. I learned a lot about my strength and resilience while homeless. I learned about the strength of a person and community because I was homeless and met so many other homeless people.

Moving forward, I’d like to encourage homeless people to write. Write your truth and experience so that others can learn from them. But most importantly, write for yourself and your healing. Write for your joy, for your enrichment, because you deserve it.


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Jocelyn Figueroa

     

Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing. Check out her book about homelessness at https://ko-fi.com/scartissueproject

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