Healing, One Letter at a Time: A guest post by TLAF Certificate student Sharon Bippus

Editor’s note: Sharon is a student in the Transformative Language Arts Foundations Certificate program. This blog post is one of five reflection posts she will be submitting as part of the certificate requirements.

I have always loved children’s literature – the illustrations, the simplicity of the language, the uplifting stories. So imagine my surprise when I was triggered by a picture book as I was browsing in a bookstore in my hometown of Houston, Texas in the fall of 2018. I was still carrying that anger when I sat down at a restaurant a short time later. As I waited for my food, I wrote the following on Facebook:

I went to Barnes and Noble this afternoon, and I saw a new children’s picture book called H is for Harvey. It contains sentences such as “H is for hurricane blah, blah, blah” and “H is for hope blah, blah, blah.” The very last sentence is “H is for happy.” Apparently, the home of the author of this book didn’t flood and has her happy, normal life back. How nice! So I’m going to write my own Hurricane Harvey book. It’s called P is for Post-Traumatic Stress. I was playing with that idea as I went across the street to have linner (too late for lunch, too early for dinner) at La Madeleine. When the cashier gave me the “P” spoon, I knew it was a sign! I’ll be posting the story in the comments below…

While not appropriate for a children’s book, what followed was an outpouring of my grief, anger, and confusion.

  • P is for panic, what you feel when you know for certain that your house is going to flood.
  • P is for patience, something that you lose.
  • P is for privacy, something else that you lose.
  • P is for pain, something that you feel a lot of.
  • P is for psychiatric, the kind of help you need now.
  • P is for puppy, like the one who lives in #187 and was able to enter #190 and pee on the floor because we no longer have any walls dividing us.
  • P is for paper plates, what you have to use because all of your dishes are packed away.
  • P is for pessimism because it’s been over a year and your house still hasn’t been repaired.
  • P is for property value, something that has gone down about 35%.
  • P is for plummet, what happens to your energy level.
  • P is for pregnant because one of my former students had a baby since Harvey. He and his wife actually produced a living, breathing human being faster than my house could be repaired.
  • P is for pray, the only thing I can do at this point.

Now I am writing the sequel to this story. It is mid-August of 2022, and the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey is approaching. I’ve been thinking about how to commemorate this event that turned my life upside down on August 29, 2017, and I realize that now I can find comfort in the letter “C.” The book I would write today is called C is for Complex PTSD.

While there are similarities, Complex PTSD differs from PTSD. A simple definition is that Complex PTSD refers to an accumulation of traumatic events that usually occurs in childhood whereas PTSD is the result of a single event. What I didn’t understand at the time is that I was reliving the emotional trauma of my childhood through the events that surrounded Hurricane Harvey.

With this knowledge, I am writing a new story:

  • C is for clarity, what I have gained since learning about Complex PTSD.
  • C is for cathartic, the releasing of grief through the infinite number of tears I have cried.
  • C is for compassion, what I need to give to my inner child.
  • C is for curiosity, the ability to stay open and continue learning.
  • C is for consistently, the way I need to show up for myself day after day.
  • C is for my creative practice, one of the ways that I heal.
  • C is for change, what I am doing with my life and my outlook.
  • C is for connection, the healing relationships I forge with people, nature, and myself.
  • C is for care, specifically self-care, actively taking steps that contribute to my well-being.
  • C is for calm, what happens after the storm passes.
  • C is for the courage to heal myself.
  • C is for the commitment to live my best life.

C is also for closure which I will commence by returning to the letter “P.” This particular “P” was a gift from a friend who added it to my Facebook post back in 2018:

P is for permission, permission to own my feelings and permission to express myself.

Sharon Bippus, PhD, is an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor who finds inspiration in the intersection of creativity, mystery, and synchronicity. As an undergraduate, she was awarded two scholarships to study in Germany which fueled her desire to learn more about the diverse world we live in. Since that time, she has taught English in Slovakia and China and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Russia. She currently teaches ESOL at a community college in the suburbs of Houston, Texas where she works with students from all over the world. In her free time, she enjoys mixed media, collage, and photography and has received training in trauma-informed expressive arts and nature-based therapeutic practices. She is a SoulCollage® facilitator, a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator, and a student in the Haden Institute’s Dream Work Program.

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