Trauma survivor teaches writing class to help others



Shawna Ayoub Ainslie is a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma.

Now, she is teaching a creative writing class meant to provide healing to those who have experienced any type of trauma at any time in their lives.

She said the idea sprung from her own experience with writing as a form of therapy.

“I had a lot of trauma growing up, physical abuse and emotional stressors and just health issues,” Ainslie said. “One of the ways that my parents and my therapists helped me to get through my stress was to have me journal, to write about it.”

Ainslie continued to write throughout her life and received a master of fine arts in creative writing at IU. She began to gain readership after publishing a family blog for her relatives and was soon writing for a few different websites.

Ainslie said she suffered from severe postpartum depression after her second child. She didn’t write again for four years.

After her third child, a daughter, she said she had to start writing again or risk losing herself.

“Having a daughter really brought back a lot of the trauma I had already been through with both boys and postpartum depression and intense therapy and healing,” she said. “So I said, ‘you know, I’m just going to write on these issues of ?survival.’”

She began with a piece combining her experience of abuse with that of a friend, titled “The Letter No One Wrote My Mother.” It’s an emotionally loaded letter to the narrator’s mother, the wife of an abuser.

Another one of Ainslie’s works, “Confessions of an Almost Abuser,” deals with her internal struggle to break the chain of abuse in her family while dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, which caused her to have flashbacks and lose seconds of memory.

She said she must choose daily not to be an abusive mother.

“That’s a hard thing to own in front of people but it’s an important thing to own,” she said. “If no one stands up and says, ‘that happened to me,’ then the people that it’s happening to feel shame and they hide from it. Instead of dealing with it, it grows bigger and grows worse.”

Ainslie said the eight-week class will begin with a few questions: “Where are we? What are our triggers? Why are we here?”

She said they won’t actually begin the writing process until week three, and she welcomes any level of writing experience.

While Ainslie has chosen to share her personal story online, she said she won’t be putting any kind of pressure on her students to do the same. She said the class may even end in a bonfire.

A few of her own stories have been reduced to ash in her fireplace.

“The main thing is to get them down because when you get them down, you’re accepting them,” she said.

Ainslie said she understands the class may bring buried emotions to the surface, so two professional therapists, Christine and Bret Eartheart, will be ready to help if any students become triggered.

“Shawna is offering people a really safe, nurturing space to examine their stories,” Bret said. “It would only be safe if it was led by someone who’s done their healing work and she is ?definitely that person.”

Bret said traumatic experiences have a tendency to define us subconsciously, and gaining insight into those experiences allows victims to take back control of their lives.

Ainslie said her personal experience with trauma has been a grieving process, and writing was the acceptance stage.

Her goal for the class is to provide a safe outlet for those who have not healed from their traumatic experiences. She said she hopes to teach similar classes in the future.

“Fear is the biggest obstacle,” Ainslie said. “It’s been mine and I think Writing through Trauma is going to be about, ‘this is scary, but we support each other.’ Hopefully as a group we can get through it.”

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