Local authors create writing workshop for trauma survivors


Aundrea Kinney/Review • Authors Alex Acker-Halbur, left, and Meg Blaine Corrigan, right, both said that writing about the traumas they’ve experienced helped them to heal. Now they aim to help others who have experienced trauma. Acker-Halbur and Blaine Corrigan have designed two writing workshops, which will next be offered Aug. 4 and Aug. 18 in Lake Elmo.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • One of the writing exercises Alexis Acker-Halbur and Meg Blaine Corrigan use in their writing workshops involves drawing inspiration from photographs.

While in the hospital for stage 4 colon cancer surgery, Alexis Acker-Halbur, a copywriter from Shoreview, prayed to the Great Spirit, asking “How do I live?” It was in that spiritual moment she had an epiphany.

A vision of a list came before her eyes showing the traumas she had experienced, as well as the resulting illnesses.

“My body was trying so hard to cope with trauma that it would just get sick,” Acker-Halbur says. “I vowed to keep going and never give up, and that’s why I wrote my book, ‘Never Give Up.’”

About 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced trauma at least once in their lives, according to the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute, a nonprofit geared towards helping people understand, recover from and treat traumatic stress, dissociative disorders and other co-occurring issues.

“We can’t cure traumatic events, but we can heal from them,” Acker-Halbur says.

It’s in the spirit of healing that Acker-Halbur and Meg Blaine Corrigan, a Lake Elmo author and retired Century College counselor, teamed up to provide a writing workshop for those in the Twin Cities area who have experienced trauma.

 

Drawing on personal experience

Both women have experienced traumatic events and have personally used writing as a path to healing.

Blaine Corrigan is the author of several books, including the memoir “Then I Am Strong: Moving From My Mother’s Daughter to God’s Child,” which is about her faith walk after growing up in the shadow of her mother’s alcoholism and a later experience of sexual assault at gunpoint.

“I believe that God intervened,” Blaine Corrigan says. “It took me a long time to figure that out. ... I just buried it all and left my life.”

She explains that she felt she “had been a closet-survivor for years” until her memoir was completed. 

“Words with integrity have transforming power,” Blaine Corrigan says. “If you speak the truth to your fear, it makes a huge difference in your healing.”

Acker-Halbur’s “Never Give Up: Break the Connection Between Stress and Illness” guides readers towards successfully managing their dark moments in life, while sharing Acker-Halbur’s experiences of sexual and emotional abuse, car accident and cancer, as well as her climb back to physical, mental and spiritual health.

Acker-Halbur explains that studies by James Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, have shown that “writing gives trauma survivors, and all of us really, the words to clearly state what happened and to try to find a meaning so that we don’t stay trapped in that trauma state.”

“[Meg and I have] taken our trauma, and we’re taking it out now to help other trauma survivors get beyond their trauma,” Acker-Halbur says.

 

Writing through trauma

Acker-Halbur and Blaine Corrigan first met at Women of Words, an area writing club, and say they knew right away that they wanted to work together to help others use writing to heal. They held their first workshop in April at Christ Lutheran Church in Lake Elmo.

They explain that the pilot workshop seemed to be a success. The evaluations of the workshop were all very positive and the 11 participants showed interest in attending additional workshops.

Following the success of the pilot workshop, Acker-Halbur and Blaine Corrigan were invited to speak at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault Annual Training Symposium held at the end of June. The pair also designed a second level of the workshop, with the 1.0 class as a required prerequisite for the 2.0 class.

The next Writing your Way through Trauma Workshop 1.0 will be held Saturday, Aug. 4, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 11194 36th St. N. in Lake Elmo. For those who complete workshop 1.0, Writing your Way through Trauma Workshop 2.0 will be offered Saturday, Aug. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church. Each workshop costs $25, which can be paid at the door or in advance.

The writing workshops are designed to be sensitive to trauma triggers to foster a safe and comfortable environment for participants to write. Participants will work on several writing exercises during the workshop and will walk away with a folder of ideas to continue writing on their own.

Participants can write in any style they like, and are not obligated to share their work with the group.

“Some people don’t feel that they can write a novel, but they can look at poetry or they can look at writing an essay ... or a blog,” Acker-Halbur says. “And there’s always journaling, and we know journaling has helped people from the get-go.”

Blaine Corrigan explains that the workshop is open to anyone in the Twin Cities area who has experienced any type of trauma, which can include illness, fire, war, divorce or even second-hand trauma.

“We want to give people some sense of hope,” Acker-Halbur says. “Once you find the courage to tell the truth, healing starts immediately.”

 

— Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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