Finding Your Voice in a Time of Collective Trauma

Finding Your Voice in a Time of Collective Trauma

“Your silence will not protect you,” wrote Audre Lorde in 1977.

I was a college student in 1980 studying Feminism and the breaking of silence by women writers when I first encountered Lorde’s galvanizing essay titled “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” She was one of many writers I read in a class on Black Women Writers. I read her words in the same semester I also read Zora Neale Hurston for the first time, and Toni Cade Bambara and Toni Morrison.

Kamala Harris quoted Audre Lorde in her Convention speech and it felt to me like an amazing sign of the breakthroughs possible in this era.

On Wednesday January 6, in the morning before the Capital riots, a Black man and a young Jewish man were elected Senators from Georgia.


How do we keep our eyes focused on the good while also acknowledging the real and present danger of our times?

It’s a question I am asking myself even as I’m still reeling from the shock of what happened Wednesday. I have more questions than answers now, but I do know that shock silences us, and we can’t afford to lose our voices right now.

While I may have been aware on some level of the danger that might come on January 6, I was nonetheless shocked to see the images that I saw. And for several days I did not know what to say.

But after a few days of conversation, sharing feelings and experiences, I came into a more centered place of awareness within myself. And I was reminded of all I’ve learned over the years as a writing teacher working with trauma survivors.

I’m writing to you today to remind you that your voice matters.

And to offer some tools for finding your voice again if you, too, find yourself shaken by recent events.

We need your voice. We need the clear voices of good people who care about justice, kindness, decency and the value of human life.

If you are American, and you voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris I suspect you were shaken by the events of this week.

If you are a person a color, I imagine you were deeply impacted.

If you are Jewish, an immigrant, gay or lesbian or bi or trans, if you are disabled, you may feel more vulnerable than ever.

And yet, what I remember from the beginning of the Trump administration was the outpouring of commentary from people who survived Nazi Germany. The one thing they said that was different about those times was that today, people were speaking up, early. They saw the parallels and took them seriously, between Hitler’s rise to power and Trump’s rise to power. And, they were aware of that one important difference. The voices of dissent.

You may not feel that you have political power. But, your voice makes a difference. When you have access to your voice you have access to your own energy and your own vitality. That matters in your own life.

When you can connect with your voice and honor both your vulnerability and your strength, you can make empowered choices. You can be part of a stand for love, for peace, for justice, even if it’s just within the small circle of your own family and friends. When you are a stand for love the energy of love ripples out and makes a difference.

So how do you find your voice when you have been through a shock, or a collective trauma like those of us in the US experienced this past week?

First, you need to come fully into your body. Shock has the effect of disconnecting you from your body. Breath, movement, walking, singing, drumming, being outside in nature are all things that have the power to help you return to a more embodied presence.

One simple thing you can do even as you read this is place your hand on your heart and take three breaths as if you are breathing right in and out of your heart. This will start the process of heart coherence, which can help to calm and balance your nervous system.

Then, give yourself permission to find your voice first for yourself. Let yourself write into your own truth, so that you can know what your own truth is.

If you are feeling scared or enraged or overwhelmed or confused or all of the above or something else entirely, give voice to it.

One of my favorite prompts for this kind of time is “What matters now…”

Take ten minutes to pour out whatever you feel, in response to that prompt. And use it again and again. Letting all your feelings have a voice is an important step to transforming your feelings into action.

Audre Lorde’s essay was entitled “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” She knew that silence contained energy. Language was the pathway to translating that energy into action.

What if one of the actions you could take,
after giving voice to what matters now, is to
remember your sacred purpose in being here?

If you are here to help our world through this time of transition, what is your role?

It doesn’t have to be big to make a difference. Every one of us matters.

Your decision to become a presence of love makes a difference. Your decision to offer love to the part of you that feels scared, or to your child or friend or neighbor who feels scared makes a difference.

Let your voice be your barometer and your guide. If your response to “what matters now” is rage and grief, pour it out. It may come in waves. Keep pouring it out.

If you find yourself feeling strengthened by writing and by remembering your connection with the Sacred, ask for guidance in your writing.

Ask your Soul Self, your Higher Self, your connection with the Divine to speak to you, and it will. Give that presence a Voice, and listen.

.Let your writing be a friend, a guide and a companion you can consult with in these times. Turn to the words of writers you respect to let their words inspire you.

Most importantly, if you notice you are silenced because of this or any kind of trauma, take steps to move through that silence and find language, again.

Language gives a coherence to your experience and helps you move forward in your life.

I want to close by offering you more of Audre Lorde’s words. She acknowledges her own fears of breaking her silences, and comes to be aware of what is possible when she does not let her fears stop her.

She tells us, in “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action:”

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect. I am standing here as a Black lesbian poet, and the meaning of all that waits upon the fact that I am still alive, and might not have been.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?

Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”

Give yourself time to find words for your own silences. Give yourself time to write about what matters now.

Find your voice and you will find the energy and clarity you need to take the next step, and the next, whatever those steps are.


  1. Harriettt allen says

    With my hand on my heart I feel gratitude for everything I get to experience and also forgetting to meet you. Beautifully written

  2. nina rothman says

    Thank you Debra for that and for opening a window for fresh air at a time of seeming inability to simply breathe