A few days ago Diana contacted me about doing a guest blog. Of cause my curiosity wanted to investigate this women’s story out even further. As a breast cancer survivor you go in search of solace or meaning. And that is how stories begin because you can upturn many stones especially when we start to ask questions. I found Diana’s story sad, but also rewarding because she turned a negative into a good positive. By turning to the pen she found a way of expressing her very personal thoughts. 'Healing with Words' to me is exactly what I am trying to do with my blog. By typing out my thoughts and opinions I am expressing my inner thoughts which normally would be hidden from view. This alone is a therapy that has its personal rewards because you can look back and find solace and understanding within those words.
Thank you Diana for your encouragement and good luck with ‘Healing with Words’
Sarah M xx
My writing career began at the age of ten. Seated in my walk-in closet, I wrote about my feelings in a journal my mother gave me to help me cope with the loss of my grandmother who had committed suicide the day before. My parents were at work and my grandmother who lived with us,was looking after me. I knocked on her bedroom door to ask if I could go swimming in a friend’s pool. She did not answer. With a child’s intuition, I sensed something was wrong, so I scurried down the hall to phone my parents at work.
Many years later, I learned two things about my beloved grandmother, the woman who raised me. I learned that she ended her troubled life by taking an overdose of sleeping pills and that like me, she found solace in journal writing. In many ways, my grandmother has been the primary muse behind my own writing career.
Now, more than forty-five years later, I remember my first journal as clear as the last time I locked it up in my desk drawer. It was a maroon hard-covered book with a protective plastic sheath. The unlined pages were crème-colored and on the top of every other page was a quote by the prophet, Khalil Gibran. Each day his words inspired my own, which I wrote with a green fountain pen. I deliberately chose green; it must have been a comforting color for me.
My grandmother experienced a lot of pain but she also knew that writing about it helped her survive. While growing up in Galicia, Poland and in the midst of World War I, she lost both her parents to cholera. She had to fend for herself and her eight-year-old sister. Eventually, she immigrated to the United States and made a life for herself.
Many years after she passed away and when my parents were preparing to move from the house where we all lived, they discovered her journal in her closet. I devoured each and every word. The void in my life created by her death became more intense as years progressed, especially when I had severe health issues to deal with, like having breast cancer at the age of forty-seven. My illness and finding this journal inspired me to write a book weaving both of our lives and common interests and strengths. Although at times the writing was painful, it did bring me close to her once again and helped me more clearly understand the magnitude of her many hardships.
The book is called Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and was published in 2007. My second memoir, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey also stemmed from a painful place. This book began on the pages of my journal, and started as my personal cancer experience. As a nurse, I decided to develop it into a self-help book for other women to write their story. At the end of each chapter there are journaling prompts, and the book is also interspersed with poetry written during my cancer journey. Reading and writing poetry is healing. The book’s appendices have more writing tips, as well as listings of helpful organizations and support groups around the country.
Journals are a productive way to vent both small and large issues, such as problems with your boss or the death of a parent. It takes a great deal of energy to be angry at someone; it’s much healthier to drop it, as one would a suitcase full of trash. Holding grudges is unhealthy and certainly quite heavy! Once you are able to forgive, it’s easier to gravitate to all the good things and joys in your life.
Journaling is a cathartic way to spill your feelings out on the page rather than on the person. My attitude is: “Direct the rage to the page.” I have a writing colleague who says, “If it hurts, write harder,” and for years those words were posted above my computer, until they simply became a part of me.
In the journaling classes I teach, I remind my students that they are not being graded on their journal entries and they should write whatever comes to mind. I stress that there’s no right and wrong way to journal and that they are writing for themselves, no one else.
James Pennebaker, the author of Writing to Heal says “Writing dissolves some of the barriers between you and others. If you write, it’s easier to communicate with others.” He does have one rule that he calls, “the flip out rule,” which advises that if you get too upset when writing, then simply stop. Pennebaker believes that there’s a certain type of writing that erupts when we’re faced with loss, death, abuse, depression and trauma.
Whether affected by change, loss or pain, finding the time to write is critical to the healing process. Some people prefer to journal about their experience, while others may choose fiction or poetry to help them escape their own reality. Each writer must garner the genre most compatible with them, the one which they find the most liberating and empowering. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.
Some journaling tips:
· Find a quiet uninterrupted time and place to write
· Choose an inspiring notebook and pen
· Use a centering ritual (light a candle, play music, meditate, stretch)
· Take a deep breath
· Put aside your inner critic
by Diana M. Raab, MFA, RN