The writing opens up the tight fist of power and control and drops us out –the writing opens up a chasm, the writing throws over a bridge, the writing topples buildings and walls, boulders fall, steam rises, the room opens. -Writing Ourselves Whole, by Jen Cross
I know—that quote gets me right in the feels every time I read it. Jen’s book is amazing and before I add any words to her eloquence or the subject, let me recommend you read her work for yourself.
In fact, if you’re planning to write a memoir or piece about your healing process, trauma, addiction, or anything remotely personal, a vast amount of study and consideration of the approach and delivery is needed—which of course might be the reason you’re reading this blog.
There is no way I can write on this subject without reflecting on my own experiences. However, this presentation is not from an expert perspective. I would never assume such a title. Instead, it comes to you from a fellow traveler who has been to the depths of hardship and came out with a balm on my wounds and pen in hand. As a result, writing to heal is something I’m passionate about.
Writing is a tool for freedom. Through the regular application, you can find a new lease on life. I’m certain I’ll say this many times over the years, journaling was the staple that allowed me to counter the voices in my head who suggested and at times demanded that I wasn’t worth living and should take my life. I’ve battled these voices since the tender age of thirteen. Miraculously, I began to journal at age seven and had established a habit that would be my life preserver when hard times arrived.
There was a time I hated my journals because those pages held so much yuck. How could a person be filled with such negativity? Was I ungrateful? What was wrong with me? When the day finally arrived where positive tones filled the page, I felt much relief. Since then, my focus in journaling has become gratitude. I am often amazed at how much there is to truly be grateful for. God’s grace covers my life and the pages where I write.
The directions of writing to heal most often begins with the journal. Jen Cross says, “The emotions had a weight and a shape once they found their way into words, whereas, inside me, they had all tangled together into a single inarticulate mass.” This rings true to my experience and those of many, many others.
Once you’ve written it all out and feel the tendrils of healing taking place in your heart, you may want to allow your story to rest for a while. In the case of my older brother’s passing, this is exactly what I did. It was necessary for me to work through months of grief before I became convicted to write something for familial or possibly public eyes. When my own pain was settled enough to give me a stable voice, I was able to consider the impact my experience could have on others. Had I knee-jerked through the pain of his loss and written something sporadic, more harm could have been done to everyone involved. By waiting, I created the piece which became a balm for the hearts of my parents, siblings, and many others who have read it.
Another consideration in writing to heal is finding a supportive writing group. Whether therapeutic in nature or a general critique group, it is important to share your work in small circles where you are confident you’ll be met without reproach. Please share a general theme and gain consent from the participants to proceed if the group wasn’t formed for the singular purpose of healing. Also, you may find it prudent to provide content warnings so as not to trigger other members. Giving your words a voice is paramount in the writing process and having someone to share them with alleviates your immediate relations who may tire of needed revisions and your determined focus.
Time, time, and more time. It’s okay to have a finished piece and wait to move on it. This is called – trusting the process. For me, recovery began years ago. I’ve written very little for the public eye until recently. The decision to hold back has been for me, for the people around me, and because I learned the hard way about taking a piece too quickly to publication. Give yourself and your work the time it needs in order to bear fruit.
Writing is a process that you will cultivate. I urge you to be good to yourself, take the time to heal your heart, and bind the wounds. You do not walk alone, and I can testify that as you search for healing, the way will be provided, and the words will come. As a quick caveat to the suicidal ideation I experience, yes it still happens at times. I have come to accept that it always will because of my Complex-PTSD. The good news is that today I have a full tool kit that allows me to do something about it. Through counselors, community, and pursuing healing with vigor, I am happy with who I am today and where I am going.
For everything there is a season,
A time for every activity under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 NLT
-From the Fire Ring Blog, Vol.1, No.11