While I’m out with an eye injury, I’ll be sharing some guest posts! This guest post, by Lisa, is an important reminder about the power of writing.
Keeping a Journal to Help Process
There is a box in my attic that has followed me on every move starting when I left for college in 1987. It is filled with journals- fancy girly diaries, plain leather bound pages, and featureless spiral notebooks.
I started keeping a journal when I was 7. Most entries that year were about John Franke and my immense crush on the boy who would have cut off 1/3 of my ponytail if Ms. Silberbusch hadn’t leapt over three chairs to stop him.
I continued journaling into middle school, where I discussed the pain of moving to a new school district where everyone wore LaCoste sweaters (the ones with the alligators) and Ralph Lauren Polos, which weren’t in my father’s single-parent household budget. In high school I moved again and wrote of my struggles fitting in, along with many dramatic stories about ‘relationships’ with teenage boys.
I kept journaling through college, until I became a teacher. At that point I began spending more time reading my student’s writing than doing any of my own. Periodically I would pull out my old journals- I still do. I never seemed to write during the happiest times, probably because I was too busy being happy. But I kept track of everything else and worked my way through many personal issues.
As an adult, I knew keeping a journal had been soothing, but I didn’t realize what an important healing tool it had been until my father died suddenly, 3 months before my thirtieth birthday. I was overwhelmed with grief. I never got to say goodbye, and in fact it had been over a week since we had talked. He collapsed in his office in the elementary school where he worked as a beloved principal, during a meeting with one of his teachers.
When I went to the drugstore to pick up a prescription for my stepmother, I saw a stack of spiral notebooks by the register and grabbed one without being conscious of what I was going to do. When I got back to the house, I opened the notebook and wrote the words Dear Dad. Thus began an experience I can only describe as ‘continuous journaling.’ I kept the journal by my side at all times during the next 30 days and wrote to my father about everything happening around me and inside of me. After the month was over I put the journal away.
When faced with an out of the blue broken engagement and a seriously broken heart last year, I felt grief similar to what I felt after losing my father. I received an email from my then fiance who was overseas temporarily, telling me he was done. After the person I had been in a three year relationship told me never to contact him again, I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. I had no closure and still had so many things I wanted to say. I thought of my ‘Dad Journal’ and figured- why not? I would have done just about anything to relieve the pain.
I started a journal to the man I had been engaged to. I wrote it in every hour in the beginning, and it kept me from getting into bed and pulling the covers over my head. Fortunately it didn’t take 30 days this time. Most importantly, I was able to process a lot of my emotions and put them aside.
I have since made journaling a part of my routine, not as a way to work through grief, but as a way to become more aware of all of my feelings. I have found that I look forward to the quiet time at night when I can reflect on the day. I have begun to include a paragraph about the things I am grateful for at the end of each entry. I am amazed at how many things I let go by in the past without the appreciation they deserved.
If I could go back to my twenty-something self, the busy young classroom teacher, I would tell her not to stop writing in her journals. Focusing on these positive things makes me appreciate them even more. And one of the first things on my list was how grateful I am for my journals, and the gift they gave me- a way to work through so many emotions, through the physical act of writing.