Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Writing, as a tool for healing.

"Let's face it, writing is hell."
-William Styron

I'm not sure how it began, whether it was because of a school assignment I brought home in second grade or because my mother had heard it from one of her emigrant friends as a way to ensure her children would excel in school, but when I was eight years old, I was required to keep a journal. At the time, I hated it. What more could a little girl write about except what she ate for lunch and how she went to the store with her parents? It was a tedious task we were forced to complete every day before bed. Now, I could not be more grateful for these diaries as they offer glimpses into the reality of my childhood. 

For a long time during my eating disorder therapy, I thought I had made up much of the abusive environment I grew up in — perhaps I was playing the martyr or the victim? Perhaps the truth of the matter was that I truly was a bad seed, and I just didn't want to admit it to myself? Maybe everyone else around me was right and I was wrong? 

One day in in my late 20s while I was still seeing my therapist Jill, I was searching for something in my studio apartment. I stood on a chair reaching into the cabinets above my fridge, and came across the shoulder bag in which I placed these dozens of diaries. I pulled them down distractedly and placed them on the Formica countertop of my kitchen table. 

Sitting down, I began to flip through them and watched how my handwriting shifted over the years from childlike bubble letters towards more sophisticated and stylized cursive. It was as though the handwriting itself revealed more than what I was actively saying on the page. I was amused at how I would unfailingly write what the weather was like in the top margin of the page, beside the date and the day. 

Yet, the more I perused the pages, the more I slowed down as my adult self began to realize what what I was reading. At ten years age, I began to hate myself and shared in my diaries precisely the same feelings I was going through almost two decades later. 

It would take me by surprise and I would repeatedly have to close the journals, look away. Sobs began to fill the quiet in my apartment. My writings revealed how my parents began fighting, how finances became such a burden for everyone, how my cousins and aunts would come over to bully me and threaten my life. 

All of what I remembered was real. Reading the facts from my adolescent and teenage self was worse than the stories I had made up in my head, because what I conjured up always gave the adults in my life the benefit of the doubt. What I made up in my mind moved the blame from them onto myself, as though if I could have been better, I would have been more loved. What I made up in my mind was that it couldn't have been true that I was so undesirable as a member of my immediate and extended family. 

These journals not only offered evidence of what I had gone through, but they also taught my adult self something else — a little girl at the age of eight could not possibly have believed she was bad unless the people in her life were telling her this was the case, which they were emphatically doing day after day. Because at eight years of age, you are reliant upon your guardians for what is real, for how to understand oneself in the context of her surroundings, how to feel safe and how to be protected. 

At about 13 years of age, my journal entries show that I was coming up with quotes to encourage myself to keep on keeping on. "Time is wasted without love," "Be yourself," and "Have fun now and the depression later or vice versa" were just a few of the sign-offs I would write nightly. I had just entered junior high and these were the things I needed to wake up in the morning.

It's bittersweet that I find in my adult life, now, I'm doing the same optimistic things... writing positive quotes to encourage myself and others to live in the light rather than the darkness, that there is possibility to be in a place of contentment and approach experiences with a sense of courage rather than disappointment and fear. Apparently, for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to help others see that there was another way of being that circled joy rather than pain and kept searching for ways to embolden myself with words to survive.

Many researchers show that writing things down is therapeutic, cathartic, and leads to all sorts of healing. As I weave the content of these pages into my memoir, I can only go through a few pages of these journals at a time. I hope that they in the end, they were recorded for a reason, so that others who are forced to tread the same dirt path will believe that a fork in the road will inevitably come up, a point at which the vistas will look so different than the dismal viewpoints they had been taking in all this time.

Recently, I listened to This American Life broadcast the controversy of how one man's retelling of fact became fiction as a way to make a point. Truth is what we perceive things to be; how we determine reality is through a shared acceptance of the same story. 

My book will be my truth. And I hope that it will become a shared reality for those who are looking to do more than survive, but that it will also become a story for those who are aiming to thrive. May it be just one example of how all of us can be strong, wild and joyful. (And that's what Hawk + Lily is all about, too.)

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