If you are writing any form of your own story, either in a memoir or in vignettes in a non-fiction self-help or how-to book, there will be some self-exploration that occurs. The truth is that no one wants to read a book about how great you are and how swimmingly your life has gone. Nope. To write a good story about a situation in your life, you are going to have to mine deep and excavate the ugly bits and bring them up to the surface before you can polish them off and inspire the world. This is where writing becomes a healing practice.
In addition to coaching many writers through the excavation of their deepest wounds, I am also in the throes of writing my own memoir. I can attest to how difficult it is to face the unpleasant emotions of our past. Over the last few months, I have tackled my own shortcomings as a daughter, a mother, and a human being. I find myself questioning everything I do and say in the present day, mindful not to repeat the same mistakes. In the beginning, I volunteered for the discomfort for the sake of the reader, but after a while I realized that the pain was such that I needed to benefit from this as well—emotionally and as a published author. Here are some of the benefits I found:
As Socrates so aptly put it, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We live in a world full of distractions and ways to numb away any unpleasant feelings. I believe that ignoring and stuffing our feelings down leads to festering wounds. I also believe that Life has a way of making sure we learn lessons and will continue to present new painful situations for us to learn from. Writing out our stories allows us the time and space we need to explore our lives and find a deeper meaning to the events that happened.
There is always room for forgiveness of others and for ourselves. I don’t mean that forgiveness justifies or condones wrongdoing. I see forgiveness as an untying of a knot that links you to hurtful events or people. The author Ann Lamott says, “forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.” As you write about your past and are able to let go of the tie that keeps it in the present, you find healing.
Surely, I can’t be the only person to have done things in my past that I am ashamed of and wish I could do over or take back. I don’t even need to dig past last week to find something for which I’d like to make amends! One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Maya Angelo: “When you know better, you do better.” (Aren’t I just full of quotes today!) Part of knowing better is to write it out and examine your life with the wisdom and compassion of the present day. And then, when you can, make an apology and make a change.
I had suspicions that not keeping your feelings bottled up would have a positive effect on your body, but I was shocked at the extent of research. If you don’t want to dive into the medical studies here trust me when I say that expressive writing is healing and preventative against illness.
Lastly, what I have found the most empowering about writing about my deeper emotions, is that I get to be the one to choose where I end my book and how it ends. Though no one wants to read about a fully perfect life, we all want a happy ending, and you get to write the full arc with a redeemed and fulfilled protagonist in the end.
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