“How many of you have written in a journal?” I ask a group of 18 adults I have never seen before. A few of them raise their hands. “How about poetry? Have you written poems?” Some hands drop and a couple more shoot up. I nod, and inside me my excitement grows. Over the next two hours, my colleague and I have the fulfilling job of introducing writing as a healing tool to these brave and vulnerable adults on their journey in sobriety.
When I started keeping a journal, I was 10. I didn’t consider it anything but a wonderful place to scribble my thoughts at the end of the day. There was always something to talk about: the weather, who I played with, what annoyed me, what excited me…and my journal was always there for my random thoughts to land.
In high school and college, the entries were longer, more detailed and emotionally-charged. In them, I dreamed and ranted, planned and lamented. My ‘friend’ became a secret part of me that made me whole and kept me grounded.
After I got married, I wrote less, and that ‘less’ became ‘non-existent’ quickly after my first child was born. When my daughter was just over a year old and I was in a deep pit of sadness, several events led me to pick up my pen again; I realized that by dropping my writing practice, I was turning away from what had really become a lifeline.
What do I mean when I say writing is a ‘healing’ tool? What does it heal? How effective is it against illness, loss and grief? Writing might not necessarily change a situation – it might not cure your illness, or bring back a loved one, or turn back time for you so you can change something you regret. But writing creates a space, an opportunity, for you to examine what has happened, to reflect on what that means for your present, and to work out ideas to help you move forward. It can change how you receive a situation. It can bring you peace when the noise in your head and around you is overwhelming. It can bring you hope when everything on the outside looks dim.
And that is because writing, like other art forms, comes from a deep well inside of you that is full of light and ideas and wisdom. When you practice writing for healing purposes – and there are tried and true techniques for using it in this way – you can access what you need. It’s something I believe I was always aware of that unleashed itself when I needed it, and I want to make sure as many people as possible know they have access to it, too.
So, when I stand in front of the group at the drug treatment centre, and I provide writing prompts and tips for pinning down experiences and emotions to the page, I feel a lightness that I can’t describe. Writing as a group conjures a shared heart-space where I am not the ‘teacher’ and they are not the ‘students’ but rather we navigate that crooked path together, leaning on poetry and prose along the way. I can offer what I know about writing practice, the difference between poetry and prose, the various types of poems, how to draw a reader into your experience and keep them there, and how to write entirely for yourself. I can offer a hand and companionship on the journey.
And what I get from it is a renewed sense of purpose – I was born to write and to facilitate the healing of others through this art form – and I also feel closer to my Creator, which to me is a wonderful place to be. I never feel alone when I have my words to fall back on or my purpose to push me forward.
That in itself is a type of relief, an anti-dote to what might otherwise be mere existence.
Read Karen’s Writing through Healing article – The Great Void – Understanding Loss.