By Janice Hastert
When I began to keep a journal, I was taking baby steps to a possible writing career. Only story ideas and occasional observations made their way into my entries in a theme book borrowed from my children’s school supplies. My jottings read like a cross between a notebook and a diary (e.g., “What if a woman travels to...” or “Why does my sister get so...”) but without the inclusion of adolescent yearnings or sordid love affairs. Married and a mother, I had no time for dramas or trysts. None of my dreams and fears, too private to risk discovery, found their way into those pages, either. I had grown up in a family in which dark secrets and strong emotions were never spoken of, so I learned to keep my experiences and feelings to myself. Sometimes I didn’t know what I felt.
As dead-ends and disappointments in my life unraveled me, I did as I had always done. I kept my confusion and pain locked away from others. Joy and enthusiasm slowly suffocated as the weight of pent-up anger and repressed grief sat upon them. After years of struggling to make my life work, then enduring the failures when it didn’t, I felt dead inside.
Gradually, however, without realizing how or when they did so, troubling incidents and anxious thoughts crept into my journals. I reviewed arguments, spelled out conflicts, and explored my despair. My journal began to mirror back to me my difficulties and longings, but I still hid away the evidence carefully when not writing in it.
When I could no longer deny the toll of passively enduring my misery—so vividly apparent on the pages I had filled—I called an agency in the yellow pages to request counseling. Through that difficult but long overdue call for help, I found a support group and a patient counselor. With encouragement, I learned at last to share my life out loud with another human being.
I continued to write in my journals, and the writing became more honest and direct as did my encounters with others. My thoughts were no longer a source of fear or shame. I learned I could share them in a safe setting, in my journal or with trusted confidants, and my world would not explode. While struggling to make some difficult choices, I noted on my pages all the bits of wisdom I received along the way. As the contents of my journals expanded, so did I.
Through writing about my inner and outer experiences, my views of past and current events were altered I and began to see possibilities for a fuller life. Positive phrases that I recorded planted seeds of hope and a new confidence. I began to understand the necessity of taking care of myself as well as others, and of letting go of the past so new doors could open. By writing about my situation, I had unconsciously created a lifeline, something I could cling to on my way out of despair. Self-respect and the courage to act on my own behalf emerged.
When I moved across the country in order to help my daughter, I needed to leave many things behind. One of the most wrenching decisions I had to make involved the fate of decades of my journals.
Although I seldom looked at any of those “history books”, I felt like I was throwing away my lifeline, abandoning old friends who had not only accompanied me thus far on my journey but who had also transformed me from a timid and hopeless to an assertive and determined woman. Sometimes we have to let go of old friends and move on, make room for the new. I made peace with the loss when I reminded myself that I always carry my past in my memories and my future in my new goals and aspirations.
Children learn useful information through the process of writing out spelling words or math facts over and over: “Welcome, welcome, welcome” or “5 + 6 = 11, 5 + 6 =11, 5 + 6 = 11”, etc. Writing a book report helps them remember the story they read and so on. So it was that I developed a better way of being in the world. I wrote my story; I wrote about my interpretations of that story, and, at last, I wrote about my new direction. I grew up, and also became deeper and more rounded by writing about my experiences, my emotional states, my outlook on the world and how it felt to be alive in the present moment.
I’ve started a new journal since my arrival here in Arizona. My journal is my spiritual companion and inner travelogue, always available, always ready to contain my unfolding life. With each stroke of my pen, I sort out muddled thoughts and feelings, examine difficult relationships, and paint new dreams with words. I will continue to capture the next chapters of my life in its pages. I can hardly wait to see how much more I will change.
Copyright © Janice Hastert, June 23, 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be used or produced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, email the author: email@example.com