“Growth involves giving up the stories of your past, so the Universe can write a new one.” - Marianne Williamson
I had no idea how traumatic my history with journaling was until I picked up the book “Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling.” Throughout my teens, I journaled religiously about my boyfriend breaking my heart and my plan to become magically blonde and skinny over summer break. In my 20’s after mistakenly getting married, I poured out my heartbreak over discovering secrets about my, at the time new, now ex husband, my dreams of saving the world, and my deep love of every single thing my newborn son did.
My journal was my best friend. It allowed me to say anything, everything, the whole unfiltered truth. All those words I couldn’t share in my broken marriage or at the risk of disappointing my parents or the sure embarrassment of actually pursuing my dreams. But, my love affair came to an abrupt end one day in late October over 14 years ago.
This past summer, when I heard author Katie Dalebout on the Boss League podcast, those words buried deep inside of me started to bubble over desperately needing a page. I cracked the cover on the library’s copy of the book with little hope I would find solutions. I skimmed over pages of suggested journaling tools and felt confident that once again I would leave a trail of empty notebooks in my wake. But, one night with my children miraculously asleep ahead of schedule, my husband out of town and my phone dead from repetitive Instagram scrolling, I opened the book to actually read.
Realizing the book wasn’t filled with a set of trite journaling prompts that I could easily dismiss started to frighten me. This was going to require actual work, meaningful work, on my part and suddenly running away into a Netflix binge seemed so appealing. But, something inside of me wanted to press on, wanted some meaningful resolution, and frankly, wanted this time to be different. I moved through Katie’s personal story of heartbreak, disorder and healing to the introductory tips that framed her process and finally started my work.
Tip 1: Get Curious
The story I had told myself for so many years about why I had stopped was about betrayal, the broken trust of someone reading my words, but when I turned to face the memory of that day, to get really curious about what it all meant, it revealed so much more.
For the first time, one day in late October, I left my son home alone with my husband while I worked for my parents. After a long day of schlepping and appeasing, I drove home burning with excitement over sweeping my toddler into my arms. I had never been separated from him for so long and I couldn’t wait to smell his sweaty head and feel his sweet hands wrap around my neck. The house was eerily lacking little boy bombast and as I rounded the corner from the outdated kitchen, I found my husband sitting in the hand-me-down recliner angrily seething with my tattered journal open in his lap.
My journal. My son. My journal. My words. My son gone.
I ripped each heart drenched page from the binding, tossing the shreds onto the flames I had started on the concrete patio, burning each sentiment there in front of his eyes. My wheels desperately turned to spin each word he had read about my heartbreak, my discontent, my longing into something less than bare and honest. For a brief moment, he was appeased and my heart could stop burning frantic.
The fuse that had been lit that day wasn't dampened by my well spun excuses. It continued to burn there slowly. It was only a matter of months before the house would come crashing down around me, my marriage would end in rage, and my relationship with my son be forever altered.
For years after, I didn’t dare write a word. I held them all. Even after the divorce, I still couldn’t trust the page. My heartache over missing moments with my now shared son, held in. My fear of his father’s fixated loathing, held. The mystery of my body failing with chronic illness, silent. My mind would spin those tethers round and round trying to unravel each thread, but fear bound them from crossing thought to word.
Tip 2: Dance with Resistance
Having that memory finally come into such sharp and intense focus, left me breathless. Seeing beyond the surface of the trust that had been broken, opened up a wound so deeply held that I could scarcely contain the terrorizing fear of loss that came pouring out. My stomach twisted in a repetitive stab, my hands grew numb, and my heart caved heavily in my broken chest. Calling on that day and feeling the blame I cast on my words for having my son be absent now for half his days, pulled up moment after moment of the subsequent 14 years of loss.
Missing his face.
Holding my breath till he came home again.
Peeling his cling from me when it was time to go.
Telling him what the judge had decided.
The memories came on so fast that my chest burned raw with crying. And, as fast as my tears poured, the seeds of resistance took root. I had to put the book down. Why was I even doing this to myself? What purpose could it possibly serve?
I gracelessly stumbled through the Paso Doble with my will and lost the battle for weeks. The ever creeping overdue book fees made me feel a sudden pang of desperation to finish what I had started and after a satisfying Amazon binge, I opened the box two days later to start the journey with fresh intention.
Tip 3: Radically Authentic and Honest
I needed to set aside the painful consequences of that day for now and pull at the tethers to see what more I could unravel. Discovering the ties to loss had felt like a meteoric revelation, but I needed to understand what had led up to that day. As soon as I cracked the page on the journal, the twisted pang in my stomach returned and I knew I was on to something once again.
Was it something I said?
I tried to remember what I had written about all those years ago that had been so dangerous, so cataclysmic when he read them, but the words themselves felt so harmless. They didn’t reveal clandestine affairs, sordid secrets, or a soap opera worthy twist. My words set loose my heartache, my loneliness, my disappointment, my fear, my dreams, my truth. And, that word truth stuck to me and resonated for days.
There was no bare and honest in our relationship. If I had been bare and honest, I wouldn’t have gone on that first date. If I had been bare and honest, I wouldn’t have gotten so drunk. If I had been bare and honest, we wouldn’t have had sex. If I had been bare and honest, we wouldn’t have gotten married. If I had been bare and honest, my words wouldn’t have stung so deeply. If I had been bare and honest…
Another pull on that tether had helped me see all the times in that relationship and others, I had acted against what I felt in my body and acted for the pleasure of others. It exposed how often I had stuffed and concealed my own heart, but it also revealed how much I have changed in those 14 years.
The beauty of finally putting these wounds to page opened my eyes to the cross sections of the stories, the filaments that bind. And, just like a novel reveals its themes, I’m starting to understand my own in a way I never have allowed before. And, tomorrow, when the house stills and my heart grows loud, with the weight of my pen in hand, I will pull the tether again.