Today I have the pleasure and honor of welcoming Anne Peterson, author of Broken: A Story of Abuse and Survival. Anne has graciously prepared a post recalling how she came to write Broken and what the process of that writing was like. As I prepared Anne’s post for publication, I was struck by many of her words and their combined power as an affirmation of the healing benefits found in writing. Please join me in welcoming Anne!
I knew it would be hard. I just didn’t realize how hard.
When I started writing my memoir Broken: A Story of Abuse and Survival, all sorts of challenges met me head on. You don’t write painful events without reliving them. And in my case, it was a full length movie.
Loss is hard
Loss has been a recurring theme in my life. I was actually introduced to loss when I was a little girl. Our neighbor called out for her son. Into the street he ran after his ball. He just never came back. All night long his mother wailed through open windows on that summer night.
But that wasn’t the only loss. They would come one after the other for years upon years.
Why write a book about loss? It’s what I’ve known.
Experiences are great teachers
We are products of the experiences that make up our lives.
We don’t have control over many things that happen to us. But we do have control over how we respond to them.
I found as I continued to pour my life into the pages of my book, I found healing. It’s not the first time I had shared these stories. For years, I’ve shared them to various groups of people. Highlighting how God taught me about his character through my pain. And what was the benefit? Apart from pain, I would never know God’s comfort. Continue reading →
I know from personal experience that writing has a healing effect.
From the age of eleven when I received a pink journal with a lock and key, I have written my way through my life challenges. Writing in my journal always makes me feel like I have a safe place to go to unload my concerns and fears. And when I do, I can make sense out of what I am feeling. It feels like my concerns take on a different shape once they land on the pages. Often times when I go back to read my entries over, I will see something I haven’t seen before—a new insight or idea that might help me understand myself a little better.
What I didn’t know when I started writing but have since found out is there is scientific evidence that what I experience intuitively has a tangible health benefits.
Dr. James Pennebaker (http://www.utexas.edu/features/2005/writing/) is a noted psychotherapist who has studied the therapeutic effects of writing on health. Now a professor of psychology at the University of Texas and the author of Opening Up, he chronicled his own journey of healing from depression through writing.
Recent research suggests writing may even ease the symptoms of serious non-psychiatric diseases. For example, blood tests show that subjects have more robust immune systems several weeks after completing writing exercises. http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/writing.aspx this link refers to all material through quote on next page.)
Another leading researcher in this field of writing to heal is Dr. Joshua Smyth of Syracuse University. He is quoted by Bridget Murray, in this article as saying:
There is emerging evidence that the key to writing’s effectiveness is in the way people use to interpret their experiences, right down to the words they choose. Venting emotions alone—whether through writing or talking –is not enough t relieve stress. To tap writing’s healing power, people must use it to better understand and learn from their emotions.
In a landmark study which appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 1999), involving 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients, Dr. Smyth discovered that
70 patients in the stressful-writing group (wrote 20 minutes /day for three consecutive days) showed improvement on objective, clinical evaluation than the control group. He concluded that “writing helped patients get better and also kept them from getting worse.
Both Drs. Pennebaker and Smyth acknowledge that writing’s effectiveness in healing will be dependent upon several factors, including a person’s willingness to find meaning in the memory and integrate it into a healing process.
Writing’s power to heal lies not in the pen and paper, but in the mind of the writer.
The journals I wrote in throughout my trials became the seeds for my memoir. Writing my way through the painful memories helped me to get on the other side of them and find a new meaning for the part they played in shaping me into the person I am today.
But there were many days, I put my manuscript aside; walked away and came back to it when I felt strong enough to face my past mistakes. I’m not the same person I was back then and it was excruciating to re-visit those times when I could have, should have made different choices…
Eventually, with the support of mentors and fellow writers, I did find my way to the other side. I began to forgive the young woman in my story who made so many self-defeating choices that had led to untold heartache for not only her but her children. I shed the guilt and shame I had carried around for twenty-five years and started feeling compassion for her. She did the best she could. She acted in good faith, albeit naïvely.
Writing my memoir helped me find my pathway to healing. My greatest hope is that others who have struggled or are still struggling will find hope for their own healing on the pages of my story.
And, if and when I have the chance to talk with my readers, I will tell them that writing helped me to find my pathway to healing. It’s research-based.
Get to Know Kathy Pooler:
Kathleen (Kathy) Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published on July 28.2014 and work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.
She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.
A young woman who loses sight of the faith she has been brought up with attempts to find her way in the world, rejecting her stable roots in lieu of finding adventure and romance. Despite periods of spiritual renewal in which she receives a prophecy, she slides back, taking several self-defeating detours that take her through a series of heartbreaking events.
When Kathy’s second husband, Dan’s verbal abuse escalates, Kathy finally realizes she must move on before she and her children become a statistic.
How does a young woman who came from a stable, loving family make so many wise choices when it came to career, but so many wrong choices when it came to love, so that she ended up sacrificing career and having to flee in broad daylight with her children from an abusive marriage? What is getting in her way and why does she keep taking so many self-defeating detours?
The story opens up the day Kathy feels physically threatened for the first time in her three-year marriage to her second husband. This sends her on a journey to make sense of her life and discern what part she has played in the vulnerable circumstance she finds herself in.
She must make a decision–face her self-defeating patterns that have led to this situation and move on or repeat her mistakes. Her life and the lives of her two children are dependent upon the choices she makes and the chances she takes from this point forward.
Some of the links contained in this blog are affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase from the affiliate. It’s free for you, but I receive a portion of the sales, which funds go to support this blog. I only recommend products and services that we know or trust to be of high quality, whether an affiliate relationship is in place or not.
The remainder of Kathy’s tour:
Monday, October 13 @ Women’s Writing Circle
Kathleen Pooler sits down with Susan Weidener for a friendly conversation about how Kathleen crowdfunded her memoir, Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse. http://www.susanweidener.com/
Tuesday, October 14 @ Lauren Scharhag
Don’t miss Kathleen Pooler’s interview with Lauren Scharhag as these ladies discuss the hot topic of memoir. Find out more about Kathleen and her own Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse. http://laurenscharhag.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, October 14 @ Vera’s Version
Join Kathleen Pooler as she guest blogs about “How Writing Memoir Helped Me Find Self-Forgiveness” at Vera’s Version and shares insight into her memoir Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse. http://verasversion.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, October 15 @ About Amish
Kathleen Pooler and her memoir Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse makes a stop to visit Saloma Furlong at About Amish where you can read Saloma’s review and get in a giveaway for an opportunity to read Ever Faithful To His Lead for yourself! http://salomafurlong.com/aboutamish/
Friday, October 17 @ Jerry Waxler
Author, Friend, and Fellow Memoir Writer Jerry Waxler reviews Kathleen Pooler’s Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse This is a blog stop you won’t want to miss! http://www.jerrywaxler.com/
Monday, October 20 @ Romance Junkies
Join Kathleen Pooler as she stops at Romance Junkies for an insightful interview about herself and her memoir, Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse. http://www.romancejunkies.com/rjblog/
Tuesday, October 21 @ Mary Gottschalk
Kathleen Pooler shares her latest project: Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse as she visits with friend and fellow author Mary Gottschalk and fittingly writes about “Girlfriends Matter”. This is a blog stop you won’t want to miss! http://marycgottschalk.com/home/
Wednesday, October 22 @ CMash Reads
Join memoir writer Kathleen Pooler as she guest posts at CMash Reads. Kathleen will share her story of “Writing Through the Pain” and tell more about her popular memoir Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse. http://cmashlovestoread.com/
Thursday, October 23 @ Bring on Lemons
Hear what Crystal Otto has to say as she reviews Kathleen Pooler’s Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse Don’t miss this blog stop as Kathleen Pooler has graciously provided a copy of her memoir for one lucky reader to win via a giveaway! http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/
In posts here, here, and here, I have written on the topic of writing and its healing benefits. Today I want to share a cautionary tale with you. Something happened in our family two weeks ago today casting a different light, at least for me, on the subject of memories, writing, and healing.
I am a proponent of the healing benefits of writing because I thoughtI had come close to healing from scars and memories of my past related to my mother’s parenting skills and my ex-husband’s similar abuses. I now know this is only partially true.
The incident bringing this understanding to light occurred in our home and involved our eldest child, a son aged 43. Coincidentally, he is the son of my first marriage and later adopted at age 18, at his request, by my second husband. The details of what happened are not important to my post. However, I will say that Bob and I were stunned at their occurrence.
What is important for you to know is that I was alone here with our son when this happened and mid-point through the incident, I felt as though I had time travelled decades backward. My emotions kicked into high gear, and I immediately found myself wanting to put space between the two of us.
As soon as I did, the incident took on the heat of a glass blower’s furnace, and I felt my emotions accelerate into what felt like a nightmare. I could not be living through this again! And yet I felt as if I were staring at my mother and ex-husband rolled into one.
The reaction I was having to our son’s behavior was familiar to me — a tightness in my chest, shallow breathing, a need for air, a need to close myself off from what was happening. As a child, I would run and close my door and lock it when Mama treated me abusively. With my ex-husband, it was a different story; he was bigger and stronger than I and so I rolled into a fetal position and cried.
Finally, I walked to our entry which prompted our son to leave. And then all of my past emotions and feelings came surging forward and out. I cried the next three hours until my husband returned home.
♦ ♦ ♦
What I have learned from this experience is as follows:
Although this incident brought back unhappy and painful memories, my recovery from them has been quicker. For the past two weeks, my husband and I have talked about what happened but less and less each day. Bob has yet to speak to our son about his actions but will in due course.
I realize that my emotions were the result of seeing in action what caused my pain before, and I began taking steps to remove myself — standing up from the kitchen table where we sat, walking step-by-step into our kitchen, and then into our entry. I placed myself at a distance from the person hurting me with his words and emotions.
Initially, I haven’t been able to write here or on my memoir. I realized yesterday I was ready to write again because writing is what brought me far enough to take the steps listed above. This morning the subject of this post came to me, and here I am. Later today I plan to begin work again on rewriting my first draft of my memoir.
Based on all of this, I have learned that yes, writing is a healing agent from whatever pain, abuse, unhappiness or loss we have experienced. However, not all of those memories disappear. They are a part of who we are forever. They make up our being, the person we have become, for we have learned from them. And yes, like in PTSD and other similar emotional situations, there are triggers which precipitate memories surging back quickly.
♦ ♦ ♦
Be cautious as you write to remember we cannot wipe away our memories by writing, but the writing itself with its cathartic nature will teach us how to handle the resurgence of those memories should something or someone trigger them.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” ∼ Rose Kennedy
The result of that re-reading and analysis on my part is this post. Granted there are more than two views on the healing benefit of writing memoir, but here I share only two with you, mine and Jill Smolowe’s.
In her post, which I strongly encourage you to read, Smolowe points to a question that comes to many of us who write memoir, “Did you find writing the book cathartic?” There are multiple answers to this question depending upon whom is answering. For Smolowe, who obviously gave much thought to the inquiry, it was a matter of defining her message and it’s value for her readers:
But before I can make the commitment to breaching my own privacy and spending considerable time revisiting a painful chapter in my life, I need clarity on two points: What is the lens through which I will tell my story? What is my message, the bit of hard-earned wisdom that I aim to share? For me, finding the answers to those questions requires detachment and emotional distance from the events.
Smolowe continues in the next paragraph:
As a result, I do not find the writing of a memoir cathartic. Nor do I approach the task with a hope or expectation that the process will heal me. Instead, what propels me is my belief that there is a book missing from the shelves—one that would have been helpful to me in my time of turmoil, one that I hope may now be of use to others.
For Smolowe, detaching from the painful events is accomplished through journalling:
That’s not to say that writing can’t be therapeutic. When I want to alleviate tension, stress or upset, I regurgitate my experiences into a journal. Raw and unfiltered, these entries provide an outlet to vent. Sometimes that act of writing helps to calm my roiling emotions. Sometimes the writing even serves, yes, a cathartic function.
For me, the work of memoir writing is selecting, culling, honing, shaping, rewriting. Rewriting. Ruthlessly chopping. Rewriting once more. The driver is my intellect, not my emotions. Catharsis? For that, my journal will have to suffice.
Before I continue, I want to underscore my respect for Smolowe’s choice in her handling of this particular theme. Her decision to write without baring her emotions will likely be more helpful to her readers.
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And this is where our paths diverge. Where Smolowe and I differ is in the relevant theme behind our writing.
Smolowe is dealing with unbelievable loss in her life and the emotions following them. Her writing is predicated on the hope of helping others cope under similar circumstances, but she is careful and, rightly so, not to characterize her writing with the emotional weight of her own losses. I applaud Smolowe for this consideration. And I understand and respect the detachment in her writing.
On the other hand, I am writing my memoir around a theme of a different type of loss–the loss of my inner child’s voice during childhood abuses. In order to voice the still raw pain and confusion from childhood abuses handed out by my mother until I moved across the country in 1983, I began to feel a tremendous sense of freedom as I worked at my writing.
While drafting my memoir, I am at last allowed to have a voice and say what my young heart and mind experienced some six decades ago. Had I spoken at the time of these abuses, punishments would have been harsher and the imprint would have left deeper scars. I remained quiet and still, never fighting back.
Now, as I write, including letters to my mother after her death in 2001, I experience unimaginable release from some of those scars and pains. It has been extremely cathartic for me to feel the unbinding of emotions as the words flow.
The most important takeaway from this post, I hope, is that you are the master of your memoir writing journey. In the event that I have left the impression that writing a memoir is always healing, I want to clear the air: The healing benefit that some find in writing memoir is not necessarily the same for all. As mentioned above, it is dependent on your chosen theme.
Bottom line: Each life story is different because each life is lived differently. Each life is lived in a different environment, a different place, a different time, with different experiences.
You know the reason behind your writing. Write your truth. Write the story that you know.
Today I welcome Susan Weidener, memoir writer and author of Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square. Susan has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on coping with grief and the healing benefits of writing.
Please join me in welcoming Susan to Healing by Writing.
Mourning the Past – A Future Blossoms
By Susan G. Weidener
When Sherrey asked if I would write about my coping skills during the difficult days, months and years after my husband John Cavalieri died – and the benefits derived from writing my story, I admit it felt a bit personal to go down that road again. But that’s what we memoir writers do – we bare our souls, opening a window into our most private thoughts, desires, and dreams, fears and frailties.
When a woman suddenly becomes head of household like I did, she faces an uphill climb. I had two sons ages 7 and 11 to raise, a fulltime high-pressure job and a mortgage. My father, Andrew Weidener, died seven months after my husband. Dad, like John, had been a guiding light in my life, which up until the time John was diagnosed with terminal cancer, had been fairly smooth and uneventful. My father’s death rippled out into the larger currents and I began feeling like the survivor of a ship wreck. My mother, who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders in her mid-40s, could not cope on her own as a widow and needed round-the-clock care. I became her caretaker, finding the best assisted living facility for her needs, being hands on with the nursing staff, making decisions with her doctors about her treatment for dementia and Parkinson’s, and managing her finances, albeit with the help of a wonderful investment advisor.
I truly believe it is the memory of those we loved – and who loved us – that keeps us moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. As I wrote in Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, memories of John and my father helped me realize that the confidence to manage life on my own was due in large part to their belief in me as a woman.
I don’t know what propelled me to write about John and our marriage and his illness. I just began one morning at a summer writing retreat in Kentucky. It must have been a form of therapy, as much as creative expression, because I found it immensely satisfying to begin the task each morning of taking significant events and turning them into narrative form. The year before I had left behind my career at the newspaper and it had been 13 years since John’s death. The timing was right, which is so important to any writer hoping to find a compelling story. Your heart has to be invested in your story.
I was really working my way through grief, one painful step at a time . . . John holding me in his arms, John cradling our new baby, our son crying at his father’s hospital bedside, my own desperate attempts to quickly patch up our broken family by finding someone to love me again.
Writing as a way to heal? I hadn’t even heard of that or realized I was doing it until I got halfway through my memoir. Then a friend suggested I read Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing and that was the first time I heard the expression. Her book opened me up to all the possibilities inherent in memoir.
The benefits derived from writing my story were many:
It was a way to come to terms with why I hadn’t been a better wife to John at the end of his life. So a huge benefit of writing is self-discovery.
As a friend told me when she read my story – “you were not just mourning John, but mourning your lost dreams, your youth.” That acknowledgment allowed me to forgive myself.
In the months after John’s death, I journaled my thoughts in a small reporter’s notebook. The notes proved invaluable later when I went back to reconstructing that time for my memoir as they provided a raw look into a wounded heart.
Writing is living twice. It takes us back to those times, to that person and in some ways – and I mean this seriously, it is a form of entertainment. Writing allowed me an escape from the reality of the moment. I could go back to a happier time, one filled with joy and expectation as I wrote of the days when I met and fell in love with my husband.
I was a journalist at the time of my husband’s death, so writing was something I did on a daily basis and loved to do. I needed to continue writing after I left the newspaper. By writing a book, I could continue to develop and hone my skills and passion as a writer.
Through the testimony that is memoir, we are opened to sharing, making new connections and giving others the courage to write their stories. I certainly found this to be true.
By creating a writing group, which became the Women’s Writing Circle, I found the support and validation that writing my story mattered. This encouraged others to write their own stories and led to new opportunities; editing, become a writing coach and offering writing workshops and retreats. By mourning the past, a future had blossomed.
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Thank you, Susan, for your willingness to step back once more to a time so painful and share with us what you found yourself capable of doing in order to heal and live again.
An author, editor and former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan leads writing workshops and started the Women’s Writing Circle, www.susanweidener.com a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. Susan is the author of two memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat, which is about being widowed at a young age, and its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Susan is interested in how women can find their voice through writing and storytelling. Her most recent work appears in an anthology of stories about women’s changing and challenging roles in society called Slants of Light. Susan lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.
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Join with us below to discuss how writing has benefitted
you personally, or ask a question about writing, or let
Susan know how her post has helped you today.
Raw. Honest. Painful to read. Psychologically intense yet informative. How Eleanor Vincent relived her story to share it with others is an amazing feat. Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story is Eleanor Vincent‘s recounting of the tragic death of her daughter, Maya.
From Vincent’s vivid descriptions of Maya, the reader meets a beautiful young woman with her future waiting to be fulfilled. On the brink of entering UCLA on a full scholarship to the Theater Arts Program. Her dream come true. Home from community college on spring break, Maya plans a day with friends at a local park. Innocently, she and another young woman chance to ride a horse bareback, the ride ending in a tragic accident and sending Maya to a local emergency room.
Vincent has relived every memory of that day in Swimming with Maya and many beyond to bring this story to book form. At times, it is almost too painful to read and yet her fluid writing style coupled with the joined hope between writer and reader that Maya will survive this accident pulls the reader on through each page and chapter.
Coupled with the telling of Maya’s story and her own is Vincent’s treatment of the organ donor program. This coupling strengthens her explicit detailing of her personal story of love and loss. Each vignette and scene allows the reader to become a witness to the agony of losing one’s child. At the same time, Vincent shows us how she managed to eventually heal from this unbelievable tragedy.
Eleanor Vincent is masterful in her writing and story telling. And she has shown that she was masterful in sustaining Maya’s life through miraculous gifts to others. Life becomes the winner in the end, showing death it cannot take away everything.
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Eleanor Vincent is an award-winning writer. Her memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and has been reissued by Dream of Things press. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age. Read more . . .
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