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A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves
Judy Reeves : How Writing Heals

How Writing Heals

By Judy Reeves

When you write about something that gives rise to pain from the deep place of memory and body where it resides, you literally feel the emotions that surround it. Tears often accompany bringing these feelings to the page. By writing it, you acknowledge the pain and its cause. Acknowledgment is the first step in recovery. When you read your work aloud you give voice to your feelings. These are some of the ways writing heals.

It is an act of courage to complete such writing. Edging toward the pain may feel like nearing the perimeter of a great black hole. This is how it felt when I tried to write about my husband's death. For years I was able to write only fragments, the feathery wing of memory, a muted image. Finally, after a decade, I sketched the skeleton of a story, thin and pale as his body during those final months. As time went on, I returned to the story again and again, each time healing a bit more from the loss. Another decade later, twenty years after his death, the finished piece found its way into a publication.

Amy Tan said, "In the telling of stories something happens, your whole perception and memory of things begins to change and you can let go of what you have just told — you give it away." In letting go, we heal.

Think of how we tell stories when catastrophe strikes. Or when marriages go asunder or relationships end, after injuries or accidents or violence we experience or witness. Again and again we relate the tale. We're on the phone or writing letters or emailing. We stand on street corners, stop mid-aisle in grocery stores; we meet in restaurants, cafés, and bars and say to one another, "This is what happened." It is the nature of humans to recount events, to give way to feelings.

Writing them down helps us accept our experiences and emotions as real — after all, there they are, in black and white. Acceptance is another step in recovery.

More than just a way to express our feelings, writing lets us feel them; it leads us into the deep places of our heart and shines a light so we can bring these stories from inside to outside. This movement creates some space, perhaps just enough to feel our heart beat or take a breath, but enough to let us know we are still alive.

When we hear or read others' stories, we bear witness to their experience, which is healing for them and for us. Through our written and spoken voices we connect in ways that reassure us we are not alone. Realizing that others have the same hungers and longings as we do, that their fears, bewilderment, and pain are the same as ours, allows us to experience our commonality. Only then can we feel compassion. Love follows compassion's footprints and, surely, the healing of great wounds cannot be far beyond this.

In his book Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making, poetry therapist John Fox writes, "Poetry is a natural medicine; it is like a homeopathic tincture derived from the stuff of life itself — your experience....

Poetry provides guidance, revealing what you did not know you knew before you wrote or read the poem." The same can be said of other types of writing you may do: journaling, freewriting, stream of consciousness — the kinds of writing that emerge when you become unself-conscious and write from that deeper place, the heart place.

Stories that ache to be told are your psyche's way of longing to be healed. Painful though it may be, listen to these urges, take courage, and write them.

The seeker, however, must seek — and this is the core of his difficulty. He cannot know what he is looking for until he finds it.
— William Segal

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