Throughout my life, when I’ve encountered difficulties, I’ve turned to writing. I have scores of journals filled with my rambling rants and fervent pleas to God, the Universe or Someone Out There. Writing in my journal provided me with a safe place to vent, hash things out and decide what direction I wanted to take in my life. My journal was like a good friend who never judged me and was always there to “listen.” Writing in my journal became a dialogue between myself and something bigger than me. It helped me to connect with that part of me that felt steady and wise and made me feel calmer and more clear-headed.
There were long periods of time when I didn’t feel the need to write; like when I was in my 30’s and was established in my career, married to a great guy, with two beautiful children. Things were going smoothly. But then came the big crisis, a breast cancer diagnosis. My happy little world was turned upside-down. I was overwhelmed with doctor appointments, procedures, surgeries, treatments and an ever-changing tide of emotions. I began to write in my journal again and I learned not to censure myself but to write what I was truly feeling instead of what I thought I should be feeling or what I thought others wanted me to feel. My journal writing helped me connect with the anger I had inside, not just about the cancer, but about the many ways I felt silenced and dismissed as a young girl growing up in a male dominated family and culture.
I didn’t know what to do with all of these feelings. As I wrote in my journal I felt a need to direct my anger towards someone. So I let it loose on God, or my ever-changing concept of “God.” A true turning point came when I wrote what I now refer to as my “Fuck You” letter to God in which I unleashed all of my anger onto God about every little and big injustice and hurt in my life and in the world. I poured out my heart and soul as my fingers pounded the keyboard furiously for pages and pages. I believed that God could not only handle all of my ugliness, but that God wanted it. After years of stuffing my feelings and swallowing my words, I was finally getting it all out and it was very cathartic.
Accepting and acknowledging these ugly feelings without feeling guilty about it, was healing. I needed to accept, feel and process all of the ugliness in order to heal. I no longer believed that simply feeling or expressing negative emotions was bad for my health, in fact it was just the opposite. Repressing and denying my true feelings was what was killing me. Within three weeks of my blasphemous letter to God, the one in which I dared God to heal me, I had a breakthrough. As I was writing in my journal, I began to remember and write about traumatic events from my childhood. Confronting these terrifying memories of sexual abuse and integrating them into my body, mind and spirit was the beginning of a very long and profound healing journey. My mind had split off the memories and emotions I experienced during the abuse to protect myself, but the physical, psychological and spiritual impact of the trauma was still being held within me. I needed to get it out. Before I could even speak about what had happened to me, I needed to write the words down, words that I didn’t have as a child. Only after writing it down could I speak about it, at first to my husband, my therapist and a few trusted friends.
Breast cancer showed me that there was a something I needed to “get off my chest,” literally and figuratively. I can’t help but ask myself if my breast cancer was a physical manifestation of all the words and feelings I had swallowed as a young girl and young woman. My intuition tells me that my cancer was my body’s way of getting my attention. My mastectomy scar is like an arrow that points directly at what I needed to heal…my broken heart.
I may never know the answers to my questions, but I do know that when I finally faced the truth about what I had hidden inside, I began healing on a deep level. Writing was the first step for me to get in touch with my true feelings and was integral to my healing from breast cancer as well as many other old wounds, and it continues today to lead me towards new discoveries about myself and my world.