Monday, June 24, 2013

Please welcome Sherrey Meyer

I am thrilled to have Sherrey Meyer here as my guest today. She echoes my thoughts about the benefits of writing to heal, and provides Dr. Pennebaker's proof that it is so. Yes, for me writing is a way to put my pain on the page. It is a soothing balm. What do you think?

Benefits of Writing Your Story by Sherrey Meyer

In 2001, when my mother died, the story of our lives together had traversed many years and battled many storms.  Yet at the end, something unusual and unexpected happened.  I tucked that memory away knowing it was possibly the core for a memoir.  When I retired in 2006, I remembered how often I had said, “When I have time, I want to write a book.”

Little did I know when I began accumulating my memories on the computer and sorting through family photos the benefit writing this story would give.  Never had it occurred to me that writing could be a restorative, healing process.

With each word typed, I felt changes taking place.  The invisible scars created by years of verbal and emotional abuse seemed to loosen.  Old hurts seemed to soften despite the painful process of remembering.

I am not here to tell you that writing memoir is easy.  It isn’t.  Writing your own story may dredge up painful memories.  Alternatively, writing your story will likely be cathartic.

Stop and think about the pain felt due to a bad burn.  The immediate remedies may not bring much comfort, but soon each application of salve is more soothing.  Writing out painful memories can be like a balm to your soul.

Writing soothes and heals by extracting those memories from your inner being and on the computer or paper.  No longer do those bad memories live in you.  You have moved them to another place and time outside yourself.  Again, this doesn’t mean the pain will stop completely or quickly.  I still have moments when something reminds me of a painful incident.  Now, however, I go and jot it down somewhere.

For me, I also found a letter writing exercise to be immensely helpful.  As part of my memoir, I have written letters to my mother.  In cases of abuse of any type involving a child, the child has no voice.  To express oneself in these circumstances to the adult inflicting the abuse generally only begs further abuses.  In my life, it was verbal and emotional abuse on the part of my mother and speaking to it only made her angrier at my attempt to stop her abuse.

Writing letters has given my inner child and the child abused a voice.  The letters have allowed me to express feelings I suppressed along the way during my childhood, youth, young adult and even middle years before my mother died.  For an example of these letters, you can find them here.

Now, I am not an expert on this topic.  When I came to the realization that writing was truly helping to heal painful memories and hurts, I began reading about the subject.  I discovered James W. Pennebaker who is an expert on this topic.

Dr. Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and author of several books, including Opening Up and Writing to Heal, is a pioneer in the study of using expressive writing as a route to healing. 


Dr. Pennebaker’s research has shown that short periods of writing benefit those facing terminal illness, victims of violent crimes, and even the first-year college student transitioning into a new life style.  Following are some of Dr. Pennebaker’s exercises and a quote:




Using Dr. Pennebaker’s books, exercises and research results can help the writer struggling with difficult and/or painful memories to work through those to some level of healing.

Personally, I have found Dr. Pennebaker’s methods extremely useful and highly recommend reading more about his work here and here

The more I write my story the stronger the benefit becomes.  My memories become less painful, the hurts less real than before.  I cannot say that I will ever forget completely the difficulties of my early life, but I do know that I am more equipped to deal with any recurring memories for having gone through the exercise of writing.

Perhaps you are toying with the idea of writing but aren’t sure about such an attempt.  Consider practicing journaling first.  What better place to right your innermost thoughts and feelings than in a journal.  Then, if you do decide you want to write that book, your journal provides the perfect resource for your writing.

Another consideration is enrolling in a writing class or workshop where you can write your feelings as part of assignments or exercises.  Many community colleges and community centers offer writing classes at no charge or for minimal fees.  Anything to start writing to see if it is the mechanism by which you can begin to heal from your hurt and pain.

Not everything I’ve mentioned works for everybody.  You have to find your niche.  That being said, however, I do highly recommend visiting the sites above for more information on Dr. Pennebaker’s research and his writings.
In addition to Dr. Pennebaker’s books, here is a short list of other books available on writing to heal:
  • Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo
  • Writing to Heal the Soul by Susan Zimmerman
  • Memoir Revolution by Jerry Waxler
  • The Power of Memoir by Linda Joy Myers
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Judith Guest

Here’s your takeaway for today.  Some benefits of writing your story may be:
  • Improved health, emotionally and/or physically.
  • Improved immune system.
  • Improved working memory.
  • Improved social connections.
  • Ability to check your situation.
  • Manageability of situation improves.

All these benefits are available to you in exchange for the written word.

Sherrey, thank you so much for these wise words and wonderful resources. And I so look forward to reading your memoir soon. In the meantime, please read her blogs: Healing by Writing and Found Between the Covers. Sherrey is very prolific and generous with her writing advice and book review.

Sherrey's Bio

A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents.  She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else!  Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write. Among her projects is a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse.  Sherrey is married and lives with husband Bob in Milwaukie, OR. 
You can reach Sherrey on her websites:  Healing by Writing and Found Between the Covers or via email at salice78@comcast.net

23 comments:

healingbywriting said...

Madeline, thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts on the healing benefits of writing on your blog today. Your encouragement and inspiration have been felt by many of us in the writing community, and it is an honor to share this space with you.

GRACE PETERSON said...

Hi Sherrey, Very powerful words. I like the burn metaphor. Writing is like applying salve and eventually, even if the scar remains, the wound is not so painful.

The book I used back in 2006, was Your Life As Story by Tristine Rainer. I'm glad to see that there are so many helpful works out there.

Great post! Thank you Madeline.

Madeline Sharples said...

Dear Sherrey,
I welcome you with open arms. You are so wise about writing to heal and the power of memoir. And I appreciate your kind words. I feel so fortunate to be a part of our writing community.

And thank you, Grace, for coming by Choices. I'll have to check out Your Life As Story. I've certainly applied that idea to my work.

All best to you both.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Dear Sherrey, It sounds like you have found your niche in memoir writing and that it is serving you well. I, too, am a fan of several of the books you list as resources, particularly Louise DeSalvo. One other resource, I might add, is finding a writing group where women can come together in safety and support and find their voices. How energizing and empowering it is when your story receives validation after reading it aloud . . . and you realize many of us have experienced similar thoughts and emotions. This is "the journey of the feminine." Our Women's Writing Circle, as you know, is one such place. We are small, intimate and welcoming. As I like to say . . . "A place to share our stories."

Madeline Sharples said...

Thank you for this, Susan. I too am a member of a small and supportive writing group. It has become such a great way to introduce my writing and work with other writers on their pieces. Sharing is what it's about.

Sue Mitchell said...

Sherrey, thanks for sharing these resources and Pennebaker's recommendations for expressive writing. I think you explained it perfectly when you said, "No longer do those bad memories live in you. You have moved them to another place and time outside yourself." I have found that thoughts and feelings that stay inside me tend to go around in circles, whereas once they are moved outside of me, I can process them and move forward.

I second the recommendation of Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. It provides clear explanations and examples of every aspect of memoir writing as well as practical exercises that are simple but deep.

Madeline Sharples said...

Thanks for your wise thoughts, Sue. It is so true. I put my pain and grief on the page and that helped me move on.
I appreciate your coming by Choices.

healingbywriting said...

Grace, thank you for your thoughts. I'm not familiar with Tristine Rainer's book; I'll have to look it up. Thanks for your recommendation.

healingbywriting said...

Susan, I appreciate your mention of writing groups. Unfortunately, I've not yet found one in my area that has worked for me. It could be me, it could be "them," it could be timing. I do believe they are beneficial and long to find one. Could we clone yours?? Also, I appreciate your continuing encouragement as I write. It means so much.

healingbywriting said...

Sue, how nice to see you here. I remember hearing a speaker use the following imagery about troubling times. She said, "Whatever the trouble, sorrow or misunderstanding, take it and wrap it as though it wee a gift. Then take it and stow it away in the darkest corner you can find. Once there, hand it over go God and He'll deal with it." At that moment, I began looking for a way to do that and use creativity beyond gift wrapping to deal with my hurts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on a similar process.

Linda said...

Sherrey, what a lot of wisdom you have pinned down here. I so appreciate your example of healing through writing being like a burn healing. I'd never thought of that before but you can be sure I'll remember it.

Your other points that really zinged me were: "With each word typed, I felt changes taking place. The invisible scars created by years of verbal and emotional abuse seemed to loosen. Old hurts seemed to soften despite the painful process of remembering," and "Writing soothes and heals by extracting those memories from your inner being and on the computer or paper. No longer do those bad memories live in you. You have moved them to another place and time outside yourself."

Helpful, powerful stuff, Sherrey! I'll share it with others.

Bless you, Friend!

Linda

Madeline Sharples said...

Thank you, LInda, for stopping by Choices and your wonderful thoughts about Sherrey's post. Wisdom, indeed!

healingbywriting said...

Linda, so great to see you here! Thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad you found my post sharing wisdom and power. I appreciate your encouragement.

Mary Gottschalk said...

Sherry

Beautifully written about writing as a healing tool. The challenge, in publishing a memoir, is in knowing when the healing process offers insights for your readers, and when it is simply a cry for attention. It took me almost 20 years to get enough perspective on my story.

And Madeleine, thanks for hosting Sherrey's lovely insights, and book recommendations.

kathleen pooler said...

Sherrey, Thank you for sharing how writing has helped you to heal. You show that so vividly in your Letters to Mama by giving voice to that scared little girl. And underneath that powerful voice is a love, hope and forgiveness just waiting to be released. I also am an admirer of Dr Pennebaker's work as well as the importance of sharing our stories with others. Wonderful post!
Thank you Madeline for featuring Sherrey.

myriteofpassage said...

So true; suppressing emotions have never done anyone any good. As an NLP life coach, I've done a lot of timeline therapy with my clients, which is a simple process of confronting painful memories, acknowledging the harm they done as well as the valuable lessons learned because of them - this is important! Another step in the process is to acknowledge that the people involved might not have had the resources to respond in a better way (less harmful to others). Then imagine what it is they might've needed (compassion, for instance) and how they would've been as people had they been capable of more compassion. That helps to 'reframe' the memory so that you feel content moving it to the past (where it belongs), though it remains a part of you (an image on your timeline but no longer 'in your face'). I hope this helps; I wanted to share it because, as I've said, those are simple but powerful steps and I've seen clients get a lot of emotional relief from the process. Thanks Kathy and Madeline; you're both precious :)

healingbywriting said...

Mary, thank you so much for your comments and encouragement. Your comment regarding reaching perspective rang true with me. It is taking me a long time, and as I wait patiently for it to unfold, I find more healing in the process.

healingbywriting said...

Kathy,you are an inspiration to me in your own writing and also as an encourager and supporter of so many of the rest of us. It is people like you who walk beside us through our journeys and help us see that it is making progress. You do it by showing up wherever possible and sharing a word or two. Thanks for being you!

healingbywriting said...

Belinda, thank you for your comments. It is interesting that you mention "Another step in the process is to acknowledge that the people involved might not have had the resources to respond in a better way (less harmful to others)." This is exactly what happened for me in relationship to my mother. A physician friend opened my eyes by just listening to my mother's childhood story, and immediately this friend responded with, "Your was given the wrong parenting toolbox." What a revelation that was to me! I immediately began thinking of my mother in a totally different light. Thanks for pointing this out here.

Madeline Sharples said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madeline Sharples said...

Mary, Kathy, and Belinda, thanks so much for being here. The power of writing to heal resonates with so many of us, and Sherrey's words certainly bring it all into focus.

marianbeaman said...

Madeline, I have been led to your website by Sherrey, a new friend in blog-world. Her life parallels mine in many ways including an abusive parent. And now I get to meet you.

She recently commented on a post about my dad "Yodeling and Two Part Singing." For me the power of my dad's music has helped heal the scars of childhood. Yes, memoir writing is both a creative and therapeutic outlet.

Marian Beaman "plain and fancy girl"

Madeline Sharples said...

Dear Marian, So sorry it took me so long to respond. I very much appreciate your visiting Choices. I think we memoir writers have a special bond and a real reason to support one another. I certainly agree with Jerry Waxler's term the Memoir Revolution.
I hope you'll come back. I'd like to know more about you and your work. So glad your dad's music is healing for you.
Best, Madeline