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.
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.