By Shannon Collier, LMT and Chaplain and Owner of Holistic Helping Hand
After a recent acupuncture session with Joy, she and I were musing on the experience of hurting and healing. I shared my reflection on the “where’s”, “whys” and “what the f’s?” of the discomfort in my middle-aged body and life. In strategizing on how to “feel better” Joy heard me share my enjoyment of writing. Capitalizing on the expression of my own inner-wisdom, and feeling it might be of interest to clients, Joy suggested I write a blog post as bodyworker receiving bodywork. Since I truly enjoy writing and honor its role in my healing experiences, I agreed. However, as the Universe and my attention span would have it, I quickly diverged from the initial topic of bodywork and refocused on the suggestion itself: to write.
Writing is a consistent part of my healing journey. Over the years, I have relied on writing to process events I frankly did not understand. Through writing – and reading – I gain clarity. In reading my written accounts of experiences I can reflect: What personal narrative I am expressing? Why is this my viewpoint and desired message? Is this really what I meant to say, or is there a clearer message there within? What do my tone and word-usage convey about my attitude and mind-set? What met or unmet need or desire am I attempting to express? Writing helps me to know myself well.
Like versions of myself as I grow and mature, writing and the healing it brings come in multiple drafts. Initially, there are too many words or not enough. I repeat myself. What I am trying to convey gets lost in the initial onslaught of thoughts and my attempts to express them. Initial drafts show me what – and how very much! – I have to work with to get to where I want to be. The revisions that follow – both of words and of life – are as much a whittling away as they are a distilling and still, an adding on more wisely. I make the choice to become more simply and authentically my truest self. Through subsequent revision, I hone my message, choose my words more carefully, and ultimately take increasing accountability for my life story.
Writing opens me up to the risks and rewards of connection, criticism, and indifference. As does the art of living. It is through living with vulnerably that I experience hurt. As homeopathic principles would have it, it is also by living with vulnerably that I am able heal.
In my other job as a chaplain (i.e. professional spiritual companion) I am aware there are many methods of healing beyond being treated by an external practitioner, taking medications, and mechanical therapies. Writing is one of these alternate methods as it assists with personal-expression, processing experience, insight, release of energy, and communication. Writing is a tool well-used by people of diverse spiritual and personal growth orientations. From holy books to blogs, to protest signs to social media posts, the written word provides a record of our values, laments, joys, challenges, learning, growth, and conversations.
As a species, before we speak or read out our wills, eulogies, love letters, apologies, birth announcements, social invitations, or legal decrees, we write them. We recognize the weight of the word. We can and do use our words to heal. We also use them to hurt. Our words are a record that we showed up, thought about our experiences and felt moved enough to record them.
In writing about my personal pain over the years, I see how the “unedited” versions of the life I was living left open numerous pathways for revision. When body parts no longer worked the way they used to, I had to consider all the ways I took my body for granted. I reflected on what more I would like to experience in this world and this life with this body. I acknowledged the discomfort of aging and made strides in accepting my mortality. I owned the commitment and effort that rehabilitating my body would ask of me and accepted I needed to omit some of my more youthful pursuits.
When a surprise diagnosis woke up my heart, I reflected on the quality of my relationships and if I was living from my deepest values. Often, unfortunately, I was not. I had to examine and make frank choices about my values – a process I continue daily.
Tragically, when faced with the threat and reality of deep loss, I recognized how my childhood habit of denying my own unmet emotional needs and a lack of acceptance led to default coping mechanisms of comfort-seeking, mindless eating, and hero-patterning. I saw how those behaviors undermined my wellbeing by standing in the way of me facing the inevitable risk and responsibility of life head on and stunted my ability to feel and respond to my own pain. I am still learning to directly and clearly express my needs and to accept myself as equally human.
When I felt relationships I am part of were falling apart, I saw how undeveloped my communication skills were and how though parental abuse and neglect I experienced as an adolescent imprinted in me poor relationship boundaries, a false representation of healthy love, and a normalization of emotional abuse, I failed to take full accountability for my role in perpetuating these ills. In seeing my role in the dysfunction, I had to take 100% responsibility for my actions and the need to heal unresolved insecurities. I had to accept and to grieve how much time I wasted not being the person I now know I can be and how much unintentional damage I had done to myself and others along the way. Through writing, and reading the writing of others, I gained access to vast resources that taught me an order of magnitude more about social, emotional, mental, and spiritual health than I had ever been exposed to in my first three and a half decades of life. Most importantly, I saw the deep and fundamental importance of the human-gifted ability to learn and grow, and to choose to change.
In writing through these hurts, I feel both humbled and empowered. I also see how these issues arose magnified in my mid-life experience as clear and practical opportunities to heal myself and my relationships. As long as we are alive we have time to revise our stories into more advanced drafts. I am infinitely grateful to finally be able and willing to write new endings to the same old stories I had told myself and others for years.
And in a world where things continually change and evolve, doesn’t it make sense that I – and we – would too? Our stories, our words, our ideas, and how we express them. The versions of ourselves that we were can always grow and tend to do so with greater exposure to light and air. Writing provides both – space to air out our experiences and the added light of awareness by which we can read and better understand the messages to and from ourselves.
Through the practice of writing and reading we can feel and know that we are never truly alone. In their ultimate act of healing, our words connect us to each other. Be it our former self or a distant other, authors of the past reach into our present and the writers of the present reach out to the future. Among them is a life-line across time and space sharing human experiences of joy and struggle. Words echo via print, digital light-energy-media, and spoken vibrations. “We understand,” say the written words, “we’ve been there too,” say the accounts of the past. “We stand with you!” say the protest signs.
In this unbroken chain of being and sharing and changing there is a deep opportunity to write the stories of our own healing. May we examine our words and the stories of our past with an eye to the opportunity of the present and an openness to the revisions we know are possible in our hearts. May we all use our awareness to become the current, best versions of ourselves.
Write on! Be well!