“There comes a journey … And there also comes the urge to write it down, to bear witness to our experience, to share our questions and the insights that come from questioning.” ~ Christina Baldwin, Life’s Companion: Journal Writing As A Spiritual Practice
On a shelf, In one of my closets, instead of shoes, I have two stacks of books of all shapes, sizes and types — small, large, colored, plain, thick, tall, thin. Some are the ubiquitous composition books that many of us used in elementary school. Some are beautiful leather-bound books; where, some are simply plain paper-covered books. They are filled with pages that are lined, graph or unlined. (Currently, my preference is an unlined book.) Still others are the ever popular Moleskines and other books that, for one reason or another, I was drawn to for their beauty and more importantly, because they satisfied my ultimate purpose. An observer looking in would barely give them a glance because they look like an innocuous jumble of books with no special significance. However, looks are often deceiving. The one thing that these stacks of books hold in common is that they are my precious journals scanning decades. These unremarkable books, contain portions of my joys, pains, puzzling thoughts, aspirations and hopes. They contain my story.
It is in them that I can be the unsugar-coated version of myself.
“A journal is one of the only places where no one can judge you…. [T]he purpose of your journal is to serve as a mirror for your mind. You are your own universe. Your mind is vast, and even you can’t know of all the passions, insights, fears, and troubles that dwell within. A journal is an effective way to peel back the fleshy onion layers and get to the center of yourself….” ~ Samara O’Shea, “Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal And Other Dangerous Pursuits”
Almost every one of us is familiar with the “The Diary of Anne Frank.” As most of us know the background about Anne’s circumstances and the historical nature of her writings, I will dispense with those background details. (In the event that you are unfamiliar with the details or wish to brush up on the facts, please read here and here.) For purposes of this post, it is in the entries that Anne made in her very first diary that I find most compelling. She wrote, “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” She also wrote, “I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried in my heart.” She summarized in a clear and concise way, some of my reasons for journaling — having a confidante, writing without self-censorship and exploring and discovering my inner self.
In addition to the lack of judgment that a journal provides, it is a marvel at listening. My journal is there to record my thoughts, feelings, joys, inspirations, revelations, fears, dreams and all that presents when I am writing — all with no interruption. It is simply me and my thoughts. It is a silent vessel for me to pour out my greatest truths — as well as greatest lies, that I tell myself, many of which I am previously unaware of. For me, the act of journaling is the best way for me to unearth and meet my true self, free of distractions.
There are no barriers between me and the page. For example, when confiding with the dearest of friends, I am often plagued with thoughts of “How will they react to what I say?”, “What will they think of me when they learn my real thoughts?,” “Will it diminish their opinion of me?,” “If I say this, will it be misinterpreted?,” and more. When I communicate with others, even those close to me, there is an unmistakable hesitancy, a reticence, that does not exist when I journal.
When I journal, I no longer have to watch what I say, self-censure, or feel other than what I am thinking or feeling. There is freedom that comes with journaling that does not exist in regular communications. A journal gives me the permission to freely express myself just as I am. It offers me a platform to rant, rave, cuss, question, talk to my God, be brutally honest, express doubts and fears, as well as to face and try to resolve issues that are troubling me. I am able to dig as deeply as necessary to understand the nature of the problem and to, hopefully, expose its cause, and explore all possible solutions. I can question ‘why’ I am the way I am, in a safe and secure environment, so that I can know myself in a more profound way.
My journal allows me to delve into past trauma, hurts and mistakes, thoroughly and in a way that is more likely to bring me to forgiveness and closure. On the other hand, it can dredge up hidden issues that are nonetheless, affecting my life. On the pages of my journal, lay my hopes, dreams, ambitions, and missteps. For example, after becoming pregnant at a young age, and having three children by 21 years of age, journaling led me to understand why I’d acted in the way that I had, acceptance of my situation and it kept alive my determination to buck the odds and to succeed anyway. My writing gave me the temerity and determination to pursue an education that ultimately led me to graduate college with honors and continue on, to receive my law degree.
In the pages of my journal, I record my fears of failure, of taking on too much, my doubts, and the mind-numbing guilt that I felt when I left my family to attend the University of Texas law school in Austin. Although I was 29 years old at the time, it was the first time that I’d ever lived alone, since I left my mother’s home. Journaling helped me through the pangs of loneliness, living in a new city, competing at a top-ranked law school and being so different from the young people around me. It literally kept me from giving up and running home.
My journal was there during the hellacious period after my beloved baby brother’s death when I plunged into a deep dark depression. My journal was my only outlet for the incredible pain that I felt, because in my grief, I shut everyone else out. It was too painful to speak of my grief, but since writing has always brought me peace, I wrote tomes. It documented my thoughts and feelings as I sunk deeper and deeper into a place where there was no light, only darkness and pain, and where I could imagine no escape. Even though loved ones and my doctors repeatedly urged me to get help and go on medication, I couldn’t hear them through the overwhelming grief and sadness. It was my journal that finally convinced me that I had to act or I would lose myself completely. Finally, I relented to my loved one’s pleas and sought help. Although it took some time, I slowly woke from what seemed like a dream, with my journal to remind me that my experience was all too real. Along with medications, I wrote myself back to normalcy. (Actually, what is normal and who among us is normal?)
My journal is also a source of revelation. My father abandoned us (my mother and two sisters) when I was only five. I convinced myself that the abandonment had no affect on me. Through the marriages and the divorces, I clung to that belief, as I left them, before they could leave (i.e., abandon) me. If not for intense journaling, I believe that I would still believe that my belief insulated me from the loss of my father’s abandonment. By journaling, I realized the fallacy that lay in believing that a 5-year-old child had such defense mechanisms. In my case, I stored those feelings of abandonment in the depths of my psyche where they remained, until through writing, my unconsciousness released them and they bubbled to the surface. I hasten to say that my journal is not, and I’ve never viewed it as such, a panacea. Depending on your style of journaling, it can and will bring up issues that are too big for you to deal with on your own. In my case, when that happens, I work with a trained professional to help me deal with the issues and hopefully, overcome them.
Of course, my journals are not only filled with the challenges and difficulties. It also holds memories of the happy and joyful moments that populate my life, like spending time with family and friends, graduating college with honors, being accepted into a prestigious law school, and later being admitted to the Texas bar, watching my children grow into beautiful, amazing human beings, witnessing the birth of grandchildren, the serendipitous and magic, those moments when I’ve felt the arms of God around me protecting me and keeping me safe, and those moments of total stillness and presence when I understand the beauty of life and everything around me. In it holds all for which I am grateful. It was in those pages, after much procrastination and self-doubt, that I finally convinced myself that I had the potential to be creative and began the process of learning to draw and paint, something that I always longed to do. Now, both are burgeoning passions.
I can also thank my journal for convincing me to begin this very blog. I love to write and sought to become a better writer. The idea of a blog presented itself to me through journaling. I didn’t think that I had what it took to be a blogger, but through journaling, I began to see things differently. After months of debating the pros and cons, I created my first blog in 2010. I literally had no idea what I was doing but through trial and error, it became a place to write whatever I wanted, and I enjoy it immensely.
Journaling has been one of the many blessings in my life. Each one holds all the highs and lows in my life, and it shows, in black and white, the growth that I’ve made, and those issues in which growth has been elusive. The pages of my journal are the most accurate gauge that I have of how far I’ve come in this life. When I begin doubting myself, I pull out relevant journals and the entries remind me of my strength, determination, wisdom and perseverance. It holds within it, evidence of the love, kindness, compassion and sincerity that is my true self.
Yet, it knows the good, the bad and the ugly. That is not to say that I am a horrid person with a hidden pass. In fact, most would find my journal quite boring. Yet, In my journal I find a place of peace, forgiveness, atonement and reckoning. It is a classroom where I can try my hand at poetry, creative writing, or anything that I please. It is filled with the wisdom that I’ve gained over a life time of living, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, falling, picking myself back up, loving, and learning from my experiences.
All and all, no two journalers are alike. If you asked 100 people how they used their journals, you would undoubtedly get 100 different answers. There is no right or wrong way to journal and you have to choose what works best for you and you alone. You might use your journal as a diary detailing your day, you might journal every day or once a week, you may keep a gratitude journal or one of the multitude of other ways to serve your needs. It is your choice, but, however you choose to use it, know that it is your sanctuary for non-judgment, openness and honesty. In its pages, you can find your authentic voice and your best self. I know that is true for me.