A hidden journal, and the trail back home.
What happens to your old journals or writings? Where do they go?
People who are new to journaling are sometimes nervous about judging their own work. They're afraid of hating what they write. I remind them that you never have to read what you have written. You never have to play critic. You can simply turn the page and move on.
But I keep every single one of my journals. Some of them have been lost along the way, but I have the last 15 years or so sitting in a closet.
Some of them I think of with great affection. The journal I kept when I was 20 years old served as a place for my internal debate about whether or not I should take the doctor’s advice and get a pacemaker. It was a big, spiral bound book with large, blank pages that I filled with loose, thoughtful scrawlings. I love to return to it now and then; I see that young girl’s bravery and thoughtfulness and I am reminded of how far she’s come. I went back to this book when I wrote “Waiting to see someone like me”.
For the past several years I have had journals I’ve been afraid to look at.
This is because they covered an exceptionally dark period of my life. A personal trauma. The start of recovery.
We recently did some re-organizing at home and I knew I had to go through the drawer that contained these journals. It freaked me out, and I procrastinated.
Then one day, I sat down. I opened the drawer. I took a big garbage bag with me.
I went for the scariest stuff first. I grabbed and tossed those couple books immediately. They were the kind of things that you only want to look at out of the corner of your eye, not too closely, let they release their triggers on you.
These contained writing that was necessary for healing, but would not be productive for me to review again. It’s really rare for me to let go of any personal writing, but for just these items, it was necessary.
As I was going through the drawer, I paused for a moment.
I took a look -- a little cautious, a little curious -- at a journal I started around that time, but after a little bit more healing had taken place.
It was a journal that was more of a call to action for myself. In it I imagined the kind of life I wanted to live. In it started dreaming about ‘what’s next’, rather than re-living the trauma.
I comforted myself in that book. When I look back now, I see self-compassion.
I am someone for whom the word ‘self-compassion’ does not feel comfortable. But in that book, I wrote kindly to myself.
I can see, in flipping through the pages and re-reading passages, that at that particularly tenuous, tender time, I dug into self-kindness. I leaned into compassion, and gentleness, and self-celebration. I took tiny little steps forward, and encouraged myself. I championed myself; staying alive, moving forward. It was beautiful.
The book also contained something I had forgotten about.
Brief, sweet, rhyming things. Little miniature love-poems to myself.
Kindness, kindness, kindness. Kindness in a four sentence, rhyming poem.
There weren’t too many. Maybe six.
Looking at them with fresh eyes, I thought: I love these.
Really, I love them. I love them!
And I knew when I read them that I had my next writing project. That I would pick up where I left off and finish the book of poetry. It will be a book of kind little poems to read to yourself when you need a dose of kindness.
They will be little memorable mantras.
And, in fact, they are memorable: I had not forgotten about them after all! In fact, there are one or two that I still repeat to myself now and then. I just hadn’t given thought to where they came from. But they are the kind of thing I might repeat to myself while feeling anxious, without even realizing it.
This is absurd and delightful and wonderful for me to uncover because I had mostly abandoned writing poetry.
I used to write poetry as a kid and a teenager. Rarely I may write something privately, occasionally post one on this blog, sometimes write one as a gift. But for work? For my next book?
Completely unanticipated. Not at all planned. But wonderful, wonderful.
While that younger version of me was struggling, just trying to get through, writing her way through the darkness, she was leaving me a gift.
A trail of breadcrumbs left behind.
A trail to poetry, and gentleness and truth. A trail back to myself.
It was there, just waiting for me to find it.
Waiting for me to follow it home.