The title of this post, Writing as My Healing Tool, is right at the heart of my own experience. At the beginning of 2017, just nine months after my late husband’s death, I began to write. Little did I know the culmination of my writing and truth-seeking would become my debut memoir, A Sky of Infinite Blue – A Japanese Immigrant’s Search for Home and Self.
Expressive Writing Paradigm
Writing, especially expressive writing, is known to have therapeutic effects on mental and physical health. Pioneered by James Pennebaker, the benefits and positive effects of expressive writing on stress management, mental health, and some systemic diseases have been noted for over two decades.
In the early 1980s, Pennebaker discovered that keeping one’s trauma secret— holding back powerful emotions, thoughts, and behaviors caused low-level long-term stress, often leading to the dysfunction of one’s immune system and poor physical and mental health. These studies led the way to open the path to the expressive writing paradigm.
Professionals in the fields of medicine, social work, and psychotherapy have widely applied this concept as a healing tool.
How Did I Begin Writing in Grief?
Though I had a very intensive period of writing when I was young from teens to early twenties, I hadn’t written anything substantial until I lost my husband, Patrick to stage IV metastatic melanoma of the brain, in the summer of 2016.
Patrick was not only my husband but also my partner, and best friend of 26 and a half years. Before his passing, we’d been on the fastest roller coaster ride and fought the fierce battles against cancer for three years. When he died, I felt nothing was left with me, like I had been thrown into the darkest valley, unable to see its bottom.
Lost, I turned to writing to try to process the gravity of the grief I felt. I held some doubts and questions over what had happened before his death, which were tormenting me, so the drive and force for writing was unyielding and explosive. I needed to release all the emotions and the impact of his illness, death, and things that I’d experienced before his illness.
When I began writing, I wrote about any unanswered questions and emotions around specific memories. I cried over specific memories of our days together. I spent almost all day and nights intensively writing and then completed the “incomplete” version of the first draft in just a few months. But, it still had lots of hidden secrets and things that I couldn’t face or speak of aloud. During this earlier period of writing, I could heal a little but not as much as I wanted to heal.
How Did The Healing Take Place?
The first several months of free writing were very much needed to release my emotions and trapped electric charges inside my brain and the heart. However, after this period I knew that my writing would have to dig deeper to uncover the deeply embedded trauma and secrets within.
Finally, at the end of 2019 with much hope, my writing became a book, and I began to take a couple of consecutive six-month memoir writing courses.
During these courses, a writing coach sometimes asked questions about the areas that I deliberately hid, because of the pain associated with the events. Though difficult, I decided to be open and vulnerable to my pains, and risk myself for the chance to heal.
As I agreed to be vulnerable, many moments of awakening began to occur during my writing. At the time, I’d been a devout Buddhist for almost two decades. In my spiritual practice, I perform the six paramita practices which are: offering, discipline, perseverance, diligent practice, meditation, and wisdom throughout the day and night. To visit the hidden experiences and excavate more truths, I needed these spiritual principles to support my writing, so I became more disciplined, tenacious, resilient, and meditative in writing.
Once writing became one of my spiritual practices, I persevered and became more patient with myself. I practiced self-care and self-love while I faced the most difficult events, which accompanied a lot of pain and agonizing discomfort.
During such a period of writing, some writers may experience re-traumatization from past events and memories. I’d also got through many of these crucial times, but I knew the healing that I’d wanted would happen by finding my true ground, not by taking more time to ease my pain. So, I’d chosen to surrender myself to the facts and accept whatever happened as my reality.
Finally, during the second round of the writing course, I found myself surrounded by more light shining through what I thought was once just rubble.
From my own writing experience, the initial healing occurs when our minds are open to allow for the release of pain and emotions. However, it is also important to push through to the next step.
The real healing comes when we realign ourselves to see the pain and discomfort not as a victim of the tragedies but as good survivors of the difficult experiences. In the latter writing, our words become lifted and more universal and relatable stories.
In this way, writing becomes not only a way for us to heal, but also to heal anyone in the world.
The healing power of writing can heal us beyond time and space, in the now.
Kyomi O’Connor is the author of memoir, A Sky of Infinite Blue- A Japanese Immigrant Search for Home and Self. After three years of intense caregiving, she lost her husband, partner, and best friend, Patrick, of 26 and a half years to stage IV metastatic melanoma in his brain. In her grieving, Kyomi began her writing. Soon, as she’d already been a devout Buddhist, writing became one of the fiercest spiritual practices she’d undertaken. In the end, the light was found everywhere in the rubbles once she thought she’d been lost in. Please visit her website, https://kyomioconnor.com.
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