Peace Upon the Page
by Eldonna Bouton
Annie* gave birth to a healthy
daughter nineteen years ago. But due to a doctorís
tragic diagnosis when Casey* was just four years old,
her little girl was rendered brain damaged and in need
of complete around-the-clock care from that day on. For
fifteen years now Annie has carried around the anger,
hatred, and feelings of betrayal toward the doctor who
made a terrible mistake and cost her the blessing of
raising a healthy, active child.
Recently Annie wrote a letter
to that doctor. Following is an excerpt:
Dear Dr. Bradford*:
I will never forget the day you
ripped apart my child's life and in doing so tore the
out of my family and me. She was my first-born and the
joy of my life. On that
day the records show that you did so many things wrong.
I will not go in to
all of that because you already know what they say. But
do you know that I lie
in bed every night and cry for my child and the things
that she will never get
to do or have?
She was 4 when you did this to
her. Casey* never got to see what
it was like to have her first day at school. And to know
what it felt like to
have a best friend. Or to hide the first tooth she lost.
She will never have a
first date or her first boy friend. She will never get
to dance at her prom.
She will never meet the man that she would have married,
or hold the baby that she would have had. She will never
get to do or have all the things little girls one day
Casey is 19 now and to this day
you have never said that you were sorry. The only thing
that I ever heard from you was "What happened to
Casey was an act of God." Well, Dr. my God doesn't
go around doing that to people. Over the years I have
tried hard to forgive you, but every night when I have
to pick Casey up and put her to bed and change her I
feel the pain as if it had happened just today. But I
will go on taking care of her and I will go on trying to
Annie never sent the letter to
Dr. Bradford. She never intended to. It was an exercise
in letting go of the past so she could live in the
present. Writing the letter helped Annie see that by
holding onto her feelings of anger and grief, she was
blocking herself from experiencing her life more fully.
By putting these feelings into a letter to the doctor,
she was able to begin her personal healing by turning to
writing as a way to process her intense feelings.
Annie is not alone in her
findings. Recently the results of a study about the
physical and emotional effects of cathartic writing were
reported in the Journal of American Medicine
Association. The study found that patients who
"wrote about traumatic experiences" showed a
significant improvement in their health. Those
improvements included lower blood pressure, increased T
Cell (immunity) production, fewer sick days and reduced
doctor visits among others. So now even the Western
Medicine Gods now agree that there are true benefits to
There has been a recent surge
in journal writing among the general population. I
believe this is due to a need to reconnect with the
self. In this busy world of cell phones, voice messaging
systems, and e-mail, we rush from one task to another in
order to complete as much "work" as possible
in a given day. I know people who take their laptops
into the bathroom!
Journaling offers a way to
check in with oneself. It can provide a means for
self-contemplation, catharsis and creativity. As
outlined above, "Unsent Letters" is one method
of journaling used to work through feelings.
Another journaling method is
"cathartic journaling," or what I like to call
"taking our the cosmic trash." Cathartic
journaling consists of writing whatever comes into your
mind. The purpose of cathartic writing is to empty your
head so you can live in the moment rather than in the
midst of unfinished business rambling around your mind
and taking up valuable space.
One way to practice cathartic
writing is to put your pen to the page and let the choir
of voices within your head have their say. Donít lift
the pen until youíre finished. Often cathartic writing
initiates an outpouring of release. For example, you may
find yourself writing about resentment that you werenít
even aware of on a conscious level. By continuing to
explore what comes up in your writing, it is very
possible that an answer to the problem will present
itself on the page. Cathartic writing is also a good way
of clearing thoughts before meditation.
Another benefit of journaling
is that it allows you to access your well of creativity.
Yes, you have one. We all do. Some people just havenít
discovered it (yet). Journaling will allow you to turn
on the faucet and let the creativity flow freely.
Try this. Write "If I were
an animal, I would beÖ" (fill in the blank). Why
would you be the animal you chose? What qualities do you
share with this animal? Does this animal represent how
you see yourself, how you believe others perceive you,
or have the traits you admire and would like to have?
Hereís another exercise.
Describe the color yellow. What does it look like? How
would you describe yellow to a blind person? Give it a
flavor, a texture, and a smell. What is the mood of
yellow? Your yellow will most certainly be different
than another personís yellow. And Iím betting that
what you write will be a lot more creative than you
People often ask me how to get
started in journaling. My advice is to get a plain
notebook for cathartic journaling. Keep it with you at
all times so that you can take out the trash whenever
your head or your heart is full. You can be as messy as
you want in a 79-cent notebook. However, if you like the
aesthetics of a leather-bound or fancy-covered journal,
choose one that suits your personality and use it for
creative writing, drawing, or even pasting in pictures.
There are no rules when it
comes to journaling, however, I can offer a few
- Wait until you have quiet,
uninterrupted space to write.
- Buy a great pen, one that
feels good in your hand. Or get some colored markers.
- Donít judge yourself as you
write. Write as if no one will ever see what youíre
writing. The point is about saying whatís on your mind
and in your heart, not about pleasing someone else. So
kick the parent, the critic and the editor out of the
- Move on. The payoff is in
working through your issues and on to the other
side. Then walk away and be done.
- Keep breathing.
Through writing, you can learn
more about yourself. Within the safety of the pages, you
can face your demons and suddenly they lose their power
over you. At times, your journal may be the best friend
So grab your favorite pen and
let loose. Reveal secrets. Scribe letters. Tell a story.
Write your heart out.
2000 Eldonna Bouton. All rights reserved.
the names in this article have been changed to protect
the privacy of the individual.
Eldonna Bouton is the author of
"Loose Ends, A Journaling Tool for Tying up the
Incomplete Details of your Life and Heart",
"Write Away: A Journal Writing Tool Kit" and
"Journaling from the Heart: A Writing Workshop in
Three Parts." Which are available in bookstores or
from the publisher at http://www.whole-heart.com.
The author is also available
for speaking engagements on "Journaling: Emotional
Health the WRITE Way." Call 805-543-8640 for more