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Finding 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 life 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 hope for.

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 forgive you.

Signed, Annie

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 journaling.

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 expected.

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 guidelines:

  1. Wait until you have quiet, uninterrupted space to write.
  2. Buy a great pen, one that feels good in your hand. Or get some colored markers.
  3. 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 room.
  4. Move on. The payoff is in working through your issues and on to the other side. Then walk away and be done.
  5. Breathe.
  6. 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 you have.

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.

* All 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 information.

Some of Eldonna's Books:


Visit Eldonna at her Website:


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