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Scribing the Soul
September 2000

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Kathleen's Current Column

by Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT

In ancient times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of old.

"Diary of a Headache"

Session One

Margo came to see me because her head hurt.

"I've tried everything!" she told me. A health professional married to a colleague in her field, Margo had access to the finest treatment in town, both traditional and alternative, for her debilitating headaches. "I've tried acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic. I've tried medication, meditation, relaxation, guided imagery. Yoga. Prayer. Nutrition. Neurologists. I've got my headaches medically managed as well as they can be, but I know there's another level that I haven't addressed. That's what I want your help with."

Had she tried writing? "I write in a journal, but I don't think I'm doing it right. I'm not getting results. Mostly I just write about the day -- what I did, who I saw, what's on for tomorrow. I think I should be writing about my feelings, but I don't know how to do that. And I'm so tired all the time that I can barely hold my pen as it is."

I could sense the pain behind Margo's eyes. I thought about the worst headache I ever had and imagined it coming on suddenly and often. "How long do you spend on your daily entries?"

"I don't know, ten or fifteen minutes, maybe. I try to write before I go to bed, three or four times a week."

"That's good," I said. "That's probably enough. I don't think you'll need to do much more than what you've already scheduled. Now, tell me about your headaches. I know you're the expert on them. Tell me how often they come, what brings them on, what helps relieve them."

Margo gave me a thorough history. She was, as I expected, an expert on her own problem. I assigned homework: Create a chronological health history, with special focus on headaches. I suggested she use continuous-feed computer paper to make a horizontal time chart from birth to the present time in which she was to note incidences of illness, injury, chronic pain or other health difficulty, as well as healing activities such as new treatments, medications, natural healings or other health improvements. It would be helpful, I said, if she'd also include major life transitions and events that had a decidedly emotional feel to them.

I also invited her to continue her evening writes, with one simple shift: Move her focus to the interior life. I gave her a list of "writing from within" journal questions and prompts.

How do I feel right now? Emotionally? Physically? Mentally? Spiritually?

My heart wants to say---

Today I was aware of---

What wants to be known?

My predominant mood or emotion today was/is----

"Choose one of these topics, and write for ten or fifteen minutes, just like you've been doing," I said. "Follow the thread of your writing wherever it leads you. Don't try to figure out where it's going. Just let yourself write."

Session Two

Margo brought in her health history, all seven feet of it, with color-coded entries for problems, solutions and major life events. Her headaches and remedies were additionally highlighted in yellow. We draped it over my office chairs and admired it from a distance before fan-folding it into the headache years.

Margo anticipated my first question. "What I notice about this is that my headaches seemed to start at about the same time my family was undergoing quite a few events." We talked about her husband's acceptance of a new hospital position, her daughter's transition into adolescence, her son's emerging complexity. None of this was inherently negative or problematic, but neither was it easy.

"Another thing I notice," she said, "is that I'm building up a powerful resentment of these headaches. I noticed these in my evening writes. I'm really angry at them for disrupting my life so dramatically. I think of them as the enemy."

"Would you be willing to explore this resentment using guided imagery and inner work?" I asked. Margo nodded. "Then close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths. Now, allow an image of your headache to come to you. This image might come in any number of ways, so just take the first image you receive. Tell me when you've got it."

"It's.... it's a dark cloud," Margo said. "My headaches are a dark, dense, heavy storm cloud."

Margo's homework for the second session: Return to the storm cloud in imagery, and invite it to "talk" with her in the journal. I coached her on the Dialogue technique, a written conversation where she would write in two voices -- her own, and the voice of the storm cloud. This sounded like an odd and difficult task, but she agreed to try. I also encouraged her to keep up her inner-focused evening writes.

Session Three

Margo arrived in the aftermath of a headache. A moderate one had plagued her for two full days. "Fortunately I'd done the Dialogue earlier in the week, because I never would have been able to focus on it during the headache," she said. "And it was easier than I expected, just like you said. In fact, I was amazed at how easily it flowed once I got started."

Me: You still appear to me as a big, dark, heavy cloud but I see your face now and it is kind. I don't think you want to be a disturbance, but that is how I feel about you.

HA: I'm ready to talk to you -- I won't come into your head while we talk. I usually wait to be invited into your head.

Me: I don't think I consciously invite you. Why do you come? What are you trying to tell me? My life is so comfortable and I am so blessed -- you are an annoyance and a disturbance that I need to deal with and get rid of.

HA: You like things to be "just so" and avoid conflict and disturbance but I think you need those things in your life, too…. Maybe you don't do the inviting consciously, but I do come by invitation.

The idea that she "invited" her headaches was mindbending to Margo. After discussion, we arrived at a hypothesis that retreating into a headache allowed Margo to distance herself from difficult emotions.

In guided imagery, I asked her to let the clouds dissipate enough to see the face behind them. Margo opened her eyes, which were filled with amusement. "It's Yoda!" she said. "You know -- from Star Wars?"

"Get your notebook," I said. "Write everything you know about Yoda. Five minutes, starting now. Ready, set, go!"

What an interesting symbol for pain! But sure enough, Yoda -- a gentle, wise, ancient teacher -- was the spokesperson for her headaches. Margo's homework: A journal dialogue with Yoda.

Session Four

Margo reported she had been headache-free for more than a week..

Me: I've not experienced a headache for over a week and I'm almost scared to say so for fear I'll now get one. Maybe talking with you helps me avoid dealing with you as a painful intrusion.

HA: I'm here to help you.

Me: Is there a connection between you and my inability to recognize and deal with anger? Are we on the right track?

HA: This is one of the tracks. Holding in emotions is just who you are -- you were taught to be quiet and humble and not draw attention to yourself. Although you've come a long way, you still feel guilty or embarrassed when you "let go."

Me: Trying to remember events and emotions from the past is very uncomfortable for me -- it makes me realize how little I remember, and wonder what and why I've repressed it. I feel very uncomfortable and anxious.

HA: Look into your heart , express your emotions, and learn.

What had she learned from this process? "I'm amazed at the idea that my headaches are trying to be helpful," she said. "It never occurred to me that they might have a positive function."

We turned our focus to the suppressed feelings that manifested as headaches. Margo described a lifetime history of avoiding anger. The only child of peaceloving parents, she grew up with nonviolence as a primary ethic, and conflict was always managed with reason. While she was genuinely grateful for this orientation to healthy problem-solving, she was aware of just how little it had prepared her to live in a household where people sometimes got mad and yelled at each other.

In fact, Margo was beginning to realize how little she actually knew about the emotion of anger. What did normal, healthy anger look and feel like? When was it out of control? How could she not take it personally when someone in her family got mad? How could she begin to safely express anger herself?

"When was the last time you remember experiencing anger?" I asked. Margo concentrated. "I honestly don't remember.....Oh! Wait!" She paged rapidly through her journal. "Here it is -- a couple of weeks ago, when I was first writing about feelings, and I realized how resentful and mad I was at my headaches."

"So anger is a feeling you recognize and experience," I said.

Margo gazed at me. "Yes," she slowly agreed. "But as I think about it now, I'm realizing that the only time I feel anger is when it's directed at myself."

The Next Sessions

I saw Margo three more times over the next two months. She continued to learn about anger, and how to direct it where it belongs, instead of automatically turning it inward. "Yoda" became a frequent journal companion, the voice of wisdom and healing within her. A journal log of her headache patterns revealed that they continued to come less frequently, with less intensity, and with pain management through medication.

12 Minutes to Wellness

If you, like Margo, have chronic pain or persistent difficulty of any sort, try writing your way to wellness. Here are six ideas. Unless otherwise indicated, take about 12 minutes for each write.

1. Make a list of everything you know about your pain, illness, injury or difficulty. Be as specific and detail-oriented as you can. Include everything. If you think it, ink it. Keep your pen moving and sprint through a 12-minute write.

2. Make a health history time chart. You can start from birth, or you can begin with the onset of the illness or difficulty. This will likely take about 30 minutes to set up; from there, you can add to it in 12-minute increments.

3. Write from within. Use interior-focused questions and prompts to focus yourself, then follow the pen. Stop at the end of 12 minutes. Re-read what you've written, and continue if you wish.

4. Ask for an image of your pain, illness or condition. Dialogue with the image you receive. (Dialogues take longer -- schedule 30-45 minutes.)

5. Every three or four entries, re-read your journal and give yourself feedback. Write, "As I read this, I notice--."

6. Keep a pain or symptom log to document decreases in intensity, frequency, down time, and other variables specific to your own illness or concern.

My 192-page workbook, The Write Way to Wellness, is filled with journal processes and prompts to help you attain and maintain full-spectrum wellness. It comes with an accompanying audiotape of entrance meditations and can be ordered at www.journaltherapy.com/book.htm.

© 2000 Kathleen Adams. All rights reserved. 


Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is one of the leading voices on the power of writing to heal and is the author of four books, including Journal to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness. Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail kay@journaltherapy.com or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.


Read Kathleen's "Scribing the Soul" Columns:

Current "Scribing the Soul" Column

August 2000 "Making Up the Truth"

July 2000 "Pockets of Joy"

June 2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"


Read Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:

Writing in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream Journals



Visit Kathleen at her Website:



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