Monday, May 28, 2012

Silencing the Past

I used to keep a journal. It was your basic composition book type journal (the old hard backed black and white notebook), which I felt was very Holden Caulfield-ny...someone I thought I'd rather be, especially when I was writing. Before the composition book when I was a young girl I remember having a real Diary, it even had a lock. Later, in high school, I kept a plain old college ruled spiral bound as a journal, until my father 'accidentally' mistook MY yellow spiral bound book of secrets as HIS yellow spiral bound book of work notes and read was not good. It was then when he learned, at work, that I was no longer virgin.
Me, age 17 on a day pass from the hospital in Anchorage where I was 'recovering' from anorexia. My dad came down from Fairbanks to visit me during Christmas.
But, even as an adult...primarily when I was struggling with some love sickness, loneliness, undefined life plan, or...loneliness (yes, I know I said that already) I felt drawn to write in my hard backed comp book. I had learned of it's importance while hospitalized in Charter North for anorexia at age 16 (not long after the above incident), some 350 miles from our 'home' in Fairbanks Alaska. I had also learned that I could make people laugh and get high praise from my English Lit and Written Composition professors at University by writing about what seemed to me the mundaneness of my life.

When Bridget Jones' Diary hit the shelves my journaling took on a new life. I would be sure to write in it daily lest it miss me too much. It was a friend and confidant. It was a place I knew, in the back of my mind...even while the shit was hitting the fan...where I would go to write down all of the awful things that were happening to me at that instant. Somehow that made it all tolerable, although I would find myself weeping onto the pages as I relived my days...the pain of horrible breakups, empty promises, loneliness, disappointment, financial struggles, etc., etc., etc...

I wrote about my horse, Maxx, and the devastating effect his death had on my life. I wrote about my old boyfriend, Adam, who would promise to come over and then never show up...for days or even weeks. I wrote about my disappointment over where my life was where. Wasted talent, wasted mind, wasted life. Always wrapped up in either a boyfriend or lack there of. Pages and pages of me reasoning with me. It's hard to be smart and logical yet always making the worst decisions possible.

Don't get me wrong, my journaling led to quite a bit of insight, especially when I would reread what I wrote. Often I would barely recognize the words as my own. Sometimes even the handwriting was but not. Or maybe me just telling me in a different 'voice' how to get out of whatever situation I was in. I had no family around me, opting to live in Northern California, 3000+ miles from my parents, even when I was in my mid-20's. There would have been no shame in 'going home' at that age after a divorce and having only a $13 an hour job for income.

The best wine for my limited income.
Instead, I journaled. And watched a shit-ton of Friends and Seinfeld. Oh, and then Bridget Jones' Diary came out on I watched that, over and over and over again. I developed my own break-up/pity-party basket...Gloria Gaynor's song I Will Survive, the movies "Singles", "Reality Bites" and later "Elizabeth", "Closer", and "Love Actually", microwave popcorn and 2 Buck Chuck for dinner. I worked a ridiculous amount (full time with as much OT as I could get at a car dealership and then part-time waitressing at night) just so I wouldn't have to be home...alone.

But my journal...that's what kept me sane (or somewhat sane because I literally thought my life was spiraling into oblivion and happiness would either never be mine or only found in a pill). In desperation I tried that pill which was called Paxil...only to find out it didn't bring happiness, it brought blase...a non-committal to any kind of emotion happy or sad. And as painful as my life seemed to be I knew that I would rather feel that pain to full extent if that was the only way to be able to recognize the joy that I knew I deserved. I got rid of the pills, focused on my journaling and started meditating.

Many years have passed and I find myself reading Joyce Maynard's At Home in the World: A Memoir right now (thanks to a post by Michele at Yoga Freedom Blog). Joyce, as well as her mother, kept all of their letters over the years...and even made carbon copies of the one's they sent. Writing on a topic which happened 26 earlier, Ms. Maynard has at her finger-tips, not only an exquisite memory but years and years of correspondence with her family as well as author J.D. Salinger (whom she ended up having a relationship with when she was 18 and he was 53). Being inspired yet again to journal I recall, with mixed emotion, that I have destroyed ALL of my old ones.

Gone...each and every one of them. Not long ago I came across one (which has since been destroyed) read a few pages and experienced a visceral response (something like embarassment) to the pain and struggle I went through. I felt I had changed so much that I couldn't (or maybe didn't want to) relate to that person who wrote those words...that they came from a moment (or year) of weakness. A weak person, unhappy and confused, whose words were not worth saving. What could I possibly learn from those words and why would I want to reread them anyway?? By destroying those journals I felt I was silencing the past...but the lessons have still been learned.

There are lost moments, realizations, and insights to be sure. But I won't be dwelling on them. Instead, I have my not-so-good memory and those of my closest and oldest friends and sister. It's not that I want to relive my past or dwell there for some sentimental reason. I'm happy right here in the present, while occasionally venturing out to plan some amazing adventures in the near future. Perhaps destroying those journals was the right thing to do...I will never know because there is no other option. Perhaps, for me, that act of writing down my feelings and battling them out on paper was all I needed.

But now, with computers and internet and 'free' blogging sites I find myself enjoying the process even though I know it can be a more permanent record...perhaps not so easily destroyed as those old composition books. As I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I understand that all of those moments...even my weakest ones, are what helped to form who am I right now. And for that, there is no shame or embarassment.


  1. I love this so much...I think that sometimes you and I share (or somewhere along our journies a few years apart) the same brain/heart. Writing saves me. It does/it has. I came across a journal that has been unopened for many years now that I wrote in almost nightly...about a man (I use this term loosley) who never deserved my attention but still got it for years. So then he reappeared in my life, albeit for a fraction of the time that he was there before, and directly at that time, I stumbled upon that journal again. It was almost eerie to read my thoughts from 5+ years ago about the exact same "man" and see that my exact same feelings had not changed. It was validation to me from me that I was right with my feelings that he had not changed, wasn't going to change, and that it only took a few weeks instead of a few years to wash him out of my life again. That journal, although, its slightly embarassing for me to read my nieve thoughts and feelings, was the best form of therapy and advice that I could have had. It was like time I had written those words for the exact moment, 5+ years later when I was desperate for good advice and it came out of those pages. <3

  2. I have kept journals as well, from the age of 15 on. I still have mine, but cannot seem to read more than a couple of lines for the same reason you describe: I can't relate to that person, nor do I feel comfortable that she is me. I don't know why that is, exactly. Why I feel embarrassed to read about past loves and what are now referred to as 'silly' problems when I had no idea what problems were back then. As the years passed, I tended to write only when bad things happened; my way of working them out on paper. But remembering back on those times is enough. Reading them is like watching a movie of my life. No thanks.
    Maybe one day I'll be able to part with those journals, maybe not. But you've certainly given me a lot to think about. So nice to stop by and read, Lynn. Like coming home to an old friend. Hope you are well.

  3. So good to hear from you Ellen! Sometimes I do wonder if I might be missing something enlightening by not having the ability to go back and read my words but, like you, most of my journal entries came from bad times...and dark places. I sounded desperate and out of control. In the past I was often triggered by things I read...maybe not knowing how I should feel about something I ended up creating a response based on what I read about. I've read some past entries, prior to burning, and found myself in a bad mood. Just the opposite of how I thought it would affect me.

  4. Journalling is therapuetic on so many levels..,however, my oewn journals came from some really dark and disturbing places. And as much as I know that my life today has been shaped by everything that has happened to me I don't know if I would be strong enough to re-read everything I wrote. Since we had to pare down our belongings I honestly felt that my journals were 'dead' weight. I might have thought differently if at least some of my entries were about highlights in my life?? I really hope I don't ever have more moments like those I was writing about back then!! :)


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