Post #33 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing and Healing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
MEMOIR WRITING + ? = HEALING
By Sherrey Meyer
When you read the title of this piece, you may see one of two things:
(1) a mathematical problem, or
(2) a fill-in-the-blank question.
Some of you may not like either one, and some may prefer one over the other. Still others may see what I see — a formula. Specifically, I see a formula for success. And I’m happy to explain why. First, however, a bit of an introduction to the topic at hand.
A great deal of research has been done and numerous papers written about the power of healing resulting from putting words to paper or, as in our high tech world, into your computer. I have been known to scoff at such conclusions, assuming that here again was just another wacky piece of work trying to convince the writers of the world that all could be healed simply by writing. But I’d be wrong. There is merit in these research works and their resulting papers and essays. I now know this firsthand.
A few years ago my life as I had known it since childhood went through an amazing change, so unexpected I knew I must some day write it down. At the time, however, I was still working full-time. I made several attempts to get my writing started but long hours and countless weekends worked made my efforts nonproductive. After retirement in 2006, health issues got in the way, and I did not begin seriously writing until the last year. It isn’t that I’ve made a great deal of progress – it’s what I’ve learned and continue to learn in the process.
Along with my brothers, I grew up in a home parented by what appeared to the world to be a perfectly normal, blue-collar, middle-class couple in Tennessee. What the world did not know, and still likely does not know, is that our mother was a verbally and emotionally abusive woman who could turn violent in a heartbeat. Daddy was the more peaceful partner who attempted to keep confrontation away from the home front. For 56 years, I wondered why Mama didn’t love me. After all, that was all I wanted – her love and affirmation that I mattered to her. I’ll not go into the details of her abuses here as I am currently drafting a memoir that will reveal those in due time.
However, at the end of those 56 years, I was forced to move Mama from Tennessee to Oregon in order to ensure her safety and care as my brothers had left her in an abusive nursing home situation. Needless to say this turned the world upside down for my husband and me. I became a tearful, distraught, mentally unstable individual who found herself charged with the care of someone I loved because she was my mother, but whom I did not like at all as a person.
About this time I met with an amazing woman physician who blessed me with a 45-minute “talking only” appointment and set me on the road to sorting out my life issues with Mama. In those 45 minutes she opened a door for me that had previously been closed.
“Tell me about your mother’s childhood.”
This amazing woman forced me to look at my mother’s childhood and early life by relating to her what little I knew. In the end, my physician pointed out starting places for me to discover the why’s of my mother’s treatment toward us.
Some healing began almost immediately, but in small bits. By the time Mama’s life ended some 11 months later, my feelings toward her had definitely begun to change. But full healing remained illusive. Like treatments for many of life’s ailments, a second round was needed and would come in the form of writing.
When I began jotting down notes back in 2001, just after mother died, certain memories came stabbing into my core that I wasn’t ready to face, but write them down I did. Even certain smells and activities could generate memories, some good and some bad. So, fast forward to this last year of beginning to draft and pull together photos and other memorabilia to sort out the invisible scars that still reside within.
The first thing I realized was that in order to tell the powerful life-changing end to my story I had to confront the evils and ills of the beginning. And this is not easy. Memories can be as hard to deal with as the actual acts that created them. What I have found, at least for me, is that, in putting those evils and ills down in black and white, I put into motion the formula used as my title –writing + ? = healing.
One of my favorite words has become “catharsis,” and it replaces the question mark beautifully. One online dictionary (www.dictionary.com) defines catharsis as:
“the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.”
The one art form they have not included is writing. For me, writing words on paper or screen literally removes them from the central core of my being, the emotional me, and stores them in another place for safekeeping. In other words, out of me and onto a shelf or into a box. They may be revisited again as I continue to write my story, but with each minute transition I find there is less pain relating to that specific memory, and the scar the evil created begins to dissolve. Therefore, my formula when written completely is:
writing + catharsis = healing.
I’ve shared how writing works as a healing agent for my past scar-filled memories. For you, it may work differently. I encourage you to think of your writing not only as an art form but as a healing salve. That process alone may help you to find some relief from past memories. I also suggest you find and read anything you can on writing as a form of healing.
Whatever you do, write as often (daily if possible) and as much as you can. Journaling is a good place to begin. Storytelling is vital and I hope you won’t wait another day to start writing. You’ll be amazed at what your writing will accomplish for you as a person and in your life.