December 20, 2013
It was the summer after finishing my undergraduate degree. I had just gone through a very difficult chapter in life, including severe health issues that contributed to my already existing questions about identity and self-worth. But it had also been a time of learning and growing, and I had done a good job of journaling consistently. Writing was my way of processing, taking the circumstances and making them into something manageable. As a result, I accumulated a pile of journals and many thoughts, prayers, questions asked, and lessons learned.
But what to do with them? For a week I planted myself in Loveland, Colorado, where some friends had let me use their home while they were out of town. There I wrote, took walks, wrote, read, and wrote some more, ending up with over 50 pages. The experience itself was therapeutic, and what had emerged came from close to my heart.
But that was a problem: it felt too close to be safe to share with the public. In general I tend to be fairly guarded in how much I disclose to others, creating one barrier between the evolving manuscript and consideration of publication. The second hurtle was the implications of my career. I went off to graduate school to study clinical psychology, which includes ethical questions regarding appropriate levels of “self-disclosure” with clients. What would it mean to have a book out that any future client could easily access? If my own vulnerability was disclosed, how would that affect a therapeutic relationship?
At one point I printed an early version in primitive fashion to share with friends and family. But with all the writing of projects, book chapters, research, and a dissertation, there was little time for editing, expanding, and refining.
Time passed, all of graduate school to be exact. The old manuscript file failed to be forgotten, and I found myself drawn back to it, reading it critically, expanding thoughts, and even beginning to do some cover design and formatting. A thought kept creeping into my head: Tell your story.
I was far enough removed from the events recorded that sharing them with others began to seem a bit less frightening. When seeking feedback from a past supervisor/mentor, he noted that much of the measure for appropriate self-disclosure is based not on the client, but on the therapist. Telling one’s story can be a powerful tool, as long as there is enough closure to prevent a therapist’s skills to be undermined by emotions triggered when touching a raw wound. I realized that now I could read those words without the account feeling as “fresh;” I could tell others what had happened more freely. Did that mean it was safe to open the window for others to see into my life?
The manuscript has evolved into a short book, edited and formatted, with a new cover design. When reading the words after the passage of time, I felt like I was able to reflect on how I had reached where I am today. Despite my internal hesitancies, I’ve sent it to several people, asking if they would be willing to write a review, and so far have received positive feedback. I have little foreknowledge of the public reaction if it does reach the market, but it seems is an expected unknown for all authors. It is part of the adventure.
Regardless of outcomes, I continue to see value in the writing process itself. It is a way to unpack memories and discover meaning hiding in the shadows.
Have you written your story? Did it change how you perceived yourself?