Writing for Survival

February 2003, 2nd semester, senior year of college

“Every piece of writing contains this tacit message: ‘I wrote this because it’s important; I want you to read it; I’ll stand by it. ‘”

–Matthew Grieder

Two summers ago, while sitting at my boring, nine-to-five office job, flipping through a Reader’s Digest, and waiting for the phone to ring, I had an epiphany. I had already exhausted the entire office stock of Entertainment Weekly and People, and while trying to make time pass faster, I had moved on to something more intellectual. It was while reading a study on how journal writing can improve one’s psychological well being that I realized exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I had kept a journal before, thanks to Dr. Heller, and I had felt the magical powers that were stored within those pages, but I had never truly realized how writing could actually “heal” someone—maybe because I had never really opened myself up for healing, or even realized the “wounds” I had been carrying. But it was at that very moment, while sitting at my mundane, little desk, waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen, that I realized the power of the word, and that I couldn’t live with myself until I began to pass it on.

The “epiphany” led me to do an internship at the Maternal and Infant Education Center in Roanoke, which is a school for teenage girls to attend after becoming pregnant. At that school I met forty-six young women from ages 12-20 with forty-six different lives to live, stories to tell, burdens to bear, and scars to heal. Like me, very few of those girls had opened up their wounds, ripped off the band-aid or allowed themselves to heal. Yet the girls walked in the classroom each morning, bag of Hardees in hand, with a glazed, hurt look in their eyes, and I knew somewhere down the line they had been broken. The problem was nobody had ever bothered to put them back together, not even themselves.

I soon realized that as a twenty-one year old college student, I wasn’t going to be anyone’s hero. I didn’t have all the answers, or have the power to heal each one of those forty-six girls. What I did have was the power to teach them how to become their own hero—and that they are the only person that can change the direction of their life, face their fears, and heal their wounds.

A lot of people walk through life thinking they have no wounds, no baggage, no scars showing on the outside, but yet, they also walk through life complaining, unfulfilled, and miserable on the inside. It is like they are trapped from the inside out. We all know people that constantly grumble about how lonely, incomplete, and unhappy they are—yet it is always someone else’s fault. I wish I could tell them to use writing as an outlet, to let themselves heal, but in their eyes, they have no wounds, I can only wonder what are all of the things they carry, if not wounds, and how they can ever let them go if they don’t become open to them.

The truth is, we cannot become the person we are meant to be until we let go of our baggage, our pain, our fears, and begin to put our lives back together piece by piece. What I learned from my tiny epiphany on that boring summer day, and from those forty-six girls, was that we all want to be heroes. We all want to help someone, and most of all, to help ourselves. The amazing thing is that we can do it so easily, by writing, by sharing; not just our darkest fears, but those perfect moments in life when everything makes sense and we become complete.

Why does writing have the power to change our lives, to make us fall in love, make us angry, or make us different people? Maybe it is the sturdiness of the pen in our hand that gives us the purpose. Maybe it is the fluent feeling of the keys under our fingers that gives us the freedom. Maybe it is just the act of setting our feelings in stone that makes writing so important, so therapeutic, so heroic.
“Write to make the great escape. To save yourself. “ (G. Lynn Nelson, Writing and Being)

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