Guest Post: Therapeutic Literature – Reading and Writing to tackle life’s major challenges

Writing to help you overcome your problems.

There are countless examples of authors who have used writing as a means of coming to terms with major psychological traumas in their lives. There are many well-known examples. Joyce Carol Oakes wrote of the loss of her husband in ‘A Widows Story’. John OatesTornado DownNicol, the navigator of the RAF aircraft shot down during the Gulf War, relived the horrors of his captivity in ‘Tornado Down’. We can find some examples even among the contributors to the Voice of Literature e-zine. Amanda Whitbeck writes about abuse and Keith Guernsey writes about his recovery from serious illness in ‘Fathers and Sons- Sports and Life’. But although writers claim to have benefited from these activities, is there any real scientific evidence that writing about your problems helps you overcome them?

The Theraputic Potential of Creative WritingThere is some. Gillie Bolton’s book ‘The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing’, a how-to book on writing for therapy, has received the support of medical practitioners. There are a number of counsellers in creative writing for therapeutic purposes and it is practised in many countries, including the USA, UK and France. The Metanoia Institute, in Bristol UK, offers M.Sc, courses in it, validated by Middlesex University. It seems, however, to be thought of more as an alternative treatment rather than part of the mainstream of psychological counselling.

 

Can readers benefit as well as writers?

Not everyone is motivated to write about the major crises in their lives, but is there any benefit to be gained by reading about the experiences of others? While ‘Bibliotherapy’ developed out of the introduction of hospital libraries after World War I, the use of reading as a help for people with troubles goes back to the middle ages. In modern times reading is used in various ways in the treatment of psychological disorders, and scientifically controlled trials have demonstrated its efficacy for various disorders such as bulimia, alcohol addiction, sexual dysfunction and insomnia.

What kind of books?

There are three kinds of book which are in common use for therapeutic purposes. There are memoirs or journals, where writers write about their personal situation. This allows the writer to come to terms directly with their fears and feelings, while readers who have had or are having similar experiences can get some relief when they see others in the same position. Then there are self-help books, which offer specific advice on how to deal with what is causing the difficulties. These are of use in cognitive treatments, where the sufferer is encouraged to face up directly to their problems and work out solutions logically.

On the other hand, fiction books, prose or poetry, work in a different way. They use an ‘Affective’ approach where the fact that the victims of the trauma are not real people allows the sufferer to approach their difficulties less directly, thus reducing the emotional involvement and allowing them to discover a path to recovery more easily.

How does it work?

Serious psychological problems ought to be dealt with using professional counsellors, who may employ the techniques of therapeutic writing and reading as part of a programme of treatment. But if you are just finding life a bit difficult at the moment, can you turn to reading and writing to help you get over it? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to say it can help. It perhaps works as a kind of self-psychoanalysis, helping you bring the causes of your unhappiness and unease to the fore, accepting them and allowing you to move on.

Is it worth a try?

I think it is pretty well a truism in psychological healing that if you think it is working, it is. My advice, as a complete non-professional, is that if you find reading or writing makes you feel better about your problems, keep doing it.       

Contributed by  James Gault

 

James Gault

 

Links for James Gault:

Amazon Author Page; Facebook Author Page

James Gault Book Links:

Ogg; The Redemption of Anna Petrovna ; Teaching Tania

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A Life Changing Writing Prompt

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so one. What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so on.

What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

During a panel titled “Writing About Your Life”, which I figured would mostly be about stuff I already knew since I spent the last 4 years writing a memoir about my life, I learned that I truly believe I am where I am supposed to be in life. After finishing the writing prompt, I felt like this would be a good exercise to share on my blog.

So, you start off by picking an event that changed the course of your life. Then you write a summary about what actually happened as you remember it.

The first thing that came to mind was the day that I almost attempted suicide. I was already struggling during my freshman year at high school, and every little mistake I made always felt like the end of the world. Every failure, no matter how small, was just a constant reminder that I was a failure as a person and good for nothing. So on this particular day, I was supposed to give a speech about a sentimental object in my English class. There had been a fight at home the night before and I had forgotten my item and my speech at home. Since it was a scheduled speech that we had to sign up for ahead of time, failure to do the speech on that day would result in a failed grade. No exceptions. So, when my name was called, I told the teacher I didn’t have my speech and walked out of the class.

Now up until this point, I had done a lot of research about the best ways to commit suicide. I had already decided how I wanted to kill myself, but I hadn’t chosen a place or time. Quite often I kept a small pocket knife on me because I would walk to school every day. On this particular day, I decided that my knife would be the perfect way to end my misery. I was sitting in the hallway just outside my classroom. The door to the classroom was at the end of the hallway so there wasn’t much foot traffic.

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My mind was on an endless loop of every failure that I’d had up until that point in my life. A broken record of being told that the childhood sexual abuse that I endured was my fault. That because I was abused as a child I ruined their family. My own voice in my head told me that I would never amount to anything and that I could never escape the cycle of abuse.

I slowly pulled the knife out of my pocket and opened the blade. The glint of the shiny silver blade intrigued me. It was peaceful knowing that something so beautiful would put an end to my miserable life. As I started to pull the knife to my own throat and prepared to tilt my head down so that it would only take one swipe, a classmate that I knew walked by at that exact moment. Startled, I quickly hid the knife before my classmate could see what I had. He only gave me a simple hello and continued to walk by.

It was in this moment that I realized I had hit rock bottom, and the only way I would be able to survive was to get up, feed my stubborn nature, and fight to live the life that I wanted. I told myself that someday I would no longer be a victim, but instead I would be a survivor.

Now the second part of this exercise was to write about what would’ve happened.

For me, there is a very short would have been scenario. If that classmate had not walked by me at that exact moment… It could’ve gone two ways. Either I would’ve slit my own throat and died, or I wouldn’t have made the cut deep enough and been taken to the hospital. If the second scenario had happened, I probably would’ve continued to spiral out of control until I managed to take my own life.

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The third part of this writing exercise is to contemplate what should have happened.

I will admit, that at first, I struggled to come up with an answer for this.

Among the 30 or so people who were attending the panel either typing or writing away, here I sat at a loss for words. What should have happened in that pivotal moment? The only answer that I could come up with was that what actually happened is what should’ve happened. I spent somewhere around 10 minutes trying to come up with another answer. Something witty or creative, but in the end what actually happened felt like it was exactly what should’ve happened.

 

Now I know this is kind of a dark piece of writing. It was a very dark time in my life, but I wanted to take a moment to show that when we reflect on the actions of the past we may find that however dark that moment was, we managed to find the light. It wasn’t right away that I knew I had made the right choice. For several years I considered suicide, but it no longer made sense for me. The idea of struggling to survive no longer sounded daunting. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I had a goal and it felt achievable.

Humans like to ask question, “What if?” What if this thing hadn’t happened or on the flip side what if this thing that didn’t happen did happened? Quite often, we sit and reflect on our decisions or non-decisions of the past. Rarely do we feel confident that we made the right choice. Usually we only reflect on the wrong decisions when we should be reflecting on the right decisions.

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Take a moment to think back about a big decision you made that you know was truly what should have happened. Then use that to have confidence in yourself.

This post was featured on Voice of Literature e-zine.

Speaking Out About Sexual Assault

It takes great courage to finally speak about our traumas. We risk rejection, humiliation, banishment, and so much more. As an individual, we can be easily silenced, but as a whole we cannot be silenced for long.

It takes great courage to finally speak about our traumas.

We risk rejection, humiliation, banishment, and so much more. As an individual, we can be easily silenced, but as a whole we cannot be silenced for long. Not everyone is at a place where they can speak out, but those that can should. It’s important to keep your self physically and mentally safe, but if you can speak out, it would be the most selfless action you can take to help stop this abuse. The more that speak out against sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, the more society will change.

This toxic rape culture that is so present today could become something of the past. Imagine a time when a sexual assault report is taken as seriously as a murder charge or theft charge. A time when the perpetrator is on trial and not the victim. A time when victims have support and perpetrators are abhorred and scorned by the public. A time when the majority of perpetrators go to prison instead of a fraction.

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With current events and recent movements like #metoo, it feels as if we are moving forward once again. More people are coming forward to tell their stories instead of staying silent. There will always be people who need to remain silent for whatever reason, and that decision is theirs and theirs alone. And that is okay. If you are not able to speak out, or don’t want to speak out. That is your decision and something that is in your control. Please never let someone make you feel ashamed because you can’t or don’t want to speak out loud about something so painful. Control was taken away, learn to take control of your life anyway you can. You may feel alone, but there are people out there who will understand and can understand what you went through.

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I first spoke out in a moment of weakness and fear. Had I known what would happen, I’m not sure I would have chosen that place and moment and time. A distraught elementary school student crying on the playground telling another child that they had been sexually abused. Immediately the school and police were involved. I was forced to tell my story over and over again. I was one of the lucky ones. After two years, one of my three abusers pleaded guilty. He went to jail. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop him.

As an adult, I am eager to share my story. It is still painful, but knowing that the pain I went through could help prevent someone from being abused or ease their journey by the slightest, is enough for me. That is why I chose to write a memoir. Instead of focusing on what I endured, I chose to write about the obstacles I had to climb over and how I did it. I know that everyone is different, but I hope that reading a success story will help build hope in strength in those who are still struggling.

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If someone close to you told you that they had been sexually assaulted by someone else that you were close to and trusted, would you believe them?

 

 

 

To Honor Those Who Have Moved On

In the last 10 years, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next.

I’ve worked as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for over 10 years now. I hit the 10 year mark in July. In my time, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next. I’ve laughed and cried with them. Through all of this, I knew I would eventually write a book dedicated to those I’ve taken care of. It has been a long time coming because first I had to get my memoir finished, but while I look into getting that published, a new manuscript has taken over my waking thoughts.

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Usually during November, you can find me furiously typing away at my keyboard trying to keep up with NaNoWriMo goals. That’s National Novel Writing Month for anyone wondering. Basically, during the 30 days of November, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world try to write 50,000 words of a novel. Averaged out, that’s about 250 pages. Quite the challenge. I already had 2 projects planned out because I like to bounce back and forth between the two, but a home health client said something to me recently that inspired me to attempt a third project during this year’s NaNo.

My working title is “To the Grandchild I Will Never Meet”. This is not MY story. This is not the story of a single person. This is a story of hundreds of voices over 10 years. This is a creative fiction story of regrets and hopes that I’ve extrapolated upon from many voices. This is the book that a person can read who has longed for a grandparent they never met, or don’t remember. I hope this book will give them closure if they are still grieving what might have been; to help them imagine what kinds of memories they would have had. I also hope it will help inspire people who are first time grandparents who don’t have memories of their grandparents.

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I’ve always wanted to help my patients and clients get their voices heard. Maybe one day I will help write someone’s story, but until then, I am writing what so many of them wished they could remember or live long enough to experience. Death is a time of longing and grieving, but I’ve learned to take their lessons to heart. Each client inspires me to change one thing about myself. Maybe it is to say “I love you” when I would be too shy or too busy. Maybe it is to remember that life is short and I should stop putting off tomorrow what I can do today. It could even be that I need to make changes in my life now so I won’t have the same regrets. Regardless, I feel honored to help each and every one of them, and didn’t know how else to thank them since most of them have moved on.

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Let this book show my gratitude. Thank you for the honor of assisting you when you needed it most.

Survivors are Everywhere!

Latest Me Too movement and running into other survivors in my daily life.

This week has been a flood of Me Too statuses on Facebook and retweets on Twitter. I’m used to the somewhat common outreach from the Start By Believing campaign. I’ll see the occasional billboard around town or posts on Facebook by them, so that’s expected. What was not expected was seeing friend after friend on posting Me Too as their status. Friends that I never knew shared a similar horror as myself.

When I was a scared 12 year-old girl crying in the school counselor’s office with a large male police officer staring at me, I felt alone. In that moment, it felt like my whole life was a lie and I wasn’t sure how I would survive this ordeal. I didn’t know (or thought I didn’t) anyone who had been sexually abused.

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Until an hour ago, I didn’t know what sexual abuse was or that it was even something that could happen. In that moment, I felt hopeless and alone. I spent the next 2 years feeling even more alone while the court system forced me to talk to doctors, therapists, and lawyers. None of them reassured me that they had been through the same thing and it would get better. At no point did someone tell me that they knew what I was going through because they had. I know now that 1 in 4 children will be sexually abused before they legally become an adult. With those odds, someone I talked was a survivor as well.

For example, I went to get a professional massage. It’s the third one I’ve ever had and I always put on the paperwork that I am a sexual assault survivor. I put it because I don’t want to startle them too much if I emotionally lose my shit on their massage table. I don’t owe them an explanation, but I’ve learned from experience that it’s far less confusing for them if they know in advance. She read over my paperwork and didn’t mention it. I’m used to it, the topic makes people uncomfortable.

I do still get a bit nervous, so I have a tendency to nervously talk the entire time. We talked about my built-up tension in my shoulders and neck, and then how I relax. Essentially, I don’t. I work my day job full time, and when I’m not working, I’m usually working around the house or writing. This led me to discussing the headache of trying to publish my memoir and what all it entails. At some point, I slipped up and instead of being vague, said that a marketing plus for a publisher would be that survivors find other survivors encouraging. I wrote my book to share my story with other survivors in hopes that they could open up and start talking about their own. Without a pause she added, “Talking is what helped me deal with my own.” We didn’t need to get into details. We didn’t get uncomfortable. Actually, at that point, I relaxed a considerable amount.

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Think about this next time you are in a room or group of people. If there are more than 3 people in that room, chances are 1 of them was sexually assaulted at one point in their life, or 1 of them will. Looking up the statistics is frustrating and confusing. Every site has statistics have varying numbers. Part of that is because SO MANY victims and survivors never report their assault. How can you accurately quantify a crime that is only reported 25% of the time?

3 different men abused me without knowledge of the others. I didn’t know I was being abused until I saw a video explaining what abuse was. I accidentally reported 1 of my three abusers because I had a breakdown right after the video at the school. It was a year later before I remembered the other 2 abusers, and I didn’t report them for fear of not being believed. When I told my mother, she believed me immediately, but I was still terrified that people wouldn’t believe that 3 separate men had done the same thing to me. Now I know that it’s not uncommon for children to have more than 1 abuser, but as a child, I felt alone. I personally have a 33% rate of reporting abusers.

Survivors can be anywhere. We can live normal lives and not reveal ourselves unless we choose to. We have husbands, wives, and children. We can work all kinds of jobs and have all kinds of personalities. We don’t have a type. We can unite in the knowledge that we are not alone and continue to fight to survive. We are Survivors.

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Years later I discovered that I already knew survivors. Several in fact. A year doesn’t go by that I hint at it during a casual conversation and the person I am talking to is a survivor as well. So many times, I have said something, and they have agreed. In that moment, we both acknowledge each other. A silent agreement to persevere and reassurance that we believe. Many times they have never admitted it before; never had the courage to tell someone. Because of the fear from the other person not believing, denying, or even accusing them. We can find support and a kind of camaraderie among other survivors.

The Art of Procrastination

Now I’m writing this article about procrastination while I procrastinate…

What is it about Procrastination that is so appealing? It’s not that we set out to procrastinate, but while we are doing it, it can feel soothing. And yet, so amazingly stressful. It is fascinating some of the excuses we justify just so that we can continue to procrastinate.

“It won’t take me that long to actually do it, so I can wait a bit longer.”

“I’ll start right after I finish…”

“It’s just not the right time to start yet…”

“I’m just so busy right now…”

My current procrastination project is my Memoir. I’ve worked on this book for two years now. I put off writing it because it was highly emotional, which I admit was some procrastination, but it was also that I really wasn’t ready for people to read my story yet. It took me a month to actually write, thank you NaNoWriMo. I spent 3 months pretending to edit which was me telling myself that I would get to it, but I was too busy with any number of things. A few times I told myself that it would wait because there wasn’t actually a deadline. Then Camp NaNoWriMo came around and I decided that it was time.

Now that I’ve revised it and edited it multiple times, I put off deciding how I wanted to publish. I did a lot of research, but even after I made my mind up, I kept putting off working towards publication. That was about a year. I know exactly what I want to do and how, but even with all the resources out I need, I still keep procrastinating. I’m currently working on:

  1. Making a list of Literary Agents
  2. Writing a query
  3. A last edit polish
  4. Finding Beta Readers

I find myself with prospective beta readers and I still can’t seem to get myself into gear.

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Now I’m writing this article about procrastination while I procrastinate… Talk about avoidance. What is it that makes us put off something that is clearly important to ourselves?

It could be that due to the high emotional nature of my memoir, I am just not ready to put it into print. It could be that I’m having some self esteem issues now that I have a beta reader and don’t think my writing is up to par. Maybe I feel that my story isn’t important enough for other people to read. Or better yet, maybe my fear of rejection has stopped me in my tracks and is filling me with excuses. I can’t be rejected if I don’t try… right?

So while I am being honest here, let me admit to what I find myself doing instead of getting my memoir finalized.

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  • Cleaning detailed things that could take a long time
  • Cooking unnecessary and over-complicated recipes
  • Over researching pointless or useless information
  • Starting new writing projects
  • Reading books
  • Starting new craft projects

I’m hoping that I will pep talk myself with this article so that I can get myself moving forward.

What have you been putting off lately and why? What tactics and excuses do you use to justify it?

This post was featured on Voice of Literature e-zine.

Unicorn Swirled Happiness?

Did you get a chance to try the Unicorn Frappe?

I had to break down and give the Unicorn Frappe a try. I know! It’s not even coffee! I don’t go to Starbucks just for coffee though. I love their non-coffee drinks a good bit. So when I read that this drink was more like a Mango Milkshake with some pizazz, I knew I would be one of those people lining up for a taste of the magical color swirls.

To start off, the colors were fantastic! The bright colors made me feel a little magical inside. I know the lengthy complaints of what they had to put in that cup to make those colors, I’ve been hearing them since the release. Unless you research and monitor everything you eat and drink, then it’s not going to be much different than what you are already consuming. Next was the taste. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I received that first sip on my taste buds, but it blew my mind. To me, it tasted like those orange creamcicles that I would eat as a kid. You know the kind, they had to thin orange layer on the outside and were white on the inside.  It tasted EXACTLY like those. I gave the straw a swirl so I could see what the blue swirls were about. Apparently I didn’t do enough reading before purchasing. It was a sour blue raspberry powder. I gave it an A+ for shock value. There was a moment of regret, mostly because I really don’t like super sour stuff. After a happy squeal in my car, I swirled the straw around some more and took another drink. If you let the drink get a little melty, it starts turning from pink with blue swirls to smaller blue swirls with purple radiating away from the blue. It was pretty fun to watch.

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Needless to say, the drink was MAGICAL! I was super disappointed that they were SOLD OUT of every location in the Denver Metro area near me by the next day, so I only got the one. I’m really hoping that Starbucks will decide to bring them back, and hopefully give their poor overworked employees a raise the week they re-release it. Of course I posted pictures on Snapchat and showed everyone the magical happiness that I was gulping down. First question was if it was good, then what did it taste like. A few of my friends did point out how much sugar it had, but that didn’t bother me too much. If you get any of the sugar loaded drinks, it was comparable. See the picture below.
Unicorn vs Java

This is a side by side screen shot from http://www.starbucks.com showing nutritional information of 2 drinks. One is the Unicorn Frappuccino Blended Creme and the other is the Java Chip Frappuccino Blended Coffee. Both are non-customized size Grande. The drink on the left has 59 grams of sugar while the drink on the right has 66 grams of sugar. While I left the labels off the screenshot, there is one clue as to which nutritional fact page belongs to which drink. The Unicorn Frappe is a creme blend while the Java Chip Frappe is a coffee blend. If you look at the bottom of the picture, you will see that the drink on the left with 59 grams of sugar has 0 caffeine, while the drink on the right with 66 grams of sugar has 110 milligrams of caffeine.

The Unicorn Frappe actually has less sugar, carbohydrates, and calories than the Java Chip Frappe. Now, this isn’t much of a surprise because it is a well known fact that Starbucks loads it’s blended drinks with sugar, but it might be a surprise because the colorful drink actually has less sugar (not by much) than the coffee drink.

 

Did you get a chance to try the Unicorn Frappe? How would you rate it? If you didn’t get a chance, would you try it if they brought it back?