We are happy to welcome Dawn Novotny to the National Association of Memoir Writers for her blog tour with WOW–Women on Writing! She is the author of Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing Up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe.
I have known Dawn for several years and watched her develop from a tenative writer to a brave writer, and then an author. I’m very pleased to see her finished book and hold it in my hands. Congratulations Dawn on getting to this milestone in your life!
Dawn learned a lot about how writing can help to heal the past as she worked on her stories, and as a therapist, she found ways that writing helped her to heal that therapy hadn’t yet reached–which I find to be true about many of the people I work with and interview at the National Association of Memoir Writers. Her story is unique–about a child who grew up in poverty, neglected and lost who finds her way to love, wandering through times of abuse and alcohol, to come full circle to a life dedicated to transformation and healing as a gifted therapist. Read what she has to say about the power of writing to heal.
Her blog post is Healing Through Writing.
When speaking of healing through writing, I like to use the analogy of spiders and webs. Having had years of therapy, by the time I got into a writing group, I had pretty much cleared away all of the large emotional spiders but, without realizing it, the webs continued to stifle my creativity and spontaneity.
Having used talk therapy as the means to express and heal past wounds, I couldn’t get at the finer details. The particulars of my story seemed so vague, entangled, and unimportant. In telling my history, sometimes the incidents were so glaring that both the therapist and me focused on the trauma itself, or anger at the perpetrator, but the subtler feelings embarrassment, shyness, fear of exposure and my inner chaos, still lingered in ways that kept me hiding and ashamed.
Writing my stories allowed me to talk about the various layers, the nuances. When you have to choose words and put them in order, your inner world is revealed. Seeing my words in black and white helped me to see myself through new eyes. Untangling one web at a time allowed me to see the places within myself where I felt forgiving, sensitive, purposeful, and proud. Prior to writing my story, I would have never thought to apply those words to myself.
I love this quote by Dan Siegel, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine.
“History is not destiny─if you’ve come to make sense of your life. It isn’t just what happened to you that determines your future─it’s how you’ve come to make sense of your life that matters most.”
Once a therapist said to me, “Dawn, you report many incidents from your past but they are not connected in any meaningful way.” Then he drew a series of symbols, each representing an event or episode from my life story.
* ► ▀ ◊ ▬ ■ ◄ ○ #
He went on to explain that unresolved trauma existed in the unconnected parts of my life story. Even knowing that, I was helpless to do anything about connecting them. A positive prognosis seemed out of reach because I couldn’t see a way to make sense out of so many confusing and conflicting experiences.
I didn’t think I could journal because I can’t spell. I’m not talking about just misspelling words; my spelling is so bad that I cannot read whatever I was trying to say.
Enter writing: Linda Joy Myers, my mentor, computer journaling, and memoir. She suggested that I write on my computer. No one had ever told me that before. Imagine! She said not to worry about the words or spelling or sentence structure or anything else, including tenses. “Just relax,” she said, “and “write.” It was the best present anyone had ever given me–healing through writing.
It took a long time. At first, there were sentences that made little sense, and tons of spelling and grammatical errors, but they didn’t matter. Those smaller moments of my life, many of them containing significant moments of consciousness where I as a little girl took in a lot of information that shaped me, even if the moment was terrifying, showed me who I had been, the amount of terror and shame that I’d learned so young to cover up. I also learned how I survived moment to moment. There was so much to learn about who I was and who I became from slowing down and writing my stories. The group received each story with tender words like, “Oh, that sounds so hard, or I am so sorry that you had to experience such things.” Those were like the words a parent would say to a small child, only I had never heard those words when I experienced each wound. There was never time in therapy to get to all of those booboos. Through writing, I found parts of me that were seen, heard, and supported for the first time.
Before I realized it, a book was in the making as I began to put all of these stories of my life together into a coherent form. Healing through writing is a thrilling adventure if you hang in– no matter what. You have to get through the hard parts, the lost parts, and the middle parts where you think there is nothing left to say. and you feel as if you are stranded in the dessert. As Linda Joy would say, “Just keep writing.” So I did.
I hope you will be inspired to write your own story, and discover how healing and nurturing to yourself the process can be.
Dawn D Novotny, author of Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing Up In the Shadow Of Marilyn Monroe, is a clinician, teacher, author, spiritual director and national workshop leader. She writes a weekly blog @ http://www.thefaceswelive.com. and her website is http://beyondtheparts.com