The following article was published in VietNow National Magazine Fall 2013
Volume 23 Number 3. Writing: A Pathway for Healing Trauma.
The following article was published in VietNow National Magazine Fall 2013
Volume 23 Number 3. Writing: A Pathway for Healing Trauma.
Why I Write
Writing is the one thing I do simply because I love it. I can’t help myself. Writing grounds me and helps me find my center, especially when I’m tired, emotionally drained, or preoccupied with the “should and musts” that constantly seem to present themselves. Without writing I would be as wilted as the tomatoes I forgot to water on more than one occasion this summer.
Unlike some writers, who stick with one project until it’s completed, it’s not uncommon for me to tackle several writing projects at once. Take the past few months for example. Since I haven’t been blogging, some people assumed that I haven’t been writing, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the past three months, I’ve revised 100 Tips & Prompts, started writing fiction, have been collaborating on a non-fiction book, developed a new workshop, and have been writing two 500 word blog posts a week for a client. No wonder I forget to water the tomatoes from time to time!
The non-fiction collaboration—Just Plan It!—is a small book designed to help writers plan their fiction. We were hoping to have a release in late September for this year’s National Novel Writing Month—when thousands of people actually commit to writing 60,000 words during November, but the editing is taking longer than expected so publication might have to wait until 2014.
The fiction is on its way to becoming a novel. Set in the 1940s, it’s about three generations of women, some more successful than others, in getting what they want. The main characters are loosely based on my birth mother, her mother, and her grandmother. I say loosely because I know so very little about them, and am having a great time making things up. Because I’m fairly new to fiction writing, I’ve joined a fiction writing group. We meet every other Monday evening and the feedback I’ve been getting has been incredibly helpful.
The workshop, Free Yourself to Write, a collaboration with another writer, is designed to help writers tap into their right brain and make writing—regardless of the content—quick, easy and fun. We’ll offer it locally a few times and then take it on the road. During the half day workshop, writers will learn 10 tools that we have used to avoid writers block and keep the words flowing.
Because I’ve gotten such good feedback on my memoir-writing workshops, when I’m not writing I’ve been marketing them, and soon I’ll be having workshops in various surrounding areas.
Anyway, it’s been a very busy summer and I’m looking forward to a busy fall, one with a lot of rain, so I don’t have to remember to water the tomatoes.
Falling off the Blogging Wagon – Writing Fiction
Since the beginning of the New Year, I’ve fallen off the blogging wagon. It’s not like I haven’t been writing though, I just haven’t been keeping up with my blog. This morning I woke up at 5:30, and decided it was time to get back into my morning blogging routine, so now, here I sit with my cup of Chai Masala Organic Tulsi tea from India waiting for my muse. How, when I had so much blogging momentum going, did I manage to lose my way?
The trip to Arizona did it. In early February my daughter, who had been struggling with Lyme Disease for the past eight years, called to tell me she was going downhill fast, and I needed to help her find something that would work. By the end of the month, we were in Scottsdale where she started treatment. (Check out www.SundridgeMedical.com). We were there for a month, returning at the end of March, and today her health continues to improve. In fact, she’s going back to school in a couple of weeks and is looking forward to getting her cosmetology license and working in her field. After so many years of being sick, it is such a relief to see her firmly planted on the road to health.
While the outcome of the trip was successful, the change in my routine derailed me. Instead of writing each morning, my daughter and I would put on bathing suits and trot across the road for a hot tub and swim—what a wonderful way to start the day! Because I’m someone who is also in the habit of blogging in the morning, within days, I was adrift. And I’ve been drifting ever since—catching up on bills, organizing taxes, weeding out my closets, planting a spring garden, seeing friends, and writing fiction.
Since completing my memoir, I’ve wanted to write a fictionalized account of my birth mother, Jane, who I never met. I even followed 74 days of writing prompts and blogged about the book I was going to write (see the posts at www.searchingforjane.com). While the prompts didn’t get me to write the book, they did get me to think about it. I picked my characters, outlined a plot, wrote some dialogue and even cranked out a couple of scenes, but I wasn’t serious. About a month ago, I joined a fiction writing group. We meet every other Monday evening and I’m taking the commitment seriously. The members of the group are published authors and I couldn’t ask for better company. Because I feel privileged to be part of this group and have tremendous respect for their feedback, I am motivated to show up with my five pages. It turns out that accountability motivates me.
Having a writing routine does the same thing. It keeps me on track, and forces me to be accountable—even if it’s only to myself. Starting today, I’ve made a commitment to write every morning. I’ll blog at least two mornings a week and spend the other mornings writing scenes for my novel. I know this is only day one, but It feels really good to be back on the wagon.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Life. That’s what happens when you’re making other plans. I was just about to start marketing Write Your Story Workshops when my twenty-four year old daughter called telling me she was feeling bad– again. For the past 8 years she has been dealing with Lyme disease. Aware that she was bitten by a tick while on a camping trip, she didn’t think much of it and neither did I.
Shortly before her trip she had been in bed with mono so when she never really recovered from the fatigue, the doctor at UC Medical Center in San Francisco, where we went for a consult, said it was simply the Epstein Barr virus. After a well-intended lecture on the bell shaped curve, the doctor bid us farewell.
My daughter never started feeling better. Obviously, it wasn’t just the bell shaped curve! Thus began the quest to diagnose an overwhelming number of ailments from stomach pain and depression to joint pain, excessive weight gain and crippling fatigue. Something was dreadfully wrong, but none of the doctors we saw had an answer—and we saw a number of doctors. One even suggested she take ADD medicine for energy!
Somehow, my daughter persevered. She finished her general education requirements at a community college and went on to enroll as a pre-med student at a 4-year college. Midway through the semester she called and told me she felt like she was dying and I needed to find a doctor who could help her. In 2009, five years after the tick bite, she received a diagnosis: Lyme Disease. And thus began a quest for wellness that on two occasions nearly killed her.
Most recently, our journey has taken us to Arizona, where we have finally found a clinic that knows what they’re doing. After IV antibiotics, hosts of supplements, homeopathics, Rife Machines, and Infrared saunas, mediation, diet plans and everything else under the sun, It looks like my daughter will finally get her life back.
We’re staying with friends and internet is sketchy at best, which is why I haven’t been able to post on a more regular basis. Things should be back to normal by April 1—no foolin’.
My thanks to Ron Cherry for inviting me to be a part of this week’s The Next Big Thing blog posting group.
The Next Big Thing is a meme that is creating an ever growing wave through the blogs of authors who write in a variety of genres, with each participant answering the same questions about either a work in progress or a work currently being marketed. Each author then chooses five other authors to keep the chain going. The following is my contribution:
1. What is the title of your book?
The title of my book is Searching for Jane, Finding Myself. It’s an adoption memoir.
2. How did you come by the idea?
I always knew I was adopted, but I had no information about my birth mother other than the lie that she had died during childbirth. When I was forty, I decided it was time to search. Whenever I told someone my story, the response was either, “Oh my God, you should write a book about it!”, or “Oh my God, you should be on Oprah.” Finally, I did.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Memoir. It’s a look inside the heart and soul of my adoption—how being adopted affected me growing up and my perspective as an adult—one who is not only older, but also wiser.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters if it were a movie?
I always saw Jamie Lee Curtis playing the lead. When my hair was short I was often told I looked like her. Because of the resemblance, I thought mistakenly that Janet Lee was my birth mother. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis has adopted children of her own, so I imagined she would have an interest in the movie.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Searching for Jane, Finding Myself inspires us to find the truth, however difficult and fearsome the search may be.
6. Will your book be self-published or traditional?
Tin Cat Media, is my small, independent publishing company.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote the manuscript in my head for about 7 years. When I finally sat down to write, it took about three months.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
There are several memoirs on the topic of adoption. Most are about adopting children from other countries. Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited is a compelling read. I also thought Found A Memoir and Mamalita, An Adoption Memoir were captivating adoption stories
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Friends and family inspired me to write this book. Anyone who ever talked to me about adoption know how important it was for me to discover the truth—whatever it might have been. I wasn’t looking for a relationship with my birth mother, I just wanted to know who she was, more important, who I was. My ethnic background, my religion, where my ancestors came from—the things everyone else takes for granted.
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Readers who enjoy good human interest stories will enjoy my book. It’s an easy read and an honest expose about what it feels like to be an adopted child. If you’re not adopted it’s a peek into mind and heart of an adoptee. If you’re part of the adoption triad, it’s confirmation about your own feelings.
The four authors I’ve chosen to continue the chain on or about December 24rd are…
Tony Richards: http://raineslanding.blogspot.co.uk
Delinda McCann: http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/blog.html
J. A. Vasquez: http://www.BooksThatSow.com
Ron Cherry: http://www.rlcherry.com
…but don’t wait that long to visit these interesting blogs of 4 very different writers.
Copyright © 2012, Jan Fishler
Author ~ Writing Coach ~ Presenter
Speak Your Truth, Write Your Story
In my community several end of world and Winter Solstice celebrations are planned. While the physical world is still here, many people believe that December 21, 2012 is a time to put an end to things that no longer serve us. At the top of my list are people who drain my energy, unhealthy foods and the drinks that go along with them, and worrying about things I can’t change. Winter Solstice — the darkest day of the year — is a good time to meditate on small changes you can make to improve the quality of your life. Just yesterday my daughter suggested we rethink various holiday celebrations and celebrate the seasons instead. I think she’s on to something. Instead of focusing on consumer spending, what Christmas has become for most of us, let’s give ourselves the gift of becoming better people and sharing that gift with others. Imagine how the next year would be if you stopped one destructive habit or eliminated one negative or limiting belief. What if the New Year’s resolutions you never keep, actually stuck? What if you took the time to really contemplate the change and visualize in bold detail how life would be for yourself and those around you if you succeeded. The reason most of us can’t keep our New Year’s resolutions is that we just give them lip service and don’t spend time imagining, feeling, experiencing the benefits we will ultimately receive — before they occur. It’s so easy to want to lose 10 pounds, make more money, vow to improve our relationships, be happier, but actual change requires planning and follow through. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a holiday that supports self growth and the god-like qualities within us? Imagine what the world would be like if we all worked toward Mahatma Gandi’s suggestion to:
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
When events like those in Connecticut occur, writing to heal may be a way to overcome trauma. The tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been sobering and very sad. I can’t imagine how parents of the fallen children will ever make sense of the devastation. It’s one thing to be at war and suffer loss and quite another to have violence come knocking at your front door. For the past several years, I’ve written articles about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for VietNow National Magazine. I know how difficult it is for combat veterans to overcome the trauma brought about by war. In spite of receiving therapy and taking medication, many vets still have recurring nightmares, sleepless nights, anger issues, and other PTSD symptoms. Healing from trauma, while possible, can be difficult.
In preparation for an upcoming article, I did some research about writing to heal. I knew healing occurred when I wrote my adoption memoir, Searching for Jane, Finding Myself, but I wanted to understand more about how this actually worked. Did the mere act of writing my story help put my abandonment issues to rest or was it something else? Could writing help veterans cope with and eventually recover from PTSD? Can writing help heal diseases like AIDS and Cancer? Eventually, can writing help the parents, siblings, and friends of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims make sense of and recover from the senseless and tragic event that took the lives of the 26 victims?
As a result of my research, I believe there is hope. Here are some interesting facts about writing to heal:
If the topic of writing to heal is of interest, you might want to read some books on the subject. Here are a few to get you started:
Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by James W. Pennebaker PhD
Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional Upheaval by James W. Pennebaker
Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise A. DeSalvoWriting to Heal. Change your life through stories (The Pathway to Self) by Jacqui Malpass.
In shifting my focus from promoting my adoption memoir to marketing my Write YOUR Story workshops, I’ve realized that I need to pay more attention to social media and social media planning. Last night I did a little reading on the subject and this morning I began updating some of my profiles. It’s one thing to post messages and photos to family and friends on my personal Facebook page and quite another to use it for business. Unfortunately, the more I read about social media planning, the more confused I become. My goal this weekend is to obtain answers to many of my social media questions:
If I’m not careful, questions like these can easily lead me to a state of overwhelm. When it comes to social media and social media planning, it seems like there is always more to learn and always more to do, which makes me wonder if it’s even possible to stay ahead of the Social Media curve. Perhaps a more realistic goal is to do what I can.
Now that my website is up and running, it is definitely time to let people know about my services. There is no doubt about it, social media marketing is a proven and effective strategy for directing website traffic. My mission is to embrace this reality and figure out a way to make it work.
If you don’t know about it, be sure to check out wordsmith.org. If you subscribe, you can receive a word a day in your mailbox. This is a great way for writers to learn new words. Each week the words are organized around a theme. This week’s theme, for example, is eponyms, a word I had to look up. In case you too are wondering, an eponym is “a person or thing, whether real or fictional, after which a particular place, tribe, era, discovery, or other item is named or thought to be named.” For a list of eponyms, go to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_eponyms_%28A-K%29
Today’s eponym is mithridatism, another word I didn’t know, but I love the definition: “noun: The developing of immunity to a poison by taking gradually increasing doses of it.”
What poison have you developed an immunity to? What price did you pay in the process?
These questions take us to feelings of shame, something we don’t generally like to talk about, but feelings—especially those on the darker end of the spectrum, are where we writers need to go if we want to develop stories that have substance and deep meaning. Sometimes, if we have the courage, we share these stories, and in the process heal ourselves and others. Sometimes, it’s best to simply write them and leave them be.
However you look at it, writers need new words, and ideas and wordsmith.org has them.
The sense of wishing to be known only for what one really is is like putting on an old, easy, comfortable garment. You are no longer afraid of anybody or anything. You say to yourself, ‘Here I am — just so ugly, dull, poor, beautiful, rich, interesting, amusing, ridiculous — take me or leave me.’ And how absolutely beautiful it is to be doing only what lies within your own capabilities and is part of your own nature. It is like a great burden rolled off a man’s back when he comes to want to appear nothing that he is not, to take out of life only what is truly his own. -David Grayson, journalist and author (1870-1946)
I was wondering what to write about this morning and I saw this quote, which made me realize how important it is to write from the heart. I spent much of my writing career doing exactly the opposite. I wrote technical and training manuals, white papers, and scripts for corporate videos. It’s not as if this was a bad thing. It paid the bills and served me and my family for a significant period of time. It was safe in the way writing about things rather than feelings can be.
To write about feelings or to write from the heart, takes courage. It means not being afraid of anybody or anything, and in many cases, telling your inner critic to pay attention to something else. Some of us are able to do this right out of the gate. Anne Lamott, for example, did this in Operating Instructions, published in the late 80’s. I remember reading about her experience of being a new parent and the loss of her best friend, and wishing I could put myself out there like that, something that took me another two decades to accomplish.
When some people read my memoir, they are astonished at how much I reveal about myself. I understand that this is something many people are unable to do. They are afraid to speak their truth, and I understand how that happens. Years of conditioning by parents and peers about how we should or shouldn’t behave, stop us from speaking out or writing it down.
Often our truth is tied to our shadow side, and we are afraid that if people knew who we really were in all of our raw vulnerability, they wouldn’t love us anymore. In my experience, the opposite is true. The more you write from the heart, the more you speak and live your truth, the more love you receive.
Just for today, you might want to give it a try: Write something from the heart. See how it feels.