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Writing and waiting

As a therapist, I used to urge clients to write – to express feelings, to sort out experience in order to find meaning, to hear themselves think, to figure out what they wanted, to get to the root of their pain.

I would urge myself to write too, as I knew that every day I came across an amazing assortment of dilemmas, heartaches, crises, and unsolvable problems that people managed to stand up to. I found I couldn’t write then, for very long at least. Career, parenting, real life was too much for me to set aside. I marveled at therapists who could – Harriet Lerner (The Dance books - …of Anger, of Connection, of Fear) and Mary Pipher (Reviving Ophelia, The Shelter of Each Other) managed brilliantly.

I needed time, and clarity, and intention, no different from my clients. Some who took me up on it would bring in pages galore and want to hand them over for me to interpret. I read them with interest, and then gently handed them back with the suggestion that they go back through once or twice to highlight the key sentences, and then see what else needed to be said.

We’d talk about who they wished could read their words, and why. I’d ask them to notice any of the natural anger, blaming, outrage even, there. I’d ask them to imagine a letter the other person might write about the same events. They’d agree to do it again, and many would eventually come back with pieces full of self-responsibility, forgiveness, and even wisdom.

There is something about the process of pen to paper that lights up the meaning part of the brain. My early drafts had the sting of belligerence – against the common understanding of grief as a five-stage process for instance, when I knew it was far more complex and individual than that. Later drafts had me objecting less and fleshing out my own ideas more. The emotion fell out of it and rationality came in. Just like my clients, I figured out what I was trying to say, and how to say it so that it could be heard. I’m glad I waited.

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