If someone asked me what three things I’d take if I were stranded on a desert island I would say, my dog Gracie for love and companionship, dark chocolate as my drug of choice, and a very large, spiral bound, unlined journal with an attached Paper Mate InkJoy pen for therapy.
Writing has always been a safe haven for me. Through it I have found a sanctuary of comfort, clarity and sanity. I remember writing my first poem, which I spelled “pome,” in Mrs. Hilderman’s second grade class. It was about a mouse with tickly prickly whiskers. Mrs. Hilderman chuckled when she read it and gave me the ultimate compliment when she hung it with a clothespin on a strand of twine that stretched the length of her classroom supply closet.
It didn’t take long for my poetry to grow in depth and drama as I grew into my awkward adolescence. Most of it was fairly melodramatic and maudlin but it provided a needed outlet for the loneliness and longing that suffused my days. My grandfather used to take fistfuls of poems that I had written into the bathroom with him and emerge with tears in his eyes and arms wide open. “Sherry,” he would say (my grandfather was the only person in the world I let call me anything other than Cheryl), “Please don’t tell me you’re as sad as these poems. I can’t bear it. Come here. Let me give you a hug.”
While my poetry served as an adequate outlet for my sorrows at the time, it was the daily journals I kept throughout most of my life that served as my gateway to self-knowledge and eventually self-compassion. In my late twenties I kept a journal addressed to my imagined future husband. It was a way for me to feel a hopeful connection to my eventual life partner and also to clarify for myself who and what I wanted in a partner. It’s amazing how many of the qualities and even characteristics – like being a lawyer and having two sisters – my real-life husband shares with the imaginary man I wrote to all those years ago.
Writing became most therapeutic for me in the wake of losing my mother. When I was mired in unprecedented grief I could bring my sorrow and anguish to the page without worrying I was burdening anybody else. I would write my feelings of course, but I also would write letters both to my mom and from my mom to me. I even wrote a letter from me to my unborn child. I cried as I wrote many of these letters but that cascade of words and tears provided tender comfort and healing to my wounded heart.
Another powerful writing experience was when I gave myself permission to write in an unlined journal. At first I was reticent and kept trying to write in straight imagined lines – as if someone would strike my hand with a ruler if my words weren’t straight. But once I got over that I found the experience quite liberating. I could write in circles, I could turn the page on its side or upside down, I could add drawings if I liked. The freedom was indeed therapeutic as it lessened my self-imposed rigidity and broke me free from rules I didn’t even know I had been following – ultimately allowing for a catharsis and clarity I hadn’t even known I was seeking.
Writing was even therapeutic for me when I was actually in therapy and wanted to take what I was learning in sessions deeper. I wish I could say my journal didn’t talk back but the amazing thing is it did! It would offer a fresh realization – like maybe it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t heal my father – or some much needed self-compassion when I was grieving my mother.
So, yes – I’m sure that if I was indeed stranded on a desert island I’d find meaning and a therapeutic sanctuary in my journal. I may even discover a way off the island.
Where Have I Been All My Life? is a compelling memoir recounting one woman’s journey through grief and a profound feeling of unworthiness to wholeness and healing. It begins with the chillingly sudden death of Rice’s mother, and is followed by her foray into the center of mourning.
With wisdom, grace, and humor, Rice recounts the grief games she plays in an effort to resurrect her mother; her efforts to get her therapist, who she falls desperately in love with, to run away with her; and the transformation of her husband from fantasy man to ordinary guy to superhero. In the process, she experiences aching revelations about her family and her past—and realizes what she must leave behind, and what she can carry forward with her.
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Genre – Memoir
Rating – PG-13
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