By Kathleen Riley
Writing my memoir, What You Feel Is Real, took five years to complete as I moved through various stages of emotional, physical, and spiritual growth. By tapping into my most intimate and deepest feelings, I knew it was a safe way in - as well as a safe way out for releasing anger and resentment. I was also aware of the power of the spoken word, and that by capturing the healing spirit of a story, it would have a positive impact on others. But what I didn’t expect to discover at the end of the writing process was its therapeutic power to eliminate depression, anxiety, and obtrusive thoughts that had plagued me for over a decade.
When I watched my mother at the end of her life hang on to anger and resentment toward my father, who had passed away 20 years prior, I knew it would behoove me to address the same issues harbored inside myself. I feared that if I didn’t attend to clearing anger and resentment, I might meet the same untimely death from pancreatic cancer that both my mother and grandmother faced. I saw memoir writing as an opportunity to potentially revitalize my body.
According to Dr. Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit, the human mind encodes thought, converts it into matter, and stores it within different energy centers of our body (chakras). Myss worked with thousands of patients, decoding how these energy centers work, and found that specific illnesses can be linked to past emotional traumas. Her work in energy medicine offers one solution to the puzzle of why some people heal, while others don’t.
For me, this meant focusing on life themes or stories that correspond to the third energy center, which, according to Myss, is linked to illnesses of the stomach, spleen, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, adrenals, and lower thoracic spine. Trauma stored in these organs includes emotional issues concerning the loss of personal power, fear of intimidation, lack of self-esteem, and survival intuitions.
In preparation to write, I collected my thoughts and constructed a timeline for each of the major events in my life. Next, I met with a professional interviewer and told my story as we recorded each session into a dictation device. I then gave my recordings to a transcriber to not only transcribe sentences but more importantly to capture the vibrations and intonations to help develop my voice. After each recording session, I noticed an energy release from my body that hung over me like a dark cloud for three days until it gradually dissipated. As anticipated, I was experiencing a deeper healing by speaking out my story in this manner.
From the notes, I was able to compose memories into scenes and create a story in the present tense written as a first-person narrative. (Side note: Writing in the present tense can have the same positive impact as living in the present moment, for the writer and the reader.)
As I more deeply explored the story-at-large, I was able to trace my thoughts and feelings back to childhood memories and make sense of repetitious patterns. Singular events that occur at different ages and stages of one’s life — i.e., in the womb, as an infant, toddler, or adolescent —can spiral into meta-events that affect the entire course of our lives today. Once we connect meta-stories with these specific events, we have the ability to disempower our robot-selves and transform into functional, healthy adults. Similar to energy medicine strategies that restore the body, writing your memoir helps to identify and release toxic emotional energies for relieving symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
It took courage and willingness to be vulnerable by exposing scenes riddled with shame and guilt for the world to see. I told myself, “It’s okay because I can always edit the parts I feel are too personal, later on.” But what I discovered was that the most embarrassing parts weren’t so bad after all. Once they lost their power, they actually ended up becoming the best parts of my memoir because they connected to the deepest core of my being human. After all, life can be a beautiful mess when making our wrongs into rights. We cry. We seek the truth. We reach deep down inside as we admit the worst, accept it, and release it. In my memoir, I call this the “Divine Dive,” reaching down to the base of your core for the fearless search of truth.
By the end of my first edit, I was able to self-witness my dilemmas and laugh at myself. Because I could laugh at myself, I knew I was forming a healthy sense of detachment. I also noticed that I no longer had the desire to repeat telling my story over and over again because I had captured it on paper to share with my family, community, and the world. When you capture your story on paper, you no longer have to worry about remembering the timeline, who did what to whom, or question why your life ended up the way it did, or re-live the intensity of the story’s emotion. It makes it easier to let go of the past, forgive yourself and others, and begin to focus more on where you are now in positive ways.
Around the time you reach your second edit, what occurs is an integration of self, where the authentic is born. From this place forward, exaggerated views and behaviors mysteriously melt away and healthier new realities form. You feel whole and full of joy. Your heart is open in acceptance of yourself and others. You see humor in being human and you can actually hear yourself laugh from the belly on up. Your eyes are open to what God must have been seeing all along — a beautiful wonderful self inside of you.
When all is said and done, of course, I have no proof that writing my memoir has reversed what might be genetically predisposed but what I do know is that it was a healthy form of self-love, an act of courage, and a pathway of self-acceptance leading me to uncover the healthy parts inside. It has helped me be honest with myself in hopes of writing a better ending. And, amazingly and to my surprise, there are no more long suffering bouts of depression, sadness, or heartache. They have all vanished. Even my anxiety around public speaking and intrusive ruminating thoughts, or what is known as an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), are gone.
As for the overarching purpose, What You Feel Is Real serves for my family and future generations as a time capsule, piecing together important life events that are influencing their lives today. For readers, I am happy to share and connect with them through an inspiring memoir of healing and purpose as it represents my reset button of personal wellbeing during this time and place in my life.
Kathleen Riley is the founder of The Dove House (www.thedovehouse.org), a center for healing and wellness beyond recovery. She is the author of What You Feel Is Real, Everyday Miracles and soon-to-be Space of Love. She is a graduate of the Advanced Corporate Coaching Program with Corporate Coach U, Inc., and is certified as a chaplain with the International Fellowship of Chaplains. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (734) 707-8416.