Divorce is disorienting. You find yourself topsy-turvy in a world suddenly devoid of sense and reason. It is though the book of your life was suddenly ripped in two and you are standing midway through the story with no idea where the narrative goes next. It's scary, but there are also moments filled with possibility if you know how to tap into them. Writing has a way of helping you make sense of the senseless and find your path again.
Journaling has long been accepted as a useful tool in the therapeutic process. It is a safe space to explore powerful feelings. It encourages reflection and honesty and can guide you to a better understanding of yourself. I believe that journaling can be even more beneficial after a traumatic event, and particularly when used as part of larger writing process. Each step in the process helps to promote healing in a different way and the completion of all of the steps will help you move forward from the trauma.
Pre-write: This is the time to purge all of the negative emotions. Do not censor yourself. Do not worry about sentence structure or grammar; simply let the words flow. This stage is wonderful for helping to cleanse the mind of all of the poisonous emotions that can damage the self or others if bottled up or inappropriately expressed. Stay at this stage until the anger has lessened to the point where rationality has returned. Feel free to return to this stage as needed. If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion, try listing just the facts. That exercise has a way of stemming the panic that occurs when we are awash in pain and uncertainty.
Rough Draft: After you have purged your mind of the initial anger and hurt, it is time to start making sense of your trauma. Craft your preliminary version, focusing on organizing your thoughts and ideas. This is the time to begin making sense of your story. Examine cause and effect. Consider different perspectives. Blend the raw emotion from your pre-writing with rational thought born from time and distance. This is also a great time for problem solving; play around with structure and narrative. How can you craft your story so that it tells the tale you want it to? If you don't like the ending that has been written for you, change it. Write characters out of your life or bring new ones in. Change your genre. It is only a tragedy if you allow it to be.
Edit: Read your draft. Edit for spelling and grammar. Revise your sentences and paragraphs until they are succinct and powerful. Read your draft again. The editing process allows you to find distance from your story. Each time you read it, especially as your focus is on the mechanics rather than the content, you will find that you become slightly more removed from the pain. Read it as though it is not your story. Are your thoughts and feelings clear? Is there figurative language that helps others relate? As you work to make yourself understood, you will understand yourself even better.
Publish: Don't worry; you don't have to publish in The Huffington Post with an accompanying headshot nor do you have to find a literary agent. This step can be as simple as an anonymous blog post, sharing your writing with a counselor, pastor, friend or even leaving your typed, unsigned writing on a coffee shop table. Regardless of your methods, this step fulfills two critical components. First, when we hold something in, we often begin to view it as something shameful that should be kept from the light of day. Releasing your story helps to relieve some of that shame and guilt that we are all prone to keep close. Furthermore, when you publish your words, you let go of them. They are no longer yours alone, but they become part of the larger narrative that weaves us all together. By sharing your writing, you are showing that you own your story. It is yours to tell as you wish. This helps to take you out of a victim mode and casts you as the author of your life.
Here are some writing exercises to try during divorce:
- Write a letter to your ex. Express those feelings you haven't been able to share. There is no need to send it; simply release the emotions.
- If you are having trouble making a difficult decision about your marriage, try writing to yourself from the perspective of a third party. We often give better advice to others than we do to ourselves.
- If your divorce has left you felling unsettled, without closure, write the letter you would want to receive from your ex.
- If you find that you are stuck in mental rut, try writing your story with a different theme and tone. Can you turn it into a comedy? A romance? A James Bond film? Sometimes, a slight shift in perspective allows us to see possibilities that we were blind to before.
- Are you at the end of a long marriage? One that had moments of sweetness and joy blended with the pain? Celebrate and acknowledge the good times by writing a eulogy for the marriage.
- Craft your story as a "choose your own adventure" book. Explore where different choices and paths may take you.
Whatever methods you choose, pick up the pen and write the rest of your story.