Category: Writing

Guest Blogger Eve Pearce: Overcoming Addiction with the Written Word

Eve Pearce is a full-time writer and mother of two. When she was in her teens, addiction hit the family and left wreckage in its wake. She has since moved states, settling down in Oklahoma, which is a far cry from her Connecticut roots, where she writes about her experiences and passion for art and literature to help addiction’s victims and addicts themselves.

The therapeutic nature of writing should not be underestimated. Studies have shown that writing can help people overcome personal trauma, and even helped US students come to terms with the events of 9/11. Writing has also been linked with helping to ease the physical symptoms of such illnesses as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and is said to boost the immune system. With all that writing is capable of, the question remains; can it help those suffering from addiction? Whether it is addiction to drugs, alcohol, or gambling, addiction presents itself in a variety of ways. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to overcoming an addiction, but as with so many problems in life, writing can and does help.

Julia Cameron recommends journaling in the morning

Artist and author Julia Cameron recommends journaling in the morning

Taking the First Step

Of course the first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting to having a problem. The next is to seek outside help, as this will give addicts a much higher chance of beating the addiction and staying on the wagon. While the love and support of family and friends can be a great help in the journey to recovery, for most people it takes the help of qualified professionals to truly get them on the right track. Drug abuse rehab is one of the most reliable options available for addicts who truly want to get better. New York rehab facilities are some of the best in America, with places that offer varying types of programs to help deal with all kinds of addiction. Therapeutic writing is often used as part of rehabilitation programs, depending on the facility. Regardless of whether it is part of the program, patients can and should use writing as part of their healing process, whatever stage they are at in their recovery.

Dear Diary…

Regular individual and group therapy sessions are commonplace in rehab. Individual sessions can help patients to identify the root cause of their addiction, and what changes need to be made in their lifestyle to keep them from temptation. Whereas group therapy can help patients in understanding that they are not alone in their struggle; that others experience the same highs and lows that they do. Some people thrive in this type of therapy, and have no issue with discussing their personal problems and experiences with strangers, while for some the process can be very tough.

Keeping a daily journal provides a fantastic addition to this form of speaking therapy, helping those who are shy about speaking to let out their bottled-up emotions. It is a human tendency to omit certain details when relating our experiences to others, depending on the image we want to present of ourselves. This happens subconsciously. A journal however, will only be read by its owner, and there is really no point in lying to oneself. Patients should empty their thoughts and feelings onto paper, without worrying about coherency and without censoring any of the less savory details. This process of ‘letting it out’ provides an immense sensation of relief. Reading back through the journal will also help patients to identify areas they need to work on during therapy.

Reaching Out

In order to have gotten to the point of admitting to having a problem and seeking help, most addicts will have reached the ‘rock bottom’ stage. Addiction grips its sufferers in a way that forces them to make bad decisions that they would not have made in their right mind, as getting the next ‘fix’ is all that matters. Family relationships and friendships are often greatly damaged as the result of addiction, and putting pen to paper can go a long way towards repairing this damage. It’s often hard to eloquently express ourselves through speech, and it is also too easy to avoid the most difficult of topics. Writing a letter to the loved ones that have been hurt because of addiction is the best way to truly express remorse. Not only will this process help to repair the broken bonds, it will help relieve the guilt that can often drive people back to the source of their suffering.

Award-winning author Jill Dawson

Sharing Your Story

Whitbread and Orangeprize-shortlisted novelist Jill Dawson began her writing career with a journal she started writing at age nine. As quoted in The Guardian, she says: “It has helped me personally and also made me a better writer.” Like Dawson, addiction sufferers may find that the process of journal writing unlocks a potential they never knew they possessed. Addiction is a common problem throughout society, and for many, reading or hearing about the struggles and success stories of fellow sufferers can be a great help. So for those who have faced addiction and come out the other side; there may be no greater way to give back.

 

Want to Stretch, Learn, and Grow? Learn How in “Creating a Great Writing Group”

SATURDAY MARCH 23 @ 10am

**Free** SESSION – VA Festival of the Book

Omni Hotel, Preston Room

Creating a Great Writing Group

Like to write? Hate to write? Want to write? It’s easier in a group! Come to our free interactive session. Learn how to create an effective writing group and get the support you need to have your voice be heard.

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Carolyn O'Neal, Bethany Joy Carlson, Claire Cameron, A M Carley

Carolyn O’Neal, Bethany Joy Carlson, Claire Cameron, A M Carley

Celebrating International Women’s Day…on My Birthday

I can’t remember when I learned that my birthday, March 8, falls on International Women’s Day. I must have been pretty small, and I recall thinking, “Huh. That’s cool. I should do something to celebrate.”

Google's image on IWD 2013

Google’s image on IWD 2013

Then two decades went by. Today, my 32nd birthday, was the first birthday I celebrated IWD in any meaningful way. It turns out that today, March 8, 2013, marks 100 years since the occasion was moved to the date of March 8 following the 1913 late February event.

IWD emerged between 1908 and 1913 following unprecedented tumult in societies around the world. Sound familiar? Today feels much the same, though for educated women like myself living in modernized societies, I don’t deal with life-or-death working conditions. I have the right to vote. Though I love and want to share my life with a particular wonderful man, I am beholden to none. And though it seems a precarious freedom at times in the South, my value to my community does not depend on my capacity to bear children.

Today, I’m mindful that many women around the world live in deplorable conditions, are subject to the whims of violent or controlling men, or lack basic human rights. I recognize that the challenges in my world are more spiritual than physical in nature. Compared to what other women of our world face, it seems a privilege that the challenges in my particular world include figuring out whom to love and how best to love them.

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Three years ago, in the spring of 2010, my three-year marriage was about to unravel. By September, I was living alone. It was the most emotionally difficult time of my life. Then in December, I met a friend of a friend who wanted to write a book. It would be based on a year of emails among six women who had lost a spouse either to sudden death or to divorce after an affair.

This meeting changed my life.

I became the editor of the book, and over the next two years, I worked in the evenings and on weekends to turn over 103,000 words of emails into a 75,000-word narrative non-fiction story of hope and healing after loss. Through the process, I gained confidence. As my heart steadied, I slowly “grew into” myself while I enjoyed a special window into the journey of these six brave people.

Sanctuary Window at Seven Oaks RetreatMadison, VA

Sanctuary Window at Seven Oaks Retreat
Madison, VA

As a newly single woman, I read about other women – single mothers – who were making it on their own.  Their struggles were not mine exactly – for example, I don’t have children. But their heartache was familiar, along with their desire to love and live fully. Like me, they were women emerging from a great loss into their stronger, deeper selves. In that way, they were the same as all of us, male or female, or “prefer not to say.” We are all hurtling through this world, hurting each other and ourselves, wondering how to do better.

We are all trying, really, really hard.

Today – March 8, International Women’s Day – our book is complete. It’s a story by women, about women, for women whose hearts may be hurting and whose feet sometimes have trouble finding the path. Today, Sue Mangum and I are ready to begin sharing her dream…our book…and six true stories with the world.

Braver Than You Believe: True Stories of Losing Love and Finding Self

Happy Birthday, International Women’s Day! This one’s for you.

A Good Reason to Blog

Lately I’ve been writing, so I’ve been away from my blog. But today I read an old post by the recently deceased “information should be free” internet crusader, Aaron Swartz. It’s the best reason to blog that I have come across.

Though I’m not the type to post unedited, I agree with Aaron. Writing is part of my thought process. I’m now in the habit of writing when I’ve had a moment of clarity. Between post-it notes, two journals, a computer, and the occasional envelope, I try to capture the moments that seem most important.

I’ve heard that if the human mind had to process all available stimuli, we would go insane. We’re programmed to distill the most important information in any given situation. Malcolm Gladwell describes this with his book, Blink.

 

I just finished Blink and have to admit that I had to work to figure out his thesis. I think it was a two-parter:

1. humans make snap judgments all the time, which are often wrong

2. experts who make snap judgments based on their years of expertise are usually right, though because this knowing operates beyond conscious awareness, it can be difficult to articulate the reasons that they “just know.” (Sorry, the second part is rather lengthy).

For me the take-away from Blink is that we can work to cultivate thoughtfulness in the face of uncertainty and trust our instincts when we’re confronted with a topic or decision we’re greatly familiar with. Oh, and we should avoid stereotyping people or making up our minds prematurely – the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Regarding the in-between areas, of living in world that’s often confusing, sad, and unpredictable, I like to write as a way of sense-making. Or at least, acceptance-feeling.

Gladwell didn’t say anything about writing as a way to find peace in a troubled world. But then again, writing is what he does for a living. I bet he’d approve.

Creating…Ourselves

fence & treesIn my day job, as a researcher, we have found that when children make things with    their hands – especially when they copy designs made with creative materials – it helps their behavior, attention, and achievement.

I have begun to see our human desire to create everywhere.

Cooking, writing, painting

Sewing, singing or songwriting

Gardening and woodworking

Photography

and not least of these, blogging.

As a writer I’ve become more consciously aware that I need to write in order to sort things out. Writing helps me create sense and order out of the noise in my head. This 21st century life is so full of details – emails, news updates, constant status updates and FB posts.

Eckhart Tolle writes about “the noise in your head that pretends to be you and never stops talking.” Though he advises simply pausing, acknowledging the noise without spinning off into an alternate reality, I think of writing as a halfway point. Halfway between the chaos of confusion and the perfect simplicity of silence, is an orderly set of thoughts on paper (or screen).

The quiet that emerges after a good writing session feels like the earth after a good hard rain. The air feels cleaner and lighter. The forest is quiet and can be  seen through the trees.

The canvas is cleared, to begin again, to make room for another noise, another mess, another “sorting out of things.”

Being Kind to Myself: The Email Diet

Today I put myself on an email diet. Which means I’m allowed to check email three times per day. This applies to my work and personal email accounts, and even with the limit, I probably had my email open for almost two hours. But compared to my usual habits of leaving it up all day, this was a huge improvement. And I get to use this snazzy chart:

mon tues weds thurs fri
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3

Over the past few weeks I realized I was on email overload. Email had become my go-to procrastination activity, but unlike watching Arrested Development, it was also what could send me into panic mode most reliably. I used to leave work, unsure of what I had accomplished, but feeling completely fried.

We have just come through a period of deadlines at work, where I needed (or pretended that I needed) to keep email open all the time in case something time-sensitive appeared. But having my brain on constant alert mode meant I was attempting to keep vigilant attention all day, which is exhausting. Not to mention, about half of the incoming emails required a response, so I was also adding to my to-do list several times per hour.

A few conversations helped me confirm that I’m not the only person suffering from email fatigue. Colleagues shared strategies like reading email twice per day, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon; or anytime except for morning writing sessions; or replying to emails about certain topics on certain days. I even heard of a somewhat complex system of replying promptly when not working on a paper, and replying with a canned “I’ll get back to you in 2 weeks” when working on a paper.

When I mentioned my new email diet to a student, she acknowledged she does the same thing, and admitted that she’s afraid she’ll miss something important. She rattled off all the different lists that provide regular, sometimes time-sensitive, information: coursework, program announcements, student news and events, and our lab announcements.

Our culture challenges us with “too much of a good thing” habits: flying on airplanes, watching television, checking email. As much as I appreciate my information economy job, it’s making me tired, and there are no structures in place where I work to help my email behavior improve.

The first hurdle was identifying the problem. I don’t think I wanted to admit to myself that I “couldn’t handle” having my email open all day. Like an addict, I thought it was under my control and that I could stop at any time. I also compared myself to other colleagues, assuming they were on email all the time, asking myself why they could do it when I seemed to be tiring myself out.

Then the light bulbs began to go off: first, I recalled the words of one colleague who I believe manages his email better than I do (his five young children probably provide some extra incentive): “Emails beget emails.” Which means replying to emails – “tidying up” –exacerbates instead of solves the problem.

Second, I realized that I don’t sit around waiting for people to reply to my emails. Okay, sometimes I patiently await a reply, but it’s probably every tenth one. The others I forget about as soon as I’ve hit “send.” So I’m going to assume that 9 out of 10 people who email me aren’t worried about when I respond. Which is a high-tech translation of “I’m not nearly as important as I think I am.”

Finally, I gave myself a break. I decided it’s okay if I become tired at work and if I become tired from checking email. I decided I’m not Super Email Woman (apparently someone is. The internet is amazing). Instead, I’m Normal Brain Lady.

This last insight was difficult. I was reading an essay this morning by Diane Ackerman and she shared the simple, “why didn’t I think of that” idea that her energy is finite. She wrote that in one morning, she can either write, OR talk to a friend, OR answer emails. But not all three. And it’s okay, because she’s Only Human.

Imagine that. (And now, with my extra brain energy, from being kind to myself, I can).

What I’ve been reading lately – April 2012

Another part of transitioning my writing ambitions is reading the type of work that I would like to write. I’m taking a shotgun approach and enjoying the ride. 

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Wilkins: an inspiration to someone who very methodically would like to attain happiness (I’m not being ironic). Honest, manageable, thought-provoking, self-accepting. 

Lit, by Mary Carr: It took me over a year to open this one and then about 3 days to finish it. Perfect timing, as it turns out, as Ms. Carr gives publishing advice. She also does a remarkable job of writing about the change her thought patterns underwent. 

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell: Am half-way done, and appreciating the stories that go along with, and illustrate, the data. This book steps way back from daily events that seem haphazard to find patterns in phenomenal success. 

A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn: which is apparently available to read online for free, but then wasn’t anymore, but is again. I have to admit I’m going slowly with this one. It’s dense but also, makes me cry. 

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg: Also making my way through this one, and wondering where exactly those Central American stories are set. But that misses the point. My favorite so far is The Robbery and not only because the title is a double (triple?) entendre.