I still remember getting my first journal. It was a gift from an aunt of mine, I think, and it had a little lock and key. There was something so exciting and special about having a secret place to write down some of my own thoughts. I remember finding a spot for it in my dresser drawer.
The night after I wrote my first entry, as my mom was putting me to bed, I found out she had opened my journal and read it. She was livid that I had written something bad about her and asked me why I hadn’t written about the good things she’d done for me that day. (Instead of writing about her reading me a story, I wrote about her yelling at me.)
I learned through this that I should not complain about my mother. I learned that my own thoughts were not welcome, and that I should be careful what I say, or write.
A couple of years later, when I as about 9 years old, I remember writing a Mother’s Day card to my mom. In it, I wrote, “Thanks for putting up with me.” Again, she was livid. Why would I say that, she wondered? I remember her fuming at me for writing it in the card and I remember running up the stairs, feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and confused.
These are such minor offenses, really, for a mother. I mean, of course she didn’t want me to complain about her in my first journal entry or write something guilt-provoking in a Mother’s Day card. What she was unable to see in both of those scenarios is that she was hurting me. Even as a little girl, I needed to process my mom’s anger in my locked diary. It was significant enough to me that it was the first thing I wanted to write about, instead of something about ponies, my friends or my dreams.
I started to hide my journals. I would hide them safely, take them with me where I went, and then throw them in trash cans or dumpsters when I was done with them. All evidence of my thoughts – erased. Once, I threw away my journal in a trash can which tipped over — and a neighbor found it and returned it to me!!! After marriage, I started to burn my journals in outdoor fires. I found it cathartic, healing… to know that my thoughts were truly private.
In these current times of CoVid-19, when everything is uncertain, I have wondered what would happen if I died. What traces would I leave that I wish maybe I had erased? Why am I writing things I wouldn’t really want to reveal, anyway? It is different now, now that I am older.
I’ve come to the conclusion that life, and love, are messy. I can hide the mess, if it makes me more comfortable, or let it be known. I’ve come to appreciate the natural falling out that occurs when I stop trying to control others’ views of me, and especially when I stop trying to control my own.
My self-hatred has sometimes led me to trash things I would now cherish: a cover shot on a ballet school’s brochure (I thought I looked fat/ugly), romantic letters from my first love. These were things I dismissed at the time, thinking they were either not good enough or outdated. Now I look back and see: this was my life. This was part of the beautiful portion I got to experience. What if I had considered it good enough at the time… flawed and unfinished, but still beautiful. Is that how the most successful or happy people approach their experiences? Who knows. It is how I plan to approach things moving forward.
I’m not sure yet if I will keep my journals or burn them like I used to. I am sure that the fear and shame that keeps us hiding from others also keeps us locked away from our potential – our chance to do all we can and enjoy all we can with our one, precious life.
What is your perspective on journaling? Do you fear that someone may read what you write? What would you say to yourself, the journaling one, if you could?