More hidden secrets

Note: when I first tried to publish this post, half of it disappeared and I had to rewrite it. So if you read the first, abbreviated version, you may want to read it again, so it makes more sense.

As I mentioned in my “Journaling Confessions” post, I’ve been adopting a somewhat different approach — at least for me — to my practice of hopefully therapeutic journaling. I also mentioned the prompt, “What is my hidden secret?” and posted my first response to that.

My second was not quite so heavy or serious, but it was the first thing that I thought of when I sat down with my journal:


Today was my weekly therapy session, and I showed Donny both journal entries, feeling rather childish about them, especially the second one (which he commented on as if interpreting a child’s drawing). We spend more time discussing the first one, and discussing why/how I hide, and how this played out in particular this past weekend. (See “A Rough Day”.)

After the session, I started reading a book I recently got, Drawing from the Heart by Barbara Ganim. Inspired by what she wrote about creating images to express emotions, I decided to answer the “What is my hidden secret?” question again. I had been sitting at the park, trying to relax, doodling, and eating a brunch that I’d packed, and trying to ignore an unsettling feeling that had been growing in intensity.

What a great opportunity to put what I’ve been reading into practice! But then I quickly remembered that Drawing from the Heart emphasizes feeling, rather than thinking, so I stopped being analytical, got in touch with what I was feeling, and used that emotion and what felt like random impulse to choose chalk pastels as my medium, as well as to choose mostly black and a few other dark colors. This is the messy scribble I produced.



After I was finished, I wrote this.



In case, you can’t decipher my scrawls, it says:


OK, that’s hardly a hidden secret — pretty much everyone knows I’m a big huge chicken about almost everything.

This is how the worst of my fear feels. It’s all dark and cold and confusing and jumbled up. I can’t see anything, can’t make sense of anything, can’t find my way. Even the edges of the fear are like a dark fog. There are glimpses of color, even light, but at the very center, it’s pitch black — and it’s as if the darkness want to pull me in.

I just realized how much my fear and depression have in common.

This whole process still strikes me as odd. Drawing from the Heart makes the rather bold claim that the sort of scribbling I did can actually help someone heal from trauma. Obviously I was intrigued enough to buy the book, and to try to “draw” an emotion. But I was also skeptical. The funny thing is that, despite thinking the whole idea was a bit goofy, I couldn’t help notice that my sense of fear drifted away, as if by capturing its darkness on the piece of paper, I’d made it powerless to torment me. It seemed so insignificant, a messy scribble on a picnic table, out of place on such a beautiful and sunny day.

The other thing that surprised me is the realization of how similar my worst bouts of fear and my worst bouts of depression are. I think I would “draw” both pretty much the same way. When I was finished, that was my first thought: Wow, this looks just like depression!

Some time in the future I want to draw what it’s like to emerge from the darkness of fear and/or depression, but now I’m curious enough about Drawing from the Heart to want to try the seven week program. At any rate, I’m planning to do “Step One” tomorrow morning.

Journaling confessions

Therapists are obsessed with journaling. At first, I had no intentions of being sucked into this dubious practice, but — well, that’s the topic of another post.

A friend of mine journals like this:

Yes, exactly like this since — being a true “trophy wife” rather than some bimbo or mere ordinary mortal — her entire life tends to look like a painting.

On the other hand, this was my journal this morning:

Obviously I am not a trophy wife. (Oh, and by the way, that’s my granddaughter’s “biting toy”. Not mine. In case anyone wondered. And I had just finished eating “refrigerator oatmeal” in my nifty new glass storage container. Perhaps I’ll post the recipe some day. For the oatmeal, not the storage container.)

Now, on to the confessions…

I have a love/hate thing with journaling. Come to think of it, that is hardly a confession. I think that’s pretty much universal among therapy clients who journal.

Even though some therapists say that it’s far more effective to handwrite — and not edit — journal entries, I’ve done a lot of my journaling on my laptop or iPad. Sometimes my slow handwriting gets in the way of letting my thoughts really flow. Other times, editing what I’ve written helps me process things.

Sometimes I think that maybe I’ve done a crazy lot of journaling in the past five years.


While I try to write as “uncensored” as possible in my paper journals, I almost always edit/censor when reading anything out loud to my therapist. I don’t recommend this. Besides, he caught on to my tricks early on, and usually calls me on it. “What did you leave out?” he will ask, even when I thought I was being so smooth and clever while skipping over words and sentences.

There have been things I couldn’t bring myself to read out loud. Sometimes I’ve handed my journal to Donny to read out loud. Sometimes even that was too much for me, and I insisted he read it silently.

One of the most difficult, but empowering, things I’ve ever done is read a detailed account of my rape out loud to my therapist. It took me the entire session, and I was a wreck at the end. Donny cancelled his next session so that we could get me grounded enough to walk out the door and drive home, where I collapsed in bed for the rest of the day. But it was powerful and freeing in a way that I still can’t explain or describe.

This past year, I have done way less journaling. I no longer feel the desperate need to “get it out”.

When I have journaled, I’ve tended to use my iPad or iPhone, and I have mixed feelings about it. There are some wonderful apps for keeping diaries and journals, and they offer features, like being indexable and searchable, or being available on my iPhone which is almost always with me, that paper journals don’t. But there is something about paper and pen…

Recently I’ve decided to take an entirely new approach. Although I’m completely lacking in artistic talents or abilities, I’ve found myself gathering art supplies and reading about art therapy and art journaling. Maybe I’m just trying to reconnect with my “Inner Child”…I don’t know. But I’ve found my journaling taking a radical departure from my usual “words only” approach. (I’ve already posted a few pictures of some of my latest “journaling” efforts.)

One thing that I read suggested using art or five minutes of writing — or both – to answer the question, “What is my hidden secret?” for 37 days in a row. I don’t think I’ll repeat it that many times, but I have done it twice already, last night and this morning.

Last night, I didn’t even have to think of it because an image immediately popped into my head. What was really exciting is that I knew it was something that I could actually draw. I was very tempted to just post the picture, and not what I wrote about it…but therapy is all about facing fears and no longer hiding, so…

My first real attempt at My first real attempt at “art therapy”.

What is your journal like?

The attitude of gratitude

OK, I’ll admit that I get a bit annoyed at that phrase “attitude of gratitude” because it can sound too cutesy and trite. But I’ve been thinking about joy and happiness (not necessarily the same, but there is some overlap) and I’ve been pondering how huge a role gratitude plays.

My mother has, at least during my lifetime, faithfully lived out the verse, “In everything, give thanks.” We were talking about this recently, and she admitted that this isn’t always easy, especially in the midst of tragedy. She has pointed out that we are not asked to give thanks for everything, but in every situation.

To be honest, my attempts at that have sometimes been truly pitiful. “Uh, thanks God, that You promise to never leave us…although I’m finding it hard to believe You haven’t completely deserted me for some time now!” I’m learning that, since God knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well give words to my doubts and fears instead of trying to pretend them away, deny them, or minimize them. God wants a relationship with us, and not that we jump through hoops to approach Him, or resort to semi-fake formulaic prayers that we aren’t really feeling or even believing.

Which brings me back to gratitude: I’m beginning to believe that it’s far more for our sakes than His. God is…well, He’s God. He doesn’t need our affirmations or emotional support, because He is perfect and complete in Himself. He doesn’t suffer from insecurities, or feelings of resentment because we don’t appreciate Him enough. He doesn’t need us to help motivate Him, or to fill up His “love tank”. He doesn’t have our human frailties.

We, however, can get caught up in circumstances that seem far to huge for us, far too daunting, far too catastrophic. Come to think of it, some of those circumstances are exactly that — far too terrible. But, when we can catch our breath, when we begin to realize that we may survive after all, gratitude reminds us that all of life is not forever and always one nightmarish ordeal. When God asks us to remember “the former miracles”, it’s not because He has a need to be thanked over and over again — it’s because we have a need to remember that our entire existence has not always been this crushing defeat. Gratitude gives us perspective, and it gives us hope.

Sometimes, we need someone to “do hope” for us. What we don’t need is Job’s comforters from the Bible. And we don’t need someone urging us to put on a happy face, or telling us, “Buck up, kiddo!” If someone wants to help me when I’m despairing, first they need to be willing to sit and weep with me. The Bible doesn’t say, “Rejoice at those who weep” because God wants us to be truly compassionate with each other, and not just platitude-mouthing cheerer-uppers. Maybe we don’t need someone so much to “do hope” as to “be hope”.

Gratitude remembers what is good. It can be like a beacon drawing us out of darkness and despair.

But life isn’t all trauma and tragedy. There’s the mundane, daily grind. Gratitude gives us perspective there also, helping keep us from getting worn down and discouraged, by keeping us from focusing entirely on the negative.

There was a time during the early years of marriage that I was feeling especially defeated and exhausted. I wondered if there was something wrong with our marriage, or if this was just the way life was. No matter how hard I tried, I felt like a failure as a wife, and I felt lonely and unappreciated. I began resenting my husband for what I saw as a growing list of his shortcomings, failures, and unreasonable expectations.

One day, something dramatically changed: for some reason, I decided to write out a list of all the many things I appreciated and admired about my husband. Suddenly I remembered the guy had all sorts of good traits after all! My spirits lifted. Yes, I was still physically exhausted, and life was still life. But my feelings towards my husband underwent a complete turnaround. Once I reminded myself that his positive traits far, far outweighed the negative, my perspective greatly improved.

There are people for whom nothing ever seems good enough. They will go to a beautiful concert and complain about one wrong note only they could hear. They will notice the minutiae out of place in an otherwise immaculate room. They will comment on your failures, but not your successes. Wherever they go, they seem to feel a need to point out flaws and mistakes — as if drawn to what is negative. Even if you force them to admit that a situation is mostly positive, it’s hard to shake the feeling that, for them, that one flaw kinda ruined the whole thing.

I’ll find myself saying, “Wow, that was really enjoyable!” only to be asked, “But didn’t you notice…?” It can sound like a rebuke. Perhaps my standards are too low, or I would not find such pleasure in that which is of inferior quality.

Or maybe I have decided to be grateful even when things are not perfect. I will never have the perfect life, the perfect husband, the perfect house, the perfect anything — but is that a reason not to thank God for His abundant blessings in my life? Is that a reason to rob myself of enjoyment?

Today I spent some time thinking about what makes me feel happy.


It’s not an exhausted list…and putting it together reminded me of a preschool “craft”…but it sure put me in good spirits!

Then I thought, what about those times when I’m feeling down for no particular reason? I’m not talking about pasting on a smile when life is falling apart — that would be fake and ridiculous. But what about those days when I’m just feeling blah and out of sorts? Sometimes I need a “dose of happy”…a reminder of the beauty and goodness of life…a reminder that I have many reasons to smile.