“Write your story! Share what you feel about your childhood.” my therapist suggested.
“I can’t! I don’t want anyone to know…”
There I was, a clinical psychologist seeing a therapist for the first time: a client. I was terrified of having my vulnerabilities written, out in the open. The thought of writing my childhood memories made me feel anxious and unsafe. Someone might read them.
“Writing about your feelings and childhood doesn’t mean sharing it with others,” she said. “What you write is yours. There are journals with locks.”
I was well aware of the healing power of therapy, the process of self-discovery and self-realization. It was essential to let go of the pain of my childhood before I could be a nurturing “soul mirror” to my clients. Plus, the therapy process was expensive and for the first time, I could afford it. Though I trusted my therapist, the thought of having my emotions exposed on paper made me feel out of control. In previous counseling sessions, I’d felt if I started to cry, I might not be able to stop. Now I felt that if I started to write, I might not be able to stop.
“Writing down your childhood memories helps you release the past. You don’t have to take the pain with you,” she gently said.
What was I resisting? There was no doubt I’d chosen the field of psychology hoping to find some insight about my life lessons and experiences, many of which I had long sought to forget, deny, or repress. In therapy, when I started to share my childhood memories, I noticed tears in the eyes of my seasoned therapist, which was validating for me. I took her suggestion and started to write.
Sharing the memories with a trusted therapist in a confidential format was one thing, but writing it down took me to an unknown territory that triggered fear, my old familiar companion. Soon, my worries became crystal clear. Writing about my childhood meant acknowledging what I had tried to deny.
I chose our community pool as my writing space, away from interruptions, and promised myself, no judgment about anything. Suddenly, I could not write fast enough. There were years of memories related to feelings of abandonment and abuse surfacing, and I had to get them out.
I’ve been told that when I was 2 ½ years old, my father, an army officer, was invited by the government of Sweden to go for two years of military training. Officers could take their families with them. He decided to take my mother with him. My mother, who’d been married off when she was in the 6th grade, never really developed a sense of self or knew anything about effective parenting. The two of them left, placing my older brother in a boarding school. I moved in with my maternal grandmother. I have no memory of this time in my life, but their abandonment left a deep feeling of longing within me. The first memories I wrote about took place soon after this.
For years, I denied the inner pain, telling myself perhaps I was better off with my grandmother, who had raised five children of her own and two grandchildren before me. Going to Europe at the time was a great opportunity for my father, I reasoned. Within my family’s cultural context, grandmothers took care of their grandchildren. I told myself that I was taken care of, yet the pain I still felt inside was consuming me.
Writing made me aware of the impact of this early childhood event on me. I was dependent, vulnerable, impressionable, defenseless, and had no voice. One day, my parents were gone! For a two year old, parents are Godlike. Children learn about who they are by the way they are treated by their primary caregivers. A child is most likely going to feel loved, safe, and worthy when parents nurture the child and meet their physical, emotional, and psychological needs. I learned what I was feeling was abandonment related to the disruption of bonding between parent and child at a highly critical time in a child’s development. A toddler is totally dependent on the parents for survival.
During the writing process, an awareness emerged that I had unconsciously developed a “narrative” as the script of who I was and my relationship with those around me. The “story” that I had created at age 2 was that my parents left me. If they left me, my unconscious child’s mind interpreted that it meant they did not love me. If my parents didn’t love me, my mind had concluded that I must not be worthy of love. At the time that “story” was the truth to me.
As I reflected back, I came to understand that I had interpreted every event in my life through this deep feeling of abandonment. For instance, if a friend left for a cause totally unrelated to me, I’d feel rejected as she left me. As I wrote, the feelings I had minimized and rationalized as insignificant emerged. Through writing, I found the voice I had lost as a child. I did not know how anxious, fearful, and angry I was. The notebooks, filled with my tears, brought a sense of freedom and liberation from the sense of bondage I’d felt inside.
Writing became the most important healing tool in my life. At the time, I was working full time and had three active school age children. There was never a dull moment. I was writing every chance I had, even if it was only a few moments. The feeling of healing was simply amazing. I felt as if rays of sunlight were bringing a warm golden light to the darkness of my soul. Through my daily writing, I learned that the ugly and degrading feeling I always felt inside me was shame.
I was able to get in touch with my inner feelings.I recall that I attended an intense one-week healing seminar on releasing the negative effects of childhood memories. As the trainer was sharing about the shame of existence, I felt that my throat was suddenly tight as someone was choking me. Tears started rolling down my face and I had difficulty breathing. I had no idea what was happening to me. I tried to stay in class, yet I knew something was coming up that was beyond my conscious mind. I left and went to my room. I asked my husband to simply hold me without asking me anything. I was sobbing for about an hour before my soul began to calm down. When I was able to look at my husband’s face, I noticed he was in a state of shock. I assured him about the healing power of a good cry.
My notebook became my best friend, and I spent hours writing. Where did such a deep shame come from? A memory emerged. Having been raised in an army style household, I felt I was insignificant and my father was the commander in chief. I was expected to be obedient at all times, having lost my sense of worth, value, and will. In my family, one of the dysfunctions was for adults to tease the children. When I was 10 years old, my family members told me that my nose was so big; one could put a mattress on it and fall asleep. The “story” that my child’s mind created was that I was not beautiful or worthy of love. I had fallen into a shame-based existence without knowing.
But slowly, after many pages of writing, I began to feel lighter inside and more joyful. Daily life was no longer a constant struggle of swimming against the current of life.
After a few months, my therapist suggested that I bring my notebook to our sessions and read some of my writing aloud. Instantly, my old fears re-emerged. Even though I had shared so much of my past with her, I had written down memories that I was still not ready to share. I declined the invitation. What she said next transformed me. “You can read them in Farsi if you like. It is not for me to hear. It is for you to speak out loud what you were not able to express as a child.”
There was a significant moment of clarity. This was my healing journey, my way out of the shame that I had created. When I started reading my writing in therapy, many boxes of tissues were used. Upon completion of that long process, I felt like a free bird flying for the first time. It was as if I had an aerial view of the landscape of my life.
The journey was long and painful. I continued writing even after completing therapy. My writing was mainly focused on healing as challenging emotions were being triggered. It caught on in the family. Our second son, was a senior in high school and started writing a novel inspired by reading Catcher in the Rye. Even he became a source of inspiration for me to write my life stories.
As a clinician, I have the honor of listening to the stories of my clients, whom I consider to be the wisest teachers and guides. Just as they shared with me, I joined a workshop and began to write short stories about my childhood. I wanted my family and those close to my heart to know who I really was. I longed for my children, the most significant beings in my life, to get a glimpse of the psyche of their birth mother, if they wished to do so.
I spent many years trying to understand and explore who my parents really were. How does one begin to know one’s parents when they do not know themselves? I started writing about their lives based on what I had observed and stories I’d heard. The journey of writing was fascinating as pieces of the puzzle came together. I realized that my mother was a young, severely traumatized child in the body of a woman. My father was neglected as a child, and was perhaps vulnerable and fearful. He seemed to equate self-esteem with power and control over others. As a sensitive child, I had internalized all their fears, traumas, and neglect without knowing.
I was well aware that our children were directly influenced by my unresolved emotions. After all, I was their primary caregiver. I longed for them to know how much I loved them and to tell them I was now aware of my dysfunctional patterns and the impact they may have had on them. It took a great deal of courage for me to write their childhood stories, and ask for forgiveness. Their loving hearts gave me the energy to come out of the shadow of my past with a torch of love and acceptance.
My family was the first to read every piece I wrote. Our adult children were now well on their journey of self-discovery. My mother unconsciously employed me as her confidante at a young age and I was aware of the effect of being exposed to adult issues. But I would be different. With my children, I intended to share the age appropriate experiences that I knew had impacted their life.
My family’s love gave me the courage to share my stories with friends, most of whom were loving and compassionate clinicians working with wounded souls. I was highly charged by their support, and suggested offering this gift of healing to others. They reflected that almost any human being could relate to the emotions, authentic expressions and journey of healing depicted in my stories. My circle of readers expanded to many people in my community. My Persian friends, sharing the same cultural background, loved the stories and could relate. My other friends and readers also told me that, given their diverse family and cultural background, they also related to what they read. Our souls are all connected.
I felt the childhood experiences that had guided me to go into my psychic shell, like a turtle hiding, were now connecting me to the humanity at large in a meaningful way. I had discovered the voice I had lost as a child, and was able to articulate the feelings I experienced growing up. In doing so, I was able to define who I was. Understanding the hidden mysteries of my psyche liberated me from the darkness that had consumed me with shame. Others wanted to celebrate the rebirth of having a voice with me, honoring our divinity in spite of family and cultural dysfunction. The gift of writing created a circle of love, unity and trust. With every reader, another candle was lit, illuminating the light of healing.
In July 2012,our oldest son and his wife created this blog for my short stories as a birthday gift. For me, sharing my personal stories on the Internet where anyone could read them was a major step. I did not know anything about a blog. The first day we posted a story, over 230 people read it. WOW, I asked our son who are these people? He patiently, like a gentle loving teacher, educated me how Word press connects people who like to read and write. There was an endless ocean of people who, like me, wanted to read meaningful or inspiring life stories. I felt energized when I received reflections from readers all over the world, sharing their similar life experiences with me. Within a few months, thousands of readers had become unknown friends.
One does not need to be a professional writer to benefit from the healing power of writing. As humans, we are the only species with the gift of speech. Writing is one creative path for transformation. It certainly transformed my life.
Whenever the flag of a new country would appear in the statistics, I would smile, feeling as though I had a new friend in another part of this world. These were friends that I will never meet in person, yet we have bonded through the power of the story and writing. The circle of unity that started with my family and close friends has expanded globally, bringing healing to different corners of the earth. My heart smiles with every reflection.