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Spontaneous Overflow Reflecting in Tranquility

The Official Blog of Michael Schoenhofer, Executive Director

Journaling to Recovery

This is the first of a four part series on my journey to recovery. There are 100’s of paths people take to experience relief and a new joy and peace in their lives. This is my journey.

In my mid 20’s I was in individual therapy – weekly session for 2 years. It got me over a hump at that time. But unfortunately I never practiced what I'd learned and soon fell back into old patterns of “doomful” thinking. These persisted for the next 25 years. We pick up the story of my recovery as I turn 50.

I realized that these intrusive worry and ruminating thoughts had begun to take over even the things I enjoyed. I’d be out in my vegetable garden, alone, quiet and I’d find myself raging internally about something someone said or about a projected terrible things I was sure would happen. There was always a sense of impending doom. I’d be weeding around my peas or adding a bit of compost I’d made around the tomato plants but internally I was seething as these worry, anxiety, and fear thoughts raced around my mind like an internal NASCAR race. This had been going on for years and years but there in my veggie garden I decided that I’d had enough. I needed to DO something rather than passively allow myself to be the victim of these thoughts that seemed to feed on each other and grow in their own doomful way.

I started reading self-help books in an effort to get to the bottom of these troubling thoughts and to see if I could find a way out. I stumbled upon an author who wrote that instead of avoiding these dark thoughts, I should engage them. This was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. I wanted them to GO AWAY! The author was, Anthony deMello who was a Jesuit priest and a psychiatrist. He suggested that it was important to name the thought, look at it, and then let it go. “Yea! Easy for you to say,” I thought. But how in the world could I let go of this thinking rut I’d been working on since I was 12?

I decided to journal. I’d always wanted to be a writer but I never thought that my writing career would begin journaling all of my nasty thoughts. But everyone has to start somewhere and I was tired of ruminating all the time, even in the broccoli!

I set a timer for 10 minutes each morning and made a pact with myself that I’d write whatever came to mind without any filter whatsoever. No matter how nasty, inane, or ridiculous it was, I promised my inner self I would put it on paper. I began in this simple way, 10 minutes every morning. The stuff that came out in that notebook was like puncturing a puss-filled boil. It came out and it stunk! It stunk bad! “Where did all this come from?” I said too my inner self. There was anger, hurt, loss, and more emotions than I can even write now. I wrote every day and then just like deMello said, I read it – looked right at it and then let it go. I wish I could say that it all came out in a few weeks or a few months. I’d stored this stuff up for decades and it was flowing out on the paper like hot lava from a volcano. But now instead of erupting in an unsuspecting moment of intermittent rage, I was letting it out, relieving the pressure by putting it all down on paper.

I filled notebooks in this way and after a few months I noticed a very subtle shift in the words and thoughts that were coming out on the page. Slowly bits of light were intermingling with the darkness. Something was starting to shimmer, sparkle, and even twinkle. This was not a giant beam of light but more gentle like something emerging I never knew was there. I wanted to see more of this light and ever so slightly I noticed that my writing began to tell a different story, a new story – “There must be a better way than the way I’ve been living,” I said out loud. I continued to look at what I’d written and just watched it, like I was watching a show on TV and knowing it was there in my journal I could let it go and go on with my day assuring myself that if I really wanted to look at it again it was all right there. But I never did. I liked the new feeling of peacefulness and lightness that was beginning to grow in me.

These were just slivers of light because the darkness I’d grown so used to over the years was still there but I felt myself more and more attracted to this new light.

The writing shifted more and more toward identifying the things I’d prefer to experience rather than what I’d like to avoid. I was writing a new story. I was becoming a pen pal with my own inner self, a healthier self. I was writing my way out of the deep ruts and looking for a new way of living and being. But most of all I felt relief.

One day I was reading the AARP magazine when I stumbled upon an article written by a psychologist who had a degree in Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. I’d never heard about Positive Psychology. I want to know more. So I did what we all do – I googled it! And the first thing I read astounded me and troubled me deeply – It said, “Optimism is a choice.”

Next time: Mike discovers Positive Psychology.

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