Originally published in Word Girls Newsletter, January, 2016My son has a scar above his lip, the result of a fall into his brother in law’s windshield when he was sixteen. While the doctor said plastic surgery could cover it, Allen opted to keep the scar. It made, he said, a good story. According to Stephen King, the ability to remember every scar is the only requirement for being a writer. But it’s not remembering the scar that often stops us from putting pen to paper; it’s the fear of reliving the trauma that led to those scars. My son was too dazed by the sunshine and a day spent fishing to recall the moment his face hit the glass, but most of us remember clearly how our scars occurred. We want to avoid more pain.
James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin has spent his career as a psychologist encouraging people to not only relive the pain of their scars, but to write about them. Pennebaker’s research indicates the catharsis to be gained from writing outweighs the risk of opening ourselves up to hurt. The American Psychological Association (2002) acknowledges that writing can lower blood pressure and boost immune functioning. Joshua Smythe of Syracuse University agrees that writing, when used to process the emotions resulting from our scars, can be physically beneficial.
Still, it’s not easy to open up a Pandora’s Box of evils upon the world. I should know. As a college professor of English and Rhetoric, I’ve encouraged my students to write about their own scars. I begin each semester with a lecture about the research of Pennbaker and handouts extolling the benefits of writing. I pass out spiral journals and invite them to write. And they do.
When my husband had the car accident that altered our lives back in 2000, my journal became a constant resident of my “go bag.” Each hospitalization, emergency surgery, and mysterious infection found me writing my woes in my own journal. It was what, I told my friends and pastor, kept me from falling apart. I wrote, and then I shelved each journal and tried to forget.
It never occurred to me that the healing power found in my journals had more work to do. I never once thought about letting anyone else read about my pain.
It took God and a day in July to change my mind.