A few years ago I completed a course on “writing away” chronic pain. The workbook, Unlearn Your Pain, asked me to consider: “if there were any particularly stressful or traumatic events in your childhood.” If I answered yes to that little ditty, my next assignment was to: “Describe any of the following: deaths, moves, bullying, taunting, teasing, emotional or physical abuse, changes in school situations, conflicts with teachers, or changes in family situations.”
Every time I finished a paragraph, pain slipped away not only from the sciatica ripping
down my leg but also from the stenosis at the base of my backbone that had been squeezing the life out of the nerves in my spinal canal. The pain relief from these writing exercises accumulated, and when I added a daily dose of meditation and weekly feldenkrais (moving meditation), the pain withdrew completely.
No painkilers. No surgery.
The treatment ran its course and I became addicted to writing the way some chronic pain sufferers become addicted to opioids. That was the beginning.
I found myself in a fifty-five and older memoir writing group scared to death that I didn’t belong. I’d assumed everyone in the group was a published author and they only let me join to fill an empty seat. The first day I came with no writing of my own and listened to stories about the family cat, road trips to the West and baking cookies with Grandma. Was this memoir writing? My stories were about an alcoholic family that turned out alcoholic children. I had no fond memories of family vacations or beloved family pets. I slid down the hall out of the classroom. A class member caught up to me and urged me to come back.
“I can’t write like that,” I said, “my writing is too dark.”
”You can write any way you want. It’s your story to tell,” she said.
I went back, wrote my own stories and heard my words fall loosely on the table in front of me. Shame kept me from lifting them up and out. Pain relief continued at a more dramatic pace as I wrote and shared stories of my distressed childhood. A year or so in, my words managed to reach across the table to the writing teacher, then to Veronica, then down one side and up the other. I created my own blog and posted my weekly writing for public view. Public! Readers wrote important words in the comments, encouraging, wanting more. More!
“You should write a book,” friends said.”
“A book? Never thought of it,” I said.
And then I did.
Writing teacher Beth Finke included one of my stories in her memoir, Writing Out Loud. When I submitted a writing sample to Tortoise Books, the publisher emailed, “I heard you read your story from Beth Finke’s book at the Book Cellar. Send me your manuscript.” Manuscript? I had written 500 words a week for four years but I didn’t have a manuscript. I asked for help.
Beth told me to go to a hotel room and spread all my stories out then pick them up one by one and number them in chronological order. “Then you’ll have a manuscript,” she said.
The hotel compilation worked. Using Jerry-the-Editor’s notes, I revised, deleted and rewrote. He’s tracking his final changes onto my pages now. The end is near.