A few years ago I finally transitioned away from chronic pain through bibliotherapy. Dr. John Stracks, the CEO of my Bibliotherapy Transition Team, introduced me to the writing-for-healing workbook, Unlearn Your Pain.
One of the book’s first lessons asked me if I had any particularly stressful or traumatic events in my childhood. If I answered yes to that little ditty, my next assignment was to describe any of the following: deaths, moves, taunting, teasing, emotional or physical abuse, changes in schools, or changes in family situations.
Every time I completed 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 mysterious agony of fibromyalgia began to subside as well.
I was writing away my pain.
The next part of my transition team came with a memoir writing group. On my 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. 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 out of that classroom into the endless dark corridor. A class member caught up to me and urged me to come back the following week.
“I can’t write like that,” I said, “my writing is too dark.”
“Everyone has their own story to tell. Come back and tell yours.”
And so I did. My classmates read their written stories out loud. I 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 of the table and up the other. I created my own blog and posted my weekly writing for public view. Public! Readers nurtured me with their comments, 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, publisher Jerry Brennan 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. Beth told me to find a big room, spread all my stories out, then pick them up one by one in chronological order and number them.
“Then you’ll have a manuscript,” she said.
From Jerry Brennan’s edits, I revised, revised, revised. Each sentence brought its own ache. This twenty-five-year old physical torment transitioned to an end with the final chapter of In That Number.
I have enormous gratitude for all those beautiful and gracious souls in my transition team.