26 Jan What’s your poison? Help yourself to the cure by writing about tough times.
There are tough times that we should deal with at some point in our lives. Whether they are things that were done to us, things that just happened, or things we did that we are less than proud of. Writing about them is a powerful way of organising and exorcising the happenings that misshape our lives.
Writing about those things gives us objectivity and protection because we didn’t run, we turned and faced our demons and bought ourselves some peace. The shame or pain is lighter because we’ve admitted that we’re human and that whatever it was has been weighty.
That is good for us, and if we are willing to share those experiences, good for other people.
From gangs to gambling the following examples show how writing it down is part recovery and part absolution.
Tough times, difficult subjects.
‘Hopefully, I can do some good with what happened,’ says Josh Shea, ex-city councillor and publisher. I need to make amends, I need to fix this, I need to right my wrongs.’ He is speaking about his addiction to pornography and alcohol that resulted in his arrest and six months jail time, where he wrote his memoir The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About.
We asked Josh to tell us why writing his story helped him.
‘Writing and editing the story was amazing for my recovery. It forced me to prioritize what was important. I couldn’t write every single word of every single day from my addictions. Deciding what was actually important to my story and what I told myself was important (but really wasn’t) was such an amazing exercise in clarity.
It was therapeutic on a level that simple cognitive behavioral therapy sitting across from a professional could never be. It was cathartic on a level I could never have imagined.
Was it hard? At times it was very hard because those of us who are addicts all have many, many times we wish to never remember…but I think addressing those time is where healing takes place.
Even if you write your addiction story, put it on a shelf and never look at it again, at least you got what was in your head out on paper and for an addict, inside your head can be a very lonely, confused place.’
Augusten Burroughs is a man whose own dysfunction, damage, and humour propel him as a serial memoirist. He has said that writing gave him a place to park his mind, to try to untie the knots of his life. And Burroughs has been untying knots since childhood. His best-selling book Running With Scissors reveals his twisted childhood as ‘One giant rusty tuna can that I continue to recycle in many different shapes.’
His second memoir, Dry deals with his struggles with alcohol and Lust & Wonder about the miserable years he spent in a relationship with the wrong person.
He confesses to being a collector, ‘Memoir is a way for me to do that with experiences. It’s a way for me to put it away, and keep it, but also let it go.’ He is not tempted to read those books again because he’s moved on. He writes for himself, not for others but the truthfulness he says is what connects him to other people.
Stranger than fiction.
The first decades of Bill Lee’s life are hard to imagine. As a child, he was exposed to the dark side of Chinese existence in San Francisco and ended up joining the Chung Ching Yee gang. He remained active in the Chinese underworld even as he excelled in corporate life, and in 1988 he used his street smarts to save fellow office workers from a disgruntled ex-employee who entered the building on a shotgun killing spree.
After his son looked to be entering the same dark world, Lee took the decision to turn his life around. He wrote his memoir Chinese Playground in 1999 and has since written books about his gambling addiction and his bipolar disorder.
Bill Lee has said that he wrote Chinese Playground to educate not to shock, ‘Secrets dark in our souls, like a deadly virus they destroy our beings. My recovery involves sharing my pain and wisdom in the hopes of inspiring others haunted by their own demons to seek help so they too, may break free.’
Lee’s intention, he says, was never to make the book a best seller, he wanted the books to be available in libraries rather than bookstores. ‘The book has offered me an opportunity to make amends and make up for a lot of the bad deeds that I had committed and for the life that I have led. And I really do believe that my purpose is to share my story with the world. Writing this memoir during my emotional recovery allowed me to express myself honestly and with humility. The process served as a catharsis and was a milestone in my healing.’
Write yourself better.
Johnnybio is both a path and a private space where you can write about your life. Keep your story in Johnnybio as long as you want to continue writing and editing. You can even arrange to make it available to others you nominate after you die.
Johnnybio is structured but not prescriptive and you can choose to write about a single era in your life and stop there or go on to write more. The Johnnybio chapters are Child and Teenager, Adult Life for your twenties and thirties, Mid Life for your forties and fifties and Sixty Up. Each chapter stands alone or can be joined to others.
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See Bill Lee talking about Chinese Playground at the San Francisco Public Library in 1999.
Learn more about Josh Shea.