When I was about eleven years old, my parents gifted me my first journal. It was a powder blue color. I wish I could remember fully what it looked like, but, alas, I cannot. However, I remember the emotion attached to having it. Back then, my family did not call it a journal. We called it a diary. And my diary had a lock and key. The lock was heavenly. Even at that early age, I valued my privacy—especially when this gift was also going to allow me to write whatever I wanted. With it, I could now explore my thoughts and express them freely with no one to judge them. And I tell you, even back then, I had much to say.
In that diary, I wrote my secret feelings about life as a preteen. I doodled and drew, printed, and used cursive—every line, swirl, word, thought, and idea was an exploration of my world.
That diary gave me a sense of safety in that I could write whatever I was thinking and feeling without fear of ridicule. I explored all my feelings, letting rip any heartache or injustice… and proclaiming my love for whomever or whatever was front and center in my life.
One day my diary went missing. Oh boy, I searched and searched for it, turning my bedroom upside down in a panic. I mean, come on! All my most cherished secrets were in that diary and now a stranger had it, or worse, my sisters! I never found it. Thank goodness I was about fourteen when it went missing. Three whole years had passed since I had filled that diary cover to cover, which I did in the first few months of having it. I was more mature now, right? Those were the rantings of a little girl, childish, and I had outgrown them. Well, that is what I told myself, anyway.
Instead, I decided I would move on to more grown-up things to write about. I used my allowance to buy what I now called a journal. A journal. I loved the sound of the word. I still do. Journaling: to keep a daily record. You bet. I have this. I want this. Journaling is an adventure perfectly made for me. At fourteen and fifteen, my life had expanded. It now included more varied relationships. Friendship was front and center, but the idea of romance was becoming a close second. So, yes, onto those lined pages I laid out my heart.
I explored poetry and loved this new way, for me, of composing in verse, using language with conscious attention to patterns and rhythms. I used poetry to examine my feelings, explore them fully, articulate them, and sometimes purge them. This new form of expression came in handy as more heartbreak entered my world.
By the time I was sixteen, I had met a boy who turned out to be abusive. At that age, I was suffering from low self-esteem but did not know so. Back then, I had never even heard of such a thing. I have since discovered how this happened for me, but long before that revelation, during my early and mid-teenage years, self-reproach was my primary coping mechanism—that, mixed with denial and trying to make my tumultuous relationship into something it would never be, loving.
So, I had an abundance of material for my journals. And I learned very early in my life that getting my thoughts, fears, worries, and troubles onto paper, which for me was a way then, and now, to take a chaotic mess in my head and sort it out into smaller bits I was better able to manage, was also cathartic and healing, and a way for me to explore my love for writing.
In my early twenties, after four years of that unfortunate relationship, during which I filled my journals with accounts of some horrendous stuff, the details of the abuse notwithstanding, and the odd entry softened now and again with poems about love lost, love found, lost again… and so on, I broke free.
In my early thirties, I cleansed myself of the records of that troubling time—one summer evening by the lake at a cottage. There, I burned all the journals from the time of my abuse. I still vividly remember how the scorching heat caused the spine of the book to arch and the pages to open. They splayed and fanned, surrendering as the flames consumed them, bits of paper spiraling bright molten orange into the inky night sky—until all that remained was ash. At that moment, I regained a little more of my power.
For years after, I wrote about gratitude, healing, and all things I found interesting in my life. I even had a gardening journal. Gardening, for me, is another healing practice. I have taken part in about twenty summits about meditation, resilience, mental health, expanded state of consciousness, and more. And each time I do, I have a journal to record my experience.
My entire first novel is one massive journal because the core of it came from my life experience as a teenager and a young woman during those tough years. The difference between then and now? I now was ready to share that story with the world. I hope it can help others.
Journals are gateways of a sort. They allow us to explore deeply ourselves and the world, to process the good and the bad in our lives, to create, to heal, to grow, and to expand. Diary, journal, composition notebook… the names may change, but the heart and soul of the content we create remain as vivid as ever.