When I was a kid, the first thing I did when I came home from school was to eat a big bowl of Skippy cornflakes. Then I'd go out down the bush out the back of the house, make huts from tree limbs and play war with the boys in our neighbourhood.
This was back in the day when milk came in bottles, and the ones with the silver tin foil tops had cream sitting at the top. If I was lucky, I could open a new bottle, pour the cream over my cornflakes, toss some sugar on top, and get into it. Of course Mom hated that because the cream should have been shaken up so that the whole bottle of milk could benefit from the creaminess.
Remembering more about the milk in bottles, it was my job to put the empties into a little plastic carrier, pop the milk tokens into one of the bottles (these were purchased from the Murray's Bay dairy down the road and came in little white bags stapled at the top - this was how we paid for the milk) and carry the lot out to the letterbox each evening.
Mailboxes in those days had a special built-in compartment for the bottle rack. Early in the morning, I heard the milkman come in his truck, listened to the clank of the bottles, the rattle of the milk tokens, and voila! Fresh milk with foil tops was left behind for breakfast. Fabulous.
There was none of this plastic bottle stuff, lined with lightproof whatever, screw tops and sealed tabs that you can't get off, and the milk often when bung after a few days because it was fresh and that's what fresh milk did, unlike today where milk exists happily, cuddled within it's plastic container, for days.
There's so much more I could write here, about my early days living on Auckland's North Shore, playing with plastic tommy guns in the bush, setting vicious booby traps for each other. It's a wonder we all made it to our teenage years without missing arms, legs, and eyes.
Something as simple as the memory of those cornflakes set my thoughts in motion.
What was the first thing you did when you came in from school back in the day when you were ten or eleven years old?
When I gave up dope and alcohol, my immediate feeling was 'I've saved my life but there'll be a price because I'll have nothing that buzzes me any more.' But I enjoyed my kids. My wife loved me and I loved her. And eventually the writing came back and I discovered that the writing was enough. Stupid thing is that probably it always had been.
- Stephen King
Stephen King would not be the first writer to declare that writing saved him.
What's with this? Can it be true?
Yes, it absolutely is true. Writing can help us deal with health challenges, life crises, change, dope, and alcoholism, just to name a few. And there is clinical evidence to prove that writing is good for you.
A study at our very own University of Auckland (2017) found that people who wrote emotionally about past stressful events two weeks before having a biopsy had their wound heal faster than people who write about factual day to day activities. The trial authors said that the writing had greatest effect when done prior to an acute wound, so the timing of the writing was important.
As with most treatments, you can feel worse before you feel better, and that's how it can be with writing. I know in my journals, when I'm tackling something that is painful and emotional, I write it down and feel lousy for maybe a day afterwards, but then I feel so much better, a weight has been lifted, life is worth living again.
Writing can help a wound to heal, physically and emotionally.
Writing for healing is a bit more specific than daily journaling because it encourages you to tackle troubling events in your life head-on, with stark truth and honesty, letting it all hang out. Trying this technique for 3-5 days, for about 20 minutes per day, can alter the path of your journaling, especially if you're accustomed to simply writing about how you feel and what you experience on any given day, and tend to avoid those memories that are traumatic, too difficult to deal with in your writing. Let's face it, alot of us do this. I'm no exception. It was only when I started writing about my first breast cancer diagnosis that I really began to feel the benefits of 'writing to heal'.
Sometimes writing about those difficult times - perhaps painful memories from early childhood - can bring closure, reconciliation, and forgiveness for ourselves and for others. We can gain a more positive perspective, be more understanding of our 'adult mistakes', move beyond the turmoil.
So yes, writing can offer you a lifeline. It can help you heal in so many ways. Give it a go. Well known American writer Judy Blume says, 'Writing saved my life. It saved me, it gave me everything, it took away all my illnesses.'