Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Journaling is a great, and often cathartic, exercise of taking the things that are inside of us and getting them out. Journaling can let you take something that’s internally subjective and make it more objective by making transforming it into something more than a thought or a feeling. Words matter. Words have weight. Words can be observed, read, and interpreted by others —or even ourselves— in a different way through a different view. Journaling can be powerful.
I began journaling when I was very young and my journals have captured everything... and by the time I was in my late teens, the journals were holding a lot of dark, consuming feelings. I rarely look back on those times. In fact, there’s a period of about 6 that I’ve completely blocked out because they were so painful.
They are written in my journals, though.
Some of the journals I had, I’ve carried with me from place to place for the better part of two or three decades. Most I dared not read because I knew that to read them would bring back more pain than I wanted to re-experience.
But what was I supposed to do with them? That’s my history. That stuff, as painful as it was, is part of who I am and, I think changed me at a depth that I can’t articulate.
I survived that stuff. I survived a consuming darkness by the grace of God. I survived because a stranger found me by a lake as I was about to drown myself and had the courage to stop me. To this day, I think that man was an actual angel.
But what do I do with all that pain?
Well, last Saturday, I had my 45th birthday and just before that, I had a session with my wonderful therapist, Melissa. I was telling her some innocuous stories about my life and about my plans for an upcoming conference I was going to. I said, “You know, I have plans upon plans.” And I explained to her how I’d prepped for the conference. Honestly, I thought my comments were totally innocent and nothing telling in what I shared.
A few weeks ago, I said something and she said something and I was cast into a sea of remembering. And, ever since then, I’ve kept things as on the surface as possible. So, I purposefully was keeping things shallow. So, when she told me that my ultra-structured, super-planned, contingency-planned strategies for prepping for the conference were a typical “trauma response,” I was not prepared.
Trauma? Me? Nooooooooo.
Yes, Sarah. Trauma. Duh.
In that session, I had to deal with some of those memories that I’ve left packed in a box in my garage. Those things have been packed in a box that I’ve carried with me from place to place for 20 years. Those things were things I haven’t wanted to look at or think about for a long time.
And after I wept for 40 minutes with my therapist… and a subsequent 6 hours after I returned from the conference and had time to actually process my feelings, I made a decision…
Its time to let those memories go into the universe.
And so, on the eve of my 45th birthday, I created a gigantic fire in my driveway and set those journals on fire. 1992 – burned. 1995 – burned. 2001 to 2008 – burned. Anything that was 1996 to 2002 was absolutely incinerated.
I decided that the process of converting my subjective pain into objective pain through the expression of words and the tangible medium of paper was expression enough. It was weight enough. I decided to, as Elsa said, “let it go.”
And so, I did. I decided that I’ve felt that pain enough and those memories have taken up enough physical and emotional space. And so, I’m free.
I have to tell you that watching those beautiful journals burn away was one of the most amazing, liberating things I’ve ever seen or experienced. I knew that the very oxygen of life felt the pain as it turned from emotion to paper to ash to smoke.
There’s literally nothing left to carry from that into the future. I am already who I am, both because of and in spite of that pain. Both because of and in spite of those experiences.
And 45 is going to be my best year yet.
If there’s something you’re carrying and you’re ready to let it go, I cannot recommend a bonfire enough. We all know that, from an emotional and physical perspective, it’s so much easier to run faster and further if you’re not carrying as much.
I have big goals of impacting and encouraging thousands of women in my lifetime. In my mind’s eye, I see the scores of women crossing finish lines, crashing through glass ceilings, and breaking through their histories with me next to them coaching, applauding, cheering, and running around like crazy celebrating their victories. And let me tell you what, that will be so much easier now that all the weight of those boxes of the past are gone, gone, gone.
What are you ready to set fire to?