Braydon Dungan, Writing Consultant
Journaling has become a common method for many individuals looking to begin a journey of healing and mindfulness. Journaling can be a great way to write down one’s thoughts as they come, removing any unwanted images that revolve around our mind and evicting them onto a sheet of paper. Something about taking the thoughts inside our head and placing them onto something tangible allows us to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel listened to.
Trauma can show itself in many forms and can arise from a variety of different circumstances. I know peers who experience trauma due to the death of a loved one, the effect of a poor mental health diagnosis, or the aftereffects of an abusive relationship. For me, I’ve struggled with speaking out about the trauma I’ve endured at the hands of those who wished to manipulate and abuse me. I’ve been conditioned to compartmentalize the abuse I’ve endured, and I’ve had to learn how to process the pain of the past in a way conducive to my own healing and mental health.
For some, journaling doesn’t have that helpful effect that it does on others. Journaling can seem difficult to maintain on a consistent basis, and it can often seem like an obstacle in a day already filled with plenty of challenges. In result, I’ve attempted to shift from journaling to writing poetry. Now, I don’t see myself as any sort of talented writer of poetry whatsoever; in fact, I’ve never really had much formal training in writing poetry at all. Still, I wanted to give it a shot due to my inadequacy at maintaining a consistent journaling schedule.
I’ve noticed that when I use poetry as a form of journaling, I’m able to ruminate and process the thoughts I have much more carefully than when I journal in a stream-of-consciousness manner. When I journal, I don’t really think about what I’m thinking… I simply recognize the thought in my head, transfer it to paper, and move onto the next thought.
With poetry, I force myself to visualize the words that swirl in my head, and I have to create abstract images and metaphors that relay the emotions I want to communicate to my intended audience. I don’t worry about poetry structure or rhythm; instead, I solely focus on the words, themselves, and the power each word brings to my page.
One of the most common manners I write poetry is directly towards an individual in my life. Sometimes, I write poetry about my family, and I allow myself to process and reflect on the love and positive emotions I have towards them. On the other hand, I also write about people who have pained me in the past, individuals who have taken it upon themselves to incur manipulation, deceit, and hate into my life.
I want to include a short poem I wrote in the middle of the night upon waking up from a trauma-induced nightmare:
my fear of drowning.
there were nights i used to wonder
if the void was worth the risk
of taking that first breath of water
i never wanted to feel it burn
like it did in the nightmares i had
of you with anybody else but me
I wasn’t sure how I could illustrate exactly how I felt. I didn’t want to write down what happened in my nightmare and force myself to relive it; instead, I just wanted to process what had happened, and one of the most effective ways to do this was by comparing my trauma to the painful act of drowning. I didn’t write this to wallow in my sorrows or to draw attention to myself; I wrote this for me, for healing, for the place I want to be, the place I strive to get to every day of my life.
Now, when I talk to those around me who struggle with their own trauma and mental health challenges, I encourage them to use poetry as journaling.
And now, I challenge you; take a moment, close your eyes, and allow whichever thoughts that naturally creep in to be recognized and not shoved away. Take five minutes and write yourself a quick poem; think of metaphors, images, senses. Don’t worry about rhyming or the structure of your poem—just write!
I can assure you that after writing your poem, you will feel more clearheaded than you did before. Let’s all take an opportunity out of our hectic, challenging days to ruminate on our thoughts and turn them into something beautiful, powerful, and tangible.