Writing is a powerful tool, whether you write for a living, as I do, or not. In addition to writing books, articles and blogs, keeping a journal has helped me find my way out of tough situations in life. I’ve kept a diary since I was in my teens, though what I write about has of course changed over the years. And, I’m happy to say, I’ve changed too, and I now keep a gratitude diary instead of a journal of all my struggles.
When I separated from my husband four years ago, I went through my old diaries while I packed to move out. As I perused them, I relived the anguish of past times. I realized I mainly wrote when I was feeling down. So, those notebooks were filled with page after page of depression, confusion, fear, sadness, guilt and resentment.
LETTING GO OF THE PAST
I sat on the floor surrounded by my handwritten journals and as I considered the challenges that lay ahead, I asked myself a question. If something were to happen to me, would I want my daughters to read my diaries and discover my darkest side? Did I envision my ex-husband, my father or my sister learning of my deepest secrets? Was it fair to burden them with my own insecurities, thoughts, opinions and feelings? Did I really want to be weighed down by a heavy past, in the form of a box filled with journals that detailed so much angst?
The answer was clear to me. I had decided to walk away from the marital home, leaving everything behind except my books, my clothes, my laptop and of course, my kids. That was a cleansing experience. So I decided to take it a step further and get rid of those depressing diaries. And I did.
I had realized on rereading them that they made me feel sad and heavy hearted. I didn’t need that kind of ballast weighing me down. I made the decision there and then to start afresh. Faced with the challenge of raising my kids and rebuilding my personal, professional and financial life, I decided that going forward, I would keep a gratitude journal.
Instead of focusing on what was wrong with my life, I decided to write about what I was grateful for. At first I forced myself to jot things down every day, no matter what, even when I didn’t think I had anything to be thankful for. When I didn’t have money to pump gas, or I couldn’t find a writing gig to keep me going financially, my list might include things like: The neighbor invited my kids to dinner. The cashier at the grocery store smiled at me. My kids are healthy. I’m alive.
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There were moments when, buried in hardship, all I could do was cry, kneeling down at the foot of my bed, wondering what the future had in store for me and my kids. But after writing down what I was grateful for each night, I fell asleep a little more hopeful, and feeling a lot stronger.
Little by little, I filled page after page of positive thoughts that kept me going when I felt weak. All I had to do was go back and read them to feel empowered. I could also gauge my progress. Gradually I went from being grateful for simply hauling myself out of bed in the morning to being thankful for life-changing events, such as meeting a compatible life partner or landing a well-paying writing gig and eventually my dream job.
LIVING IN THE PRESENT
I don’t write in my gratitude journal every day anymore, but I do make a point of doing it every week. I also reread it often, especially on days when I’m tempted to complain about something. All I have to do is go back to those first entries to feel moved to tears by how little one really needs to feel joy and thankfulness.
As I said at the beginning, writing is a powerful tool. And keeping a record of the positive has helped me and my family be resilient, strong and most of all, grateful, no matter what. Now I don’t mind thinking of my kids reading my journals some day—I’m sure it will put a smile on their faces when they know how grateful I felt for being able to take them to a movie or simply watch them sleep at night, while I promised myself to keep on striving to give them a better future.