I received my very first journal when I was in the 4th grade. My teacher gave me a journal with a two-page note inside about the importance of writing down my thoughts, feelings, and stories. She said that one day, I would touch others through my writing. She said it was my “gift.” She also wrote that I needed to believe in myself, and find something to be happy about and laugh out loud about every day. Reading her letter today makes my heart ache just a little. I was so little then, and things were so awful outside of school. This teacher found a way to give me an outlet, and she always showed me so much compassion. She has always been my favorite teacher. 

Over the years, my journals turned into pages and pages of poetry, emotion, and dissociation. There are years of entries where I debate whether or not I should have sex with my middle and high school boyfriends, write about typical drama with friends, and make plans to run away from home. There are notebooks filled with calorie counting, weight tracking, and a need to be perfect. But probably more than anything, my journals have been filled with writing about wanting to cut or kill myself. Probably hundreds of pages of scribble, fighting with my mind during urges to cut; getting trapped in that vicious cycle of needing something that I don’t want, until finally I give in. 

When I started seeing my trauma therapist, I really doubted her ability to help me. One of the things she had me do when I felt like cutting was write about a prompt. She sent me several links with journaling prompts. Writing about a topic when I wanted to cut (other than just how badly I wanted to cut) kept my mind from getting stuck in that cycle of “I need to cut. I need to cut. I need to cut. Cutting is the only thing that will help me feel better.” And if I don’t get caught in that place, it is easier for me to use my healthy coping skills and think more rationally. 

I now have three journals since starting therapy with my trauma shrink. The first is mostly made up of sexual abuse memories, with quite a few unproductive journal entries mixed in, where I scribble about needing to cut or die. The second journal I started in February of 2016, after filling the first. This one has some of my very best work to date. I write about all the reasons I shouldn’t cut, post traumatic growth, what I want out of my marriage, what I want out of my trauma work, the reasons I am important, a letter to my younger self, and a letter to my biological dad (handing over some of the blame for my abuse). There are a few trauma memories written down in this one too. And every once in a while, I come across an “unproductive” entry where I got caught in that loop of “I want to cut.” But for the most part, that whole journal is productive writing. When I go back and look through it, I am amazed at how much hard work I accomplished in therapy. 

I have only written a few entries in my 3rd journal, the one my therapist got me for reaching 320 days without cutting. So far, there hasn’t been anything “unproductive” written in there. I am hopeful that it will stay that way. After all, productive writing is really the only way for me to continue to grow.