Recently I revisited a journal I’d been keeping about the worst event in my life. When I did I discovered that I’d been writing about it in a way that focused mostly on the pain and damage I suffered, but never about my healing process or how much I’d grown. Further, I believe that I’d unknowingly been fueling my grief and anxiety by doing so. Since then I’ve learned that writing things down is a big step toward manifesting them, so I’ve been using my pen to speak power into moving forward from the trauma. It works too. In the words of Erykah Badu, Octavia Butler and many others: Write that sh*t down and watch it get real.
I’ve kept quite a few personal journals in my life. When I was really young I journaled about my family and wrote poems about my crushes. When I was performing music I kept a journal of song lyrics and concepts. But the one I started shortly after I’d begun working on Capitol Hill was the one that taught me the most about myself. (If you’re wondering which aspect of working on the Hill triggered that journal, the answer is a practical one; I had great insurance then and had finally committed myself to choosing a therapist I trusted enough to help me through all my junk.)
After a few sessions, I’d begun to open up more about my rape. Even though it happened over a decade ago I still found it really difficult to talk about. So my therapist suggested I write about it instead. I agreed.
I accepted her advice to get a new journal to track my moods and help me pinpoint things that made me feel the most angry and vulnerable about those memories, and the Burn Journal was born. It was big, green, and had 300 beautifully blank pages to fill up with my lamentous ramblings.
Aside from a journal I’d kept up for English class during undergrad, the Burn Journal was the only other journal I’d been instructed to start and maintain. And oh did I maintain it. I wrote a few upbeat, hopeful things in it, but mostly I railed against everyone and everything I hated with cyanide-grade toxicity. Worst of all, the things I wrote about my sexual assault, my self-worth, and my post-baby body were so dark they’d make an XXXtentacion song sound like a Kid’s Bop remake.
But even as I wrote those horrid things it still felt good because it was soothing to be able to vent so truthfully–even if it was to myself. And then one day, a more evolved version of myself discovered that it wasn’t soothing at all. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
This is because as the months had rolled by (and with them, many therapy and yoga sessions), things began to shift in my life and I’d found it harder and harder to write in the Burn Journal. Going through a breakup and a move was pretty difficult to process anyway–even with my journal at arm’s length. Then, after my marriage was done for good and I packed my things away during the split, I couldn’t even find the damn thing. For awhile I found myself in a total slump where I’d forgotten about the few positive things I’d written in the journal, and had become too exhausted to write any more depressing shit in it either.
It took some guerilla optimism and radical self-love to pull me out of it but gradually, things began to change for the better.
Crazy part is, most of those changes were things I’d written about in my journal the year before. And I mean specific things. Eerily specific. So the way I figured it, stuff was starting to look up and the journal could stay packed away for a bit. That is, until two things I read prompted me to dig the Burn Journal out from obscurity and crack it open again.
The first was an article I’d read about Octavia Butler’s detailed journal. It included a picture of an excerpt that revealed how she’d manifested so many things she’d written about years before. The page was so detailed that reading it bristled my arm hair a bit, because everything she wrote eventually came to pass; Butler is still a revered name in speculative fiction and North American literature as a whole, and her work has indeed been read by millions. My second push to dig the Burn Journal out came from Mama Badu herself. Something she tweeted a few years back got memed and recirculated in the Tumblrverse:
It definitely caught my attention.
So I dug the journal out from its cardboard grave and began to read. Strangely, it was like reading something someone else had written. I read about forty pages of it; some of it funny, most of it heartbreaking. But what churned my stomach the most was the underlying nihilism in it. There was a lot of “this-happened-and-it-ruined-me” stuff about my sexual assault, and most of it toed the line between being assessments and affirmations. This freaked me out because I couldn’t afford to accept ruination …especially ruination I’d manifested at my own hand. I slowly began to accept that what I write down or speak out affects the universe and becomes the primus materia for my forward movement, so my best bet will always be to write about my experiences in the most uplifting way.
Problem here was, I’d already written all that bad junk. Also, I knew the good stuff was already in play, but how was I to know if the bad stuff wasn’t far behind it? I couldn’t. So, I decided to destroy the Burn Journal in the way I deemed most appopriate.
I snapped it shut. Put my lighter and my journal in my satchel. Hopped on my pretty little pedal bike.
As I rode to the underpass that looms over a small portion of the bike trail in River Terrace, I thought about how important rituals have been to me and how well they’ve served me. Can’t say I’ve killed a chicken or thrown bones in a hearth, but I did shave my head after my Nana died to mark a stage of loss , grief and rebith. I ‘ve also burned candles and meditated for clarity until the world fell away and I floated in a plane of star-speckled, anthracite darkness. So yeah. I was totally about doing this too.
I put my kickstand down in the exact place where I was raped and lit that Burn Journal on fucking fire.
I had to pile leaves on it and light it over and over again since I didn’t have an accelerant, but I burned it good. I burned every word I’d written about feeling worthless and unwanted because I’d been robbed of something that was supposed to be mine to give. I blackened each page filled with paragraphs about my fear of never finding true love due to my inability to trust. Leaves crackled against the tear-stained pages scribbled with my fears about being an inadequate mother because of my depression and sadness. I watched the flames lap up every page I’d written about my fatherless childhood. Every word about August 26, 1999–all that I’d written about walking away from the park that night with blue markings around my neck and blood running from between my legs turned to ash.
The good I’d written in the book had already manifested; it had already served its purpose. I simply burned what was left hoped the universe heard me.
As I rode away from the deed smelling like a strange mix of YSL Black Opium and forest fires, I thought about how I was never meant to orbit around a tragic event in my life over which I had no control. In the Burn Journal I’d written about my rape in a way that suggested I’d accepted damnation from it and it took me a long time to understand that doing that only manifested more pain and guilt. And I could never heal if I continued that way. So instead, I’ve replaced those thoughts and words with better affirmations for myself:
I will no longer continue to dwell on this.
I’ll share the experience only as a means to empower and inform.
I will not let something that happened to me so long ago rob me of all my chances at happiness.
Ultimately, I believe I’m a conduit meant for good. If writing is my main gift, I choose to use it to manifest good things. Butler has passed on, but her personal journal stands as a beacon for aspiring writers. If I’m going to continue to write about my loss, I’m determined to write about it in a way that will hopefully do the same for survivors of sexual violence.
My latest journal is already off to a good start.