The Healing Power of a Memoir

I am writing my memoir. Well, I started about a year ago and really got going and then like all creatives, I lost steam because it was emotional and difficult and I criticized every word I put down.

Memoirs happen to be my favorite genre of literature. Particularly, the ones that depict a seemingly unrealistic heroine / hero that overcomes some of the most tragic things a person could encounter and then publishes a New York Times bestseller.

I guess you could say that’s always had some appeal to me. The idea that I could somehow write it all down for the world to read (boy, I’m ambitious aren’t I?) and it would be this incredibly cathartic act that simultaneously solidified me as a writer with a real voice!

The latest memoir on my list, The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, has a cover-page review:

Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art.

I feel that same urge and pull to tell all the sad (and joyous) stories of my life and create that narrative into “art.”

But, it’s paralyzing. It’s difficult. It’s painful. It’s exhausting. And, reliving the most traumatic times of one’s life isn’t exactly something even the most tortured writers run to. I too, am a big fan of shoving it all down and dealing with it…later. Much later. 

I finished The Glass Castle and the next book I picked up, I’ve had since December: A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promise of Spiritual Life. So you may be wondering: what does this seemingly spiritual self-help guidebook have to do with a memoir?

The opening line of this book begins as such:

I have emphasized my own personal journey, because the greatest lesson I have learned is that the universal must be wedded to the personal to be fulfilled in our spiritual life.

Well then.

I have always deeply felt that any pain and suffering that a person not only endures but ultimately heals from should be shared. How good does it make us feel when you speak with someone who can not only sympathize–but empathize with our personal journey? How good does it feel when we’re the ones who can say “I know exactly what you’re going through.”?

Memoirs have this incredible power to tell stories of trials and tribulations of the protagonist that can make our trials and tribulations feel small and trite, in comparison. But, they are also an intimate way to feel less alone. Seeing ourselves in another person’s narrative with a healing and happy ending can provide real comfort.

We get in our own way when it comes to sharing our own narratives, we are always our worst critics, or focused on not wanting to “live in the past.” If we just opened ourselves, we could have an opportunity to impact another person’s life even in the tiniest way.

Any time I am asked about the legacy I hope to leave behind, my answer is always the same. I hope that the people I’ve met, loved, cared for, felt like I made a difference in their life–big or small.

BRB – going to work on my memoir.

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