“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
~Maya Angelou, from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Recently, Google created a Doodle to commemorate Maya Angelou’s birthday—four years after her death at the age of 86. The legacy she left behind spanned over 50 years and included autobiographies, collections of essays, poetry, and plays. As a communicator, almost everyone has heard her work quoted in some form (maybe not knowing it was hers). She truly embodied writing as an art form—and particularly as an artistic path to healing.
When I came across the quote included at the top of this blog, my heart almost hurt with the memory of my untold story which I held inside for a lifetime. It truly was agony. I was a born writer, but neglected the gift because my painful past wanted to surface in my writing—and that was something which I avoided at great cost. Yes, as I began to heal, my painful story flowed through my fingertips and onto the printed page.
There is a difference between the art of academic writing, which I laboriously learned to craft, and the writing which began to flow from my soul during healing. I had spent a lifetime fearing my emotions and feelings, and releasing that deep control was the path to healing. In another exquisite quote, Maya Angelou states, “Making a decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake.” Putting my story in print was exactly like jumping into a frozen lake. As I began to see my story take shape in print, my hiding soul felt the shock of it as if it were icy water.
There is a moment when the body goes under the icy water and the possibility of dying from the shock feels very real. At this moment, the body takes over, brings the head above water, and gasps for air. It is during the surfacing when the soul realizes the very thing that terrified us is what we needed to learn to breathe our deepest healing breaths.
In many ways, I wrote my way to healing but hid my words inside my computer. I didn’t even allow my words on the cloud. To write the story and bring pieces to therapy was healing, but to share the story in any public way was a whole new pond of icy water. I dipped my toe in the chilly water by sharing with a few trusted friends. Their reactions to my writing were life-changing. I was born to write. Writing was a path to healing but sharing my words was the path to life. I shared and I didn’t die but I wasn’t yet free.
Then I began to blog. This was another icy plunge. It helped me realize I could learn to breathe at an even deeper level. The day I signed a contract for a book, I felt myself take the plunge into what now appeared to be the middle of a monstrous icy lake. I had to wait. I had to edit. I had to refine. I had to market. I had to wait for the reading to begin. I had to prepare myself for the reality that my story, so deeply hidden, could be accessed and read by anyone in the world. Most of all, I had to give up the overwhelming survivalist desire to control my destiny. There was much healing work necessary in order to feel safe in my new quickly approaching reality.
Yes, writing is a healing art, but it can only be as effective as our willingness to share. I have watched my writing take wings and with every response, I breathe more deeply. The icy frozen lake I feared was truly the path to breathing in life with deep gulps of healing air. Writing is an art which brings healing, but it is in the sharing that the cage door opens.
No other book will ever have the same effect as BRAVE: A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma, because I now understand the complete path to healing through the art of writing. It is no longer the foreboding unknown, but instead a friendly path which I desire to take more often. I have released the agony from my soul and replaced it with joy. I am free to live and write. Writing is life and life is writing!
“Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art.” ~Maya Angelou
Janyne McConnaughey, PH.D. is a retired educator who devoted her life to training teachers. She told every class that children (and adults) made sense if you knew their story. In 2014 she entered therapy to understand her own story which she knew began with insecure attachment but did not fully understand included sexual abuse in a daycare at the age of three. She calls her three years of intensive healing a ‘God Journey’ and is redeeming her personal story as she gives hope to others who have experienced trauma, especially that of childhood sexual abuse.