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Cara Sue Achterberg: Writing Therapy

Recently I spent some time with a young moms’ group. As I talked, toddlers swirled around us, and a few moms nursed babies. I’d had the chance to speak to this group in the past about raising healthy eaters, affording to eat organically, and keeping a green household. When their leader approached me to talk about writing, I was intrigued.

I’ve talked to lots of groups about writing, but this wasn’t a group of writers. This was a group of busy moms who were in the trenches of parenthood. They didn’t have time to brush their hair, let alone write a cohesive sentence.

I thought about my own years when my children were small. Some of that time I was working, sometimes not, and we moved twice. But I was always writing.

In fact, I would say that writing is what got me through. My husband traveled a lot when my kids were little. Many times when I was overwhelmed with an overactive preschooler, an independent-yet-demanding toddler, and a fussy baby, I turned to my journal to vent my anger and exhaustion and feelings of absolute and complete inadequacy.

In calmer moments, I wrote in journals to my children—telling them of my dreams for them, my observations of their emerging personalities, and funny anecdotes of their days. I’m not sure at what point in their lives I will give them these journals—because do we ever stop mothering?

When we moved to a new house, I struggled to find the kind of friends who had sustained me in our previous town, women I desperately missed. I turned to my laptop. I wrote a story about leaving because what I wanted more than anything was to leave. Escaping into that story during naptimes or early before anyone else was up, kept me sane in many, many ways. Eventually that story became my novel, Girls’ Weekend.

When conflict arose between my beloved and I, it was rarely possible to address it in the moment, as the moment was full of three little people who needed me to push my anger aside and care for them. By the time everyone was put to bed, many times I only wanted sleep of my own, so I swallowed my anger or frustration with Nick and by the next day too much time had passed. Why bring it up again? I let it go, but it didn’t go away.

So one day I found a small journal and I wrote to him. I told him what I was upset about and why. I was able to clearly state my feelings since they weren’t colored by my anger or stressed by the children in the next room waiting for my attention. I left the notebook on his pillow. I didn’t tell him about it, I just waited until he found it. He said nothing, but I knew he’d read it because it disappeared.

A day or two later, the notebook appeared on my pillow. We traded notes like middle schoolers for a few days until we’d found our truce. That journal allowed us to say the things we didn’t have the energy or the patience or the clarity to share in the moment.

I don’t know how much of what I said was heard that night, as the entire time I talked there were constant distractions and interruptions from the children in our company. Still, I hope those women heard snatches of what I said. I hope it gave them a few extra tools to use when they reach the end of their own emotional rope.

I hope they will see that writing is so much more than pages published in a book or words on a screen. It can be your confidant, allowing you to say the things that fill up your heart, aching to be said. It can be a messenger, sharing your present love with your future children. It can be a vehicle to share your true feelings without being colored by emotions-of-the-moment, and it can be an escape, granting you access to dreams.

As I drove home that night, I reflected on what I’d said and wished I’d said. I realized that it’s not just moms who can find encouragement, connection, healing, and escape by writing, it’s all of us. We all have something to say. Pick up your pen and say it.


About the Author...

Cara Sue Achterberg was the runner-up in our first AuthorsFirst novel contest. She writes poignant, incisive novels about women experiencing big changes in their lives and does so with a rare combination of warmth, humor, and compassion.

1 comment

1 Comment

Jun 21, 2022

I love this. I'm always looking for special insights by writers about how communication on the page is different than any other type. I don't if we ever let out our true selves, but when we write we use different pieces of our brains and have the power to be more honest and insightful about our feelings. Thanks for this Cara Sue Achterberg. 😀

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