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Diana Raab: Tell Your Story and Transform Your Life

Photo Credit, Álvaro Serrano

Many writers have found the act of writing is not only a wonderful tool to help you understand yourself, but can also be an incredible mechanism for personal growth.

“When you write, you reach deep inside yourself and pull out whatever it is inside you. From the words or images bubbling up on the surface of your psyche, to the emotions and thoughts and stories lurking in the far reaches of your consciousness.”

As you reach inside and look for the right word(s) to best describe your emotions and thoughts, writing guides you to become clear.

The process of writing, whether in a journal, memoir, blog post or essay is a process that helps to digest feelings in order to understand them from a broader perspective.

Although writing can be a very personal and intimate act, for those who love the craft of writing, long for the creative expression of writing or are simply compelled to write, there seems to be no greater relief than to honor the thoughts and feelings that beg to spill out onto a page.

Having received her first journal from her mother, Dr. Diana Raab was encouraged to write down her feelings in an effort to understand the death of grandmother. Writing down her thoughts ultimately paved the way for her life as a writer.

In an interview with Dr. Raab, author of Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, we discuss the healing benefits of dissipating pain and transforming your life through writing.

BJB: In Writing for Bliss you write, “Writing one’s story is a way to reclaim your voice…and gain a deeper understanding of one’s place in the world.” (p. 5) Can you explain what you mean?

DR: Those who have been deeply wounded physically, psychologically, or spiritually often lose their voice in the process. It might be that they’re afraid to write or talk about what transpired, or perhaps they were warned not to share “a family secret.”

Studies have shown that writing our stories can help us reclaim our voice, and inspire an inner awakening and a transformation of the body, mind, and spirit.

Losing one’s voice often occurs in cases of abuse.

Sometimes people don’t feel safe to share or reclaim their stories until quite a while after the abusive incident, or after the perpetrator has passed away.

Reclaiming one’s voice is not about achieving closure about an incident; it’s about integrating and holding the experience with reverence. As poet Mary Oliver deftly states, to be fully human and fully alive, “One or two things are all you need: / …some deep memory of pleasure, some cutting / knowledge of pain.”

Reclaiming one’s authentic voice also has to do with tapping into our true selves.

Sometimes the voices we hear in our heads are not our actual voices, but those we’ve heard from significant figures in our lives — perhaps parents, siblings, teachers, partners, spouses, or other individuals. Over time, these negative, hurtful, or discouraging messages get internalized and can cause us to doubt ourselves and our value in the world. Reclaiming our voice means that we’re able to listen to and express the true voice of our hearts.

The act of writing results in a heightened sense of awareness and a sense of identity. The individual also develops a deeper understanding of his or her place in the world.

BJB: Can you explain the concept of writing as a transpersonal practice that encourages self-discovery?

DR: Transpersonal means “beyond the ego” or “beyond the personal.”

Transpersonal psychology is about exploring the unconscious mind as a way to tap into the higher self. This newest branch of psychology grew out of the mid-twentieth-century humanistic psychology movement and encompasses alternative states of consciousness.

Transpersonal psychology also comprises other types of psychology, such as psychoanalytic, Jungian, behavioristic, and humanistic.

In essence, it incorporates the spiritual aspects of the human experience. In addition, transpersonal psychology accentuates various ways of healing.

Writing is considered a transpersonal practice because it encourages self-expression and self-discovery.

By documenting the narrative of our lives, we have the chance to relive, examine, and reconstruct our lived experiences in a way that may be empowering.

Writing also helps identify strengths and weaknesses that may highlight how we can achieve our full potential, thus leading to a happier life.

BJB: How does writing help to “dissipate pain”?

DR: Dealing with our emotions through writing is a private and safe way to expose our innermost emotions that we may have bottled up inside. Releasing our feelings on the page helps to dissipate them. Social psychologist James Pennebaker conducted the earliest studies showing that therapeutic writing helps put trauma to rest and helps heal the body, mind, and spirit.

Suppressing our stories can actually lead to ill health.

Even if we try to put painful experiences aside, they will always be there, and may resurface at unexpected moments. Sometimes we suppress such memories as a coping mechanism. However, during the writing process, these memories can resurface, and as they arise, they can contribute to our healing process.

BJB: When writing a memoir, how do you determine which secret or piece of information is too personal to reveal?

DR: A memoir is a first-person account chronicling a slice of life, not an entire life. It is a subjective recollection from one’s own perspective. Typically, it holds the thread of a theme or particular focus throughout the book. What sets a memoir apart is that it presents the story as it happened and includes reflections.

Most memoirists claim that they had stories to tell and felt that they were the only ones who could tell them. Others might have secrets to share, or maybe they want to write their memoirs in order to study or understand certain situations. Other reasons to write a memoir include preserving a family legacy and learning more about one’s personal history.

For the first draft, there’s no such thing as writing something that is “too personal to reveal.” I suggest that writers let it all out, without censorship, because censoring tends to stifle creativity. It’s during subsequent revisions that writers can edit information that is considered too personal for publication.

BJB: In Writing for Bliss, you provide several writing prompts. One of my favorites is the prompt for writing about a difficult time:

“In writing about a difficult time, begin by writing at the top of your journal page, ‘I used to be, but now I am…’ In your writing share what you learned in the process and what words of advice you would give to others who are walking a similar path.”

BJB: With regard to your writing and all you’ve learned about it as a “springboard for transformation,” how would you now finish the sentence, “I used to be, but now I am…”?

DR: I used to be guarded about my life, but now I openly share my life experiences with others.

By doing so, and by listening to others share their stories, a deep sense of interconnectedness is created. Sharing stories also makes us feel less alone. By being aware of how other people navigate their journeys, we learn to navigate our own.

BJB: What has been the most unexpected or surprising part about being writer?

DR: The most surprising thing about being a writer is how easy it has been to write about my most personal experiences, and how well received my stories have been.

It’s also surprising and wonderful when people write me to say they enjoyed reading my articles or books, and that reading my story has changed their lives.

This makes me feel that my overarching desire to help humanity is being met in some small way.

Dr. Diana Raab

Writing is good for the many reasons Dr. Raab has noted in Writing for Bilss. But for the additional silent and unspoken reasons that continuously pull us toward the keyboard to begin again, again and again, I would like to add one more:

“Writing slows us down. Writing takes us out of the loop, and sets us aside. The world is a rushing river and taking the time to write, be it in a journal or only a few thoughts, is a brief respite on the river’s shaded banks.”

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winning memoirist, writer and educator whose career spans 40 years, where she’s seen firsthand the transformative powers of reflective writing.

In her inspirational book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, Dr. Raab not only offers practical steps for discovering and writing the story that is inside you and yearning to be told, but also includes the following tools for writing:

  • the therapeutic side of self-expression through writing

  • easy and practical ways to jump start your writing

  • stories of students who started writing someone else’s story and ended up telling their own,

  • experiencing a transformation along the way

  • her own journey as a writer

  • writing prompts

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