by Martha Wegner
“You really should write that down.”
That was the reaction I heard from many people who heard me speak at a conference 18 years ago. I actually can no longer recall the details of that meeting.
Was it a group of social workers? Early childhood educators?
No matter. These people were there to discuss the difficult and depressing topic of prenatal death.
Since I had recently experienced such trauma, I was invited to come and tell my story. I told of how in 1991 I was pregnant with twins, but midway through the pregnancy, one of those twins died. I was left with the impossible task of rejoicing in the birth of our son, David, while at the same time grieving the death of his sister, Laura.
Afterwards, person after person approached me and said, “You really should write that down.”
So, I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote of my grief, my joy, my faith, my doubts, my fears, my family. And eventually all that writing became a book, Embracing Laura: The Grief and Healing Following the Death of an Infant Twin. Thus began my journey into writing, and the transformation that writing has brought to me.
By letting out my feelings, my words, my ideas, I was able to move through the trauma of this difficult pregnancy and birth. There is a reason why therapists stay in business: it really does help to “talk it out”—they don’t call it “talk therapy” for nothing. But for me, talking wasn’t enough. The words I spoke floated away and circled around, and I never knew where they would land. The next day I found them right back in my head, begging to be let out. But I found that when I put those same words on paper, they stayed put. There they were there in front of me, and in front of others. I could see what I was experiencing and thinking, and the people who read the words were invited to join in. The words still floated, but they had an anchor on the paper. I could visit the feelings, my readers could experience the feelings with me, and over time those feelings stop taking up so much room in my head.
So, how has writing changed me? First, I learned that I was not alone. There were other parents out there experiencing the same challenges as I was. Second, I was able to use this difficult experience and my eventual recovery to help others. Countless readers wrote to me to tell me how my words not only reflected their own experiences, but also offered encouragement to them. Mostly, writing helped me go forward. Before I wrote my story, I was alone and afraid, bitter and sad. Afterwards, the sadness remained. But the isolation and hopelessness were lifted.
Fast forward 18 years.
My beloved son, David, was missing. After seven weeks of inpatient treatment for drug addiction, he walked away from the center. Disappeared. We had no idea where he was and how (or if) he was surviving. Again, my anguish swirled around. It made a continuous circuit in my head, never allowing me to relax and live. So I said to myself, You really should write that down. And I did.
I started writing David letters online. Every day. Letters of pain, anguish, hope, fear, frustration. Letters filled with funny stories. Letters of admonishment, letters of begging, Why don’t you come home?
I posted the letters on an online blog—it was something I thought David would never read. Once more, I had the gratifying experience of seeing my words land on a page . . . for me. And again, the words had a place to land, only to be revisited as I wished. Again, others got to see the words too, and share in my anguish and extend their support. Again, I heard from the readers; so many readers . . . there are so many parents out there whose children are experiencing addiction.
And, as before, I found I was not alone. I was still afraid, but I was not alone.
I wrote letters to David for 180 days. I stopped writing letters after 180 days because I felt different. David had finally found recovery, and so had I.
At the end of that time I‘d like to think I made a 180° turn: from despair to detachment. The writing got me there. I put those 180 days of writing into a book, Dear David: Dealing with my Son’s Addiction One Letter at a Time. The last letter of the book, Day 180, ends with this:
And it really is true.
My words on paper took me from a desperate, pleading mom who will move mountains to get her son to sobriety, to a mom that believes in her son’s recovery, but, even more, believes her own recovery.
Pain and anguish and hope and love continue to swirl around us all. Putting it down on paper for all the world to see makes it real, makes it manageable, gives us the support and understanding we need from others, but, most importantly, writing it down can cause a miraculous change in us.
About the Author
Martha Wegner has written another piece for Transformation is Real. She regularly attends and is a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and continues to find a creative outlet through her writing. She lives with her family and writes at her home in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her books are available at www.marthawegner.com.