I have completed 17 journals between 2005 and 2022.
I started journaling when I was 11 years old, though I did not start writing with regularity until college. It was an activity that was highly encouraged by my family. Every year at Christmas we would all receive a blank journal, and my mother led by example by setting aside time in her schedule for the task. In short, recording my thoughts has always been a part of my life. The real question is, what do you do with the journals once they’re full?
I couldn’t bear to lose them.
I have moved almost 20 times since I started journaling, and I brought them along each time. Even when I got rid of 60% of my belongings and when I was reduced to sleeping on a couch in the living room, I kept them nearby. They were a comfort to me in uncertain times, like old friends. They was with them that confided my deepest fears and concerns, vented my frustrations, and planned by future. They knew me through many seasons of my life, and that’s how I’ve come to know myself.
I finally decided to read my old journals.
For years I have avoided thinking too deeply about the past. I could state the events of my life in a factual manner, and tell well-rehearsed stories about my trauma, but I didn’t dwell on how it affected me or made me feel. I wasn’t ready to face it. In the last few years, however, I found the strength and stability I need to go back. Instead of relying on memories that have shifted and morphed with time, I have an guide for my journey: myself.
Through my journals, I can see exactly how I became who I am today.
I used to have a hard time relating to my childhood self. I felt like who I was as a child and who that child should have grown-up to be was a completely different person than the one I am today. My childhood self was more like an old friend that I had lost touch with over the years. Sure, we had some things in common, but she had a different personality, different interests, different values, and different dreams. I literally couldn’t see myself in myself. Until I read my entry from July 31st, 2005.
I heard my own voice echoing through the years.
I was 11 years old, living in a crumbling house in Houston. My mother was married to an abusive man, and we had no money. We were on the verge of foreclosure with nowhere to go. Every minute of the day was filled with tension, and every day was filled with fighting. I wrote 3 and a half pages on that day.
I numbered my stressors: 1 – 7
I assigned each stressors a number as if organizing the on paper would help me to organize the chaos around me. It was in those numbered points, scratched onto the page 18 years ago, that I saw the earliest traces of my anxiety spirals, and the origins of my coping mechanisms. My handwriting, spelling, and life circumstances have all drastically improved, but my anxiety is still here.
It’s oddly comforting to read about that time.
There’s nothing happy about those memories, but I draw comfort from the entry all the same. Perhaps because there’s some assurance that I’m still here. On a subconscious level, I am reaching out to that little girl, hiding in the closet while I write in my diary, and telling her that “We get through this”. The coping mechanisms I experimented with then carried me through that time, and even rougher times ahead, and remain with me today.
My journals are a record of how who I was became who I am today.
My writing outlines the circumstances and events that shaped my development. A lot has happened in 18 years, and I have changed a lot too. I didn’t record every day or every event, but I wrote enough to piece it together. My journals are often sad, funny, and embarrassing to read, but I’m glad that I carried them with me for all these years. I plan to keep them for many years more.