Healing Through the Written Word
By Kristen Spexarth, Survivor and poet-gardener
When my eldest son Colby died by suicide I experienced a radical discontinuity. The ground under foot gave way and with it went the conceptual reality underpinning my once solid-seeming world. Things I held dear were rendered moot as I found myself in a strange place of surging energy riveting me to the couch, while nearby friends and family seemed like shadows I could not reach. The edges of my body were indistinct and my senses were heightened to an alarming degree making all interaction difficult, even going to the grocery.
Unable to communicate with loving family and friends in any meaningful way I fell back on the written word, hoping somehow to connect. From the beginning writing became a life-line keeping me from drifting away as I simply noted what was happening inside and outside of me.
As time passed some well-intentioned words struck so hard my body would recoil, seeking shelter. Writing then became a place of respite and reflection, simply noticing what IS.
The trauma of my son’s death was so severe it broke me open. Strange as it may seem, in this opening I count myself lucky for it catapulted me beyond my usual avoidance strategies. While not an easy journey, I was compelled to explore my new world for it was more real than anything I had ever experienced. Once seeming contradictions were suddenly resolved when viewed from my new vantage. The scales were broken and this world of dual with its pairs of opposites, good/bad, right/wrong, loss/gain, pleasure/pain, were revealed: a wholeness.
Even so, one moment feeling at peace with the paradoxical nature of things, the next I would fall back into notions of what I longed for or feared or how things “should” be, at which point I could feel my body tighten around storyline tape-loops running endlessly in my head. Now the writing became a way to ground in the only thing I knew to be true, my feelings and bodily sensations.
When I managed to simply sit with my feelings, not attaching any storylines, the sensations while uncomfortable became manageable. Back and forth I struggled until learning to stay with the sensations and new awareness accompanying loss, breathing into them, noticing everything, relaxing when my body tightened around an idea or my breath caught in my throat. In this laborsome way I discovered that leaning into, rather than away from what IS, is key to finding release from pain—a paradox. At which point instead of consuming judgments setting me apart, I found compassion in my heart and writing became a reaching out, to lend a hand to others.
Writing and mindfulness practices have accompanied me through all the changes I experienced after my son’s death, offering me a way to cope with profound difficulty and eventually learn how to incorporate loss into my life in a manageable way. My former life and what once seemed “real” to me ended with my son’s traumatic death—a tragedy of immense proportions that set in motion a gift of awareness, helping me not only survive but grow. As Colby said,
“Life is so beautiful in its triumphs and tragedies.
Everywhere I look I see it now.
There is beauty even in fear and pain,
but visible only to those deeply submerged in it.”