The Best (Worst) Writing Assignment Ever

I’m alive!  I am still mucus-filled, albeit slightly less so than I was when I wrote my last entry.  I am going to blog about the trip to Boston, I promise, but today I want to talk about something that I did before that trip, something that helped me during the trip.

I’ve been very slowly working my way through a book called Self-Compassion, written by Dr. Kristen Neff.  It was recommended to me by my psychiatrist because I was have such a hard time letting go of my guilt over Tony’s death, my feelings that I should (least favorite word) have been able to prevent it.  It’s not a book to be read quickly, because each chapter includes a written exercise; and to put it mildly, they are difficult.

The one that has been the hardest for me so far is one where the assignment is to write a letter to yourself as your inner critic.  The goal is to not hold back at all, to put into writing the very worst things you say to yourself.  Then, after getting that down, you write a second letter to yourself, one that you would write to a dear friend.  The first time I did this exercise I did it about my weight, something I’ve struggled with my whole life.  It helped, because it made me realize that my inner voice is a TOTALLY WRETCHED SNAKE. 

Leading up to the trip, I was struggling hard with my guilt, and with fear that somehow Tony’s family blamed me for his death.  Mind you, this is in the absence of even the slightest inkling of anything other than love and support and even gratitude from Tony’s family.  There is no earthly, logical reason why I should have been feeling the way I was; but I was.  I was talking about this to my therapist, and I told her about the exercise I had done and suggested that I do the same exercise again, about my guilt. 

As soon as I said, I did a mental head-slap.  What was I thinking?  That exercise had been eye-opening, sure, but it had also been HORRIBLE.  This topic would be even worse, even harder.  Gah!  She told me I didn’t have to do it, to only do it if it would help me.  I assured her that I wouldn’t push myself.

Reader, I didn’t push myself, not until the day of my next session.  I came up with a million artful excuses about why I couldn’t do it, I just wasn’t in the mood, I was having a bad day already and JEEZ, why did I have to make it worse?  All the while knowing that it truly would help, but that it also would truly TRULY suck while I was doing it.

Finally I did it.  I took all of the awful, unkind, mean and terrible things I’d been saying to myself and wrote them down.  I just let it pour out, all of it.  Let me tell you something.  Calling my inner voice a snake is an understatement.  She is BAD.  She is an EVIL UGLY VOICE OF BADNESS.  She says things to me that I would never ,ever, ever say to another human being.  Not ever.  She is without sympathy, without mercy, without kindness.  Reading those words freed something inside of me.  I don’t mean to imply that I have completely vanquished the guilt I feel, but I will say this: it’s easier now.  I have gone back and read those words several times now.  I read them out loud to my therapist, along with my much kinder letter to myself.

Everyone’s different.  If you are struggling with guilt over something, or with low self-esteem in general, I can recommend this exercise in the same way I would recommend taking a teaspoonful of cod-liver oil or some other equally repugnant yet healthful remedy.  It might help.  It helped me.

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4 thoughts on “The Best (Worst) Writing Assignment Ever

  1. Aimee, you are amazing. Your writing is amazing. And letting us in to such deep and private places….well, that’s just sacred. Thank you.

    I’m sure I can find all kinds of excuses not to try this assignment. I do like “totally wretched snake.”

  2. Your bravery is helping you. Your compassion for others opens your eyes to yourself. Keep up the good/hard work. Love, Madre/MD ❤ ❤

  3. I attended a grief recovery groups about three years after Ryan died. the one thing that helped me the most in the group was a letter. We wrote a letter to our loved one thanking them for everything they had done for us, everything we were angry about and then we apologized for everything we felt guilty for. As guilt has been my constant companion this really helped. I still grieve but when I get those guilty feelings I remember that I apoligized and apologize again if need be.

    • Thanks Kathy. I have thought about writing a letter to Tony but feel that I am not quite ready to do that yet. I will, when I am. I’m glad to know that doing that helped you. Thanks for reading.

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