Therapy through Writing: How One Lonely Night Ended with a Story
I’ve mentioned before that my life had a few exceedingly painful chapters. It occurred to me a few years ago that I really ought to be grateful for these times, as strange as that may seem. None of the wonderful times in my life would have taken place without the hard times as catalysts. Each joyous part, from the year I spent in Korea to my being a part of Lantern Hollow Press, has something sad or difficult (or both) at its roots. A broken relationship coupled with a meaningless job led me to think about Korea, and a miserable teaching job led me back to grad school, and from there to a little writing group called Inklings III, from which came Lantern Hollow Press. Likewise, it was an excruciating period of my life that led to my writing one of my best stories, Contents of a Lady’s Handbag.
I was living in Wilmington, North Carolina and attending graduate school at UNC Wilmington. Though I had dreamed of how graduate school would be, I had been quite mistaken. I imagined being surrounded by people as passionate about history as myself, and being mentored by nurturing professors who were passing the torch of their knowledge and experience into our eager, waiting hands. I expected to work hard, but I was certain that the work would be well worth the rewards. Instead, I was one of three Christians suffering at the hands of a rancorous and cruel graduate coordinator (and professor), who hated us for our worldview and felt that it was his job to “weed out” unfit graduate students. He wrote threatening, obscenity-laced emails, singled out the Christians for humiliation and insult in every class, and made every student in the class feel completely worthless. His favorite word was the “F” word — he could conjugate it in incredible ways, using it for every possible part of speech. I had no friends in the area to go to for help; just as I had been in my first semester at Liberty, I was completely alone. Worst of all, I had turned away from God during that phase in my life, so I really did have no one to turn to.
One night, desperate for some fun, I went out to dinner alone and then out to a movie. In one of the more surreal moments of my life, I was the only person in that particular movie theater! No one ever did come it — I saw the whole movie completely alone. When I walked out, I started crying, even though I was in public and there were now other people standing around. I soon found that I need not be embarrassed, however; no one noticed. I might as well have been invisible. When I pulled into my apartment complex, I was pondering and hating my own solitude. I remember thinking that if this was what life had for me, I had gotten a pretty raw deal. And so, I indulged in the only comfort left to me now that I had stopped praying . . . I wrote.
I wrote a short story about other people being alone and hating it, and about what I wished could happen to me. It was a very personal story in which the main character, though not named Stephanie, was me in every other sense. When I finished writing it, I realized that it was probably the best story I had ever written. But, it was also the most revealing story I had ever written. For that reason, I kept it to myself.
A short while later, a dear friend started to feel very depressed about finishing college and still being single. I, of course, well understood the difficulty of that situation for a Christian girl. A great many people take it upon themselves to regularly remind a girl in such situation that she has not yet found a husband, as if the empty seat beside her were not enough. For my friend, each reminder was a painful jab. In an attempt to raise her spirits, I sent her the story. Just as I had, she saw herself in the main character. Later, she passed the story on to other friends of hers who were feeling much the same way. My lonely night ended up producing something that comforted several people who were hurting and helped them to anticipate better days — which came eventually (as they always do, even though it may take a long time).
Thinking back on that night, I can’t help but wonder, what if, like so many other people, I had turned to drinking or drugs in that time of so much loneliness and pain? What if I had decided not to fight my way through, and had just given up? Turning to writing instead was a much healthier response, and because I did, I was able to help other people later. For me, that is one of the primary attractions of writing: not only is it pleasurable, it often has the ability to heal emotional wounds (or at least bandage them while God heals them).
Posted on April 10, 2011, in Stephanie Thompson, Story and tagged Contents of a Lady's Handbag, dealing with depression, dealing with loneliness, dealing with sadness, depression, loneliness, sadness, solitude, Stephanie Thompson, sunrise, ways of coping with pain, writing as therapy. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.