Recently in Expressive Writing Category

The Special Egg

| By Paul | | Comments (5)

There once was a family who bought two dozen eggs to decorate for Easter. The Mom had gone to the local supermarket, but they were all sold out. She went to four other markets and they, too, were sold out. The Mom drove home dejected because her kids wanted so desperately to color eggs.

But as she was driving home, she saw a small old wooden sign at the end of a driveway. It said: "Special Easter Eggs For Sale."

The Mom breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that they still had some left.

She stopped in and went up to the barn. An older heavy-set woman was there. She had white hair, dirty glasses, and was wearing a tattered dress that had definitely seen better days. She looked a bit scary. But when the Mom went up to the woman to inquire about the eggs, she perked right up and had a huge smile across her face.

The old woman said "Yes, I still have Easter eggs." The Mom said "That's wonderful.! The sign in front says 'special' Easter eggs. What does that mean?"

The woman took a big sigh and said: "Oh. Well, all my eggs are special because they come from hens that grew up near the real Easter Bunny. I do have one 'special' egg left, but I can't tell you why it's special."

This intrigued the Mom. "What do you mean you can't tell me?"

"You would have to find out for yourself," replied the old woman carefully.

The Mom was curious. "Can I have one?"

The old lady said "The only way you can have the 'special' egg is if you make a promise."

"What's the promise?"

"You have to promise to take care of the egg for the rest of your life and it must pass from generation to generation."

"What?" exclaimed the Mom quizzically.

"You will see..." said the old woman as she got up from her chair.

The Mom agreed to the terms. The old woman wrapped up 23 eggs in cartons, and put the 'special' one in a big carton with all kinds of padding to keep it safe.

As the Mom left, the old woman said "Remember your promise..."

So the Mom took the eggs home to her kids and she told them about the 'special' egg, which by the way the Mom had not actually seen.

They colored all the regular eggs and then turned to the huge box with the 'special' one.

They were all excited to find out what it was like. They all said things like: "It is probably made of gold", "Maybe it's the largest egg in the world", "Maybe it's naturally rainbow colored."

But when they took it out of the box with all the padding, they all looked at each other in disbelief.

It didn't look very special.

In fact, it had thirteen cracks in it. There was egg yolk seeping from the inside that had gelled up and got hard. It was kind of disgusting looking. And it smelled too.

The Mom and older daughter thought they were duped by the old lady and assumed she just used the word 'special' on her sign to get people to buy her eggs. They were about to throw the 'special' egg away, when Dolly, the youngest girl, said: "I'm not so sure. I think we should keep the promise." Dolly set the egg aside carefully.

When the Dad came home from being away for a few days, Dolly and her Dad fixed all the cracks very carefully. They used a glue that was very rare and specially made for fixing delicate objects. They worked for hours and hours until the egg was stronger than any other egg in the world.

When they were done, Dolly placed it on a small red velvet pillow on her Dad's dresser where he keeps all the objects his kids have made for him.

The egg stayed there for years. Every week or so, Dolly and her Dad would clean it and make sure the cracks were still fixed. Once in a while they had to put on a little more glue. Because they did that, the egg stayed strong.

When Dolly got married, her Mom and Dad gave her the egg."Remember what the old woman made us promise? We are supposed to pass the egg down from generation to generation."

So, Dolly took the egg to her new house. She put it on her dresser on the same red velvet pillow.

Her new husband took one look at the egg, raised his eyebrows and said "Really? Why do you want to keep that?"

Dolly took a breath and simply stated "It's a special egg."

Her husband laughed at her. "Special? It's all glued up and doesn't look very pretty."

Dolly tried to explain. "It's special because a long time ago it was was broken and we fixed it and took care of it."

Similar to this story from last time I was in the hospital, my youngest daughter again asked me to tell her a story over the phone when she went to bed this evening. When I finished she said she liked the story, but immediately said "I don't get it." We talked a little bit and eventually she saw it in terms of objects that have sentimental value. That's the perfect take home for a 10 year old. For me, it means a bit more.

On another note, the Expressive Arts Carnival No. 16 will be posted within a few days. So there is still time to send in your entry.


Ode to Unity

| By Paul | | Comments (7)

Once upon a time, on an island far far away, a little girl named Dolly lived with her Dad. Dolly so loved the ocean because the other little girls on her island were mean and she wanted to sail across the ocean to get to a new land.

One day when she was old enough, her Dad taught her how to make a sailboat and said "If you want to sail across the ocean and get away, then you have to build your own boat."

Dolly said: "Okay, I can do that."

Her Dad didn't like the ocean and never ever made a sailboat before for himself or his daughter. So he did not actually make a boat for her. Rather, he showed her how to do it herself. He taught her about what materials one can use to make a boat, how sails work, about the wind, about how to navigate with a compass and all of that. Dolly paid close attention and to everything her Dad taught her. Then she started making her boat. After one week, she had her boat made. She was so happy. She told her Dad she was done. He said "So are you off to the new land now?" Dolly said: "Yup, Mmmm hmmm."

They went down to the ocean, she got in the boat, and her Dad pushed her out into the ocean. And off she went. She went about 50 feet when the boat started sinking. Dolly had to climb out of the boat and quickly swim back to shore.

Dolly was sad. She said "I spent a whole week making that boat and it didn't work! A whole week!"

Her Dad said "Well, you will learn what you did wrong and next time you will build a better boat."

So, Dolly went to work on the next boat. She realized that since her first boat sank that there must have been holes in it. She made the first boat out of bamboo. She was very clever and decided she was going to fill the gaps in the bamboo with something to keep the water out. She looked around to see what she had available, and decided she was going to lather on lotion in between all the seams.

Dolly was all proud of herself. She was smart because she even used lotion that was made with lots of oils and would not wash away with the water.

With her boat all made, Dolly and her Dad again went down to the ocean. She got in her boat, and her Dad pushed her out. And off she went. This time, the boat went out 500 feet before it again started sinking.

Dolly couldn't believe it. She had to again get out, and again swim back.

Dolly was a really good swimmer, so it was really not that big a deal.

She came back to the shore and she said to her Dad: "I spent a whole month making that boat and it didn't work! A whole month!"

Her Dad said "Well, you will learn what you did wrong and next time you will build a better boat."

So, Dolly went to work on the next boat. She figured out that the lotion wasn't enough to keep the water out. So, she looked around to see what could fix it. They didn't have much, but she found some beef jerky. She thought that if she filled the bamboo gaps with beef jerky and then the lotion that it would make a really good seal and that would work.

With her third boat all made, Dolly and her Dad again went down to the ocean. Again her Dad pushed her out. And off she went. This time, the boat went out 2 miles before it again started sinking.

Dolly swam all the way back in just a few minutes and said to her Dad: "I spent a whole year making that boat and it didn't work! A whole year!"

Her Dad said "Well, maybe you need to do something really different."

Dolly said: "Like what? If I keep trying to make new boats and failing it will take my whole life and I'll never get off this island."

Her Dad said: "You are your own boat. Did you ever wonder why you can swim so fast and so far?"

Dolly said: "No."

Her Dad said: "Because you are a mermaid. You can swim to any land you want, and come back again and visit me."

And this is what Dolly did. She lathered herself with lotion, ate some beef jerky and then swam away.

This story was written "free form" (not edited and just written as if it were being spoken). It was done on the same day as the art piece I wrote about in Unity. It was for my daughter who loves me to tell her creative stories. Recently, I have been asking her to come up with three items she wants in the story, which makes it a bit easier for me to write them. Maybe in a follow-up post I will provide some context. But, for now, I will let the story stand for itself.


In the hospital the other day, I had an experience in a group that was quite special. Actually, during this hospitalization, I have had several good group experiences. This one stood out, however.

There were five of us patients who showed up for the weekly "Expressive Writing" group, plus two group leaders. The directive was:

"Think of someone you look up to, real or imaginary, who has taught you something you can use (or do use) in your healing. Describe either the characteristics of the person, what they told you, or how you have been helped. Use expressive writing by telling a story, writing a poem, or anything that makes sense to you."

I wanted to focus this on a motivating statement which has helped me heal. At first, I wanted to write about what Karl Paulnack said about music and heart healing. Then I thought about some quotes by famous people.

But I settled on something that is intensely personal. I think the most helpful, validating, and motivating statement anyone has said to me, has come from my therapist, who from here on in I will call "My Healing Guide." Over a year ago, she said to me in an e-mail:

Having a sense of your kindness and compassion is one of the reasons I enjoy working with you, and it is that compassion that helps you heal. I appreciate that... And I appreciate your honesty. It's our work.

I never really reflected on these words at the time, but I saved them. About a month ago, I revisited the e-mails we shared. These words, in particular, have helped me enormously. They have given me strength to continue on this journey; one that often feels too long and too hard.

I have heard similar words from others involved in my healing, most of them verbal (which get a bit lost). All have been helpful and motivating, though none have ever been said so perfectly. There are also many statements from my family and friends that have helped me too. But, a therapy relationship is unique in that it is focused specifically on healing. And, as such, these words have special meaning to me.

I was prepared to read my statement out loud, but there was a second part to the group exercise. That consisted of each of us picking out one or two words or phrases from our writings and putting them on different colored heavyweight paper using magic markers.

We then placed them on the floor and we read our own. We then were asked, as a group, to arrange them in a line in any way that made sense. The group debated some of the ordering and we went back and forth a few times. We then taped them up on a board, in the order agreed upon, and read them out loud together as a group.

The list was:

Falls aren't important, getting up is
You'll do a better job next time
Try and try again

The only word that appeared twice—came from two different people in our group—was strength. We felt it was important to use that word to bookend the list; strength was felt to be necessary for all of the in between words and phrases to exist.


Visual Words

| By Paul | | Comments (18)

I first learned about Wordle from a post last month by fragmentz. The other day Castorgirl made the post "Lost for Words". They both got me motivated!

I am a firm believer that diversified means of expression are necessary for healing, especially for those of us who struggle with dissociative problems. But, one could easily argue that this is important for any person to live a healthy life! Being able to express ourselves in different ways helps us be more flexible, encourages creativity, and just plain makes us more interesting people.

The connection to dissociative problems is particularly important. Through dissociation, we become accustomed to having walled off aspects of ourselves handle very specific areas of life in mostly extremely rigid ways. If you look at such a person as a whole, one would most likely see all the variety that person possesses, and rigidity would probably not be the word that would come to mind to describe the whole person. Instead, the most common phrase I hear is "remarkably adaptive". That's little comfort most times to the person who routinely dissociates. The experience for someone who routinely dissociates in more extreme ways is usually one of fragmentation, lost time, and discontinuity.

The prognosis for dissociative disorders is good, I think, because we already have within us the necessary components to live interesting and creative lives most everyone strives for. I am not meaning to trivialize the process of healing or the struggles we face, but healing really is within our grasp and the destination is, I think, a wonderful place to end up and the journey itself isn't that bad either.

Art therapy, some aspects of my photography, piano, writing, and poetry have been very helpful in my healing. They have all provided ways to bridge what I know intellectually in my brain with what I feel in my heart. In many ways, through these means, I've been able to create a sort of glue that holds all the pieces of me together.

Wordle is very easy to use. In the simplest way, you can just enter a list of words in a form, and it will create a visual representation for you. More advanced uses allow the ability to weight the sizes of particular words and assign colors. From there, you can use the menus to decide how you want the software to lay out the words. You don't have strict control over word placement. But you can fiddle with the settings and create as many variations as you want.

I suggest to make screen captures as you go along because the software doesn't have a history function. Further I suggest you keep your list of words (and size and color tags if you use them) in a text editor. Then if you want to change anything, just change it in the text editor and paste that into the form.

What does what I created mean? The short answer is that these are the words taken from my "Contract" that have particular meaning to me. I weighted "Balance" the most, and that and "truth" are the only words in white. The pink words are kind of in the same class as balance. Grounding words are green. Nouns are in blue. Action oriented things I have to do to heal are in red. "God" is in purple.

To create your own, head on over to: Wordle.

For something similar, yet different, check out Tagul. It gives more control than Wordle, but many of the things it does you can do in a text editor with a little script control. But it's worth checking out.

Finally, if you are interested in words, see Visuwords, an online graphical dictionary and thesaurus.

If you click on the image above, you will see a higher resolution image.


Monty Hall

| By Paul | | Comments (8)

Perhaps the most famous puzzle in probability
      is the Monty Hall problem.
It's based on the old game show called
      "Let's Make a Deal".

You are given the choice of three doors.
Behind one door is a big prize.
Behind the other doors are goats.

You choose a door.
The door stays closed.
Monty Hall, the game show host,
      knows what's behind all of the doors.
He opens one of the two remaining doors,
      always showing you a goat.

Then he asks:
Do you want to stick with your first choice
      or switch to the last remaining door?

What do you do?
Most people think that your odds of winning are
      always one-third no matter what you do.
But this is not true.

Probability theory shows that if you switch,
      your odds of winning actually double.
Instead of your odds being one-third if you stay,
      they are two-thirds if you switch.

Dissociation is a lot like this problem,
      except the rules of probability don't apply.


The Red Drumstick

| By Paul |

I go to therapy a couple times a week. There are a lot of objects and tools I can touch and use to make me feel safe. But the one that I treasure most is the red drumstick sitting on the table in the corner. I almost always grab it whenever I feel uncomfortable or unsafe or just need some extra support.

It may seem unimportant to an outside observer, but the drumstick has strength and direction and helps me find my voice.

And it's red. The red in the stick contains my anger. It makes everything safe.

Today I found out that when brought together with its twin brother, they can create some peaceful rhythms.

I could have said my piano, my brain, my computers, my house, or my money were the things I treasure. But the red drumstick allows all those other things to exist.

If you've read any of the posts here, you know that I advocate multiple approaches to healing from trauma. Expressive writing is one such approach. This was written at an inpatient group in about 10 minutes. The directive was to "write about an object you treasure." Earlier that morning, my therapist brought the sticks, along with other rhythm instruments, to a group where we explored rhythm and sound. I found that group to be healing and I was thankful she brought the sticks.

Such writing does not need to occur in a hospital. You can do these directives and explore multiple approaches in therapy or on your own. The goal is to find what works for you.