Burning the Past

“I should burn all my old journals.”

I only wish I could backtrack and remember what thoughts led to this one. The thought swelled so large and overtook my brain that all other thoughts were totally swallowed up and forgotten. Perhaps it was one of those rare moments of divine interruption, when the guidance you perpetually beg of heaven actually arrives.

For two days prior, I had been getting sucked deeper and deeper into a hellish internal vortex that threatened to break me. I’d been struggling with increasing anxiety and depression for a month. When the thought of burning my journals randomly plopped into my consciousness, it was as though my whole being rose up in delighted agreement. In the midst of my black free fall into nothingness, the idea of burning my journals offered some feeling of control over my completely out-of-control life. Without even doing the deed, just considering the possibility of setting my past on literal fire rose my body and spirit from the dead and I regained my sanity that had been slipping for weeks. It was as if a switch had been flipped and suddenly I was fine (for a day, at least).

Until that moment, I had never once contemplated destroying any of my journals. My journals are just about the only physical objects I truly value, the only irreplaceable possessions I own. In fact, I frequently worry about our house burning down and trying to figure out how to rescue my journals from the flames (I’ve even gone so far as to contemplate scanning everything I’ve written and storing it online). The very thing I feared of my journals is now the thing I want to do- burn them.

My journals have represented me more than anything else I own, or at least that’s what I’ve believed. Since I was a child, I have poured my bleeding heart and random absurd thoughts out onto the hungry pages of various notebooks, and at times Word documents. Writing has been my one trusty outlet. There were times when I considered my journals my only friends. The blank pages called out for my words when the rest of the world didn’t give a shit. When my own friends and family didn’t have the time or patience or grace to truly listen to me and my deep well of feelings and internal experiences, my journals invited me to bare my soul, to be the mirror I desperately sought for in others. I didn’t quite know what I really thought or felt unless I wrote it down.

My bedside nightstand is a short bookshelf that houses my lifetime of journals and writings. For years it has been a source of reassurance and comfort to have them so close to me (especially when my fragile ill self is in bed so much), as if all those versions and ages of me are right here. It’s a weird sense of wholeness I suppose.

The problem is that I am no longer those girls and women. They should be my friends, but much of the time they feel like burdens of which I’ll never be free. Their fears and heartbreak and criticisms and suffocating beliefs surround me still, like a dirty atmosphere I keep breathing in and out. It’s all right there, written down on thousands of pages, a record of my own agony and internal struggle. I used to think I needed to remember it all- not just the good, but all the bad horrible and incredibly embarrassing chapters of my life. I cannot turn my back on those pages, for they reveal some part of me, don’t they? If I search for wholeness, then I should embrace these agonizing chapters, right? If I reject those physical testaments of my own life experience, am I not rejecting my own self???

The ultimate question has always been, Who am I? How do I find my truest Self? How do I define my truest Self? What does the real Gracie look and sound like?

Over and over and over again, I answer in bewilderment: I don’t know.

I don’t know.

Because I have no idea of how to live in the present and how to navigate the future, I keep going back into my past, back to my journals. I think somehow I can figure out who I really am and how I ended up such a pathetic mess by scouring the pages of yesteryear, that I might find some key (or plural keys) to unlock the confusing trauma of my existence. And truly, there have been times in the past when I cracked into existential truths that I happened to read years later at just the time I needed them. And then sometimes those very words which brought comfort and strength in trying times later felt like grating platitudes when my life felt beyond trying and just totally hopeless.

I’m tired. I’m so damn tired of it all.

I was laying in bed, lost within my own internal dark nothingness, when I was suddenly inspired to burn my old journals. I had recently brushed up on KonMari’s tidying method (discard everything which doesn’t spark joy) and had also recently watched a short video in a free 10 day course I randomly signed up for on “letting go.” There was certainly groundwork being laid, but the actual specific idea of burning my journals felt quite out of nowhere.

A similar question to “who am I?” is “who do I want to be?” Perhaps the two questions are really one in the same. I know I don’t want to be someone who lives in the past. I don’t want to be someone enslaved to my own works, no matter how inspiring they may be. I don’t want to cling to past versions of myself that would condemn to hell the person I have now become. I don’t want to worship the pain and wounds my child self endured, I don’t want to hang on to old dreams that will never come true and miss the new dream my life could become.

I want to be free. I want to be myself, in the present moment, at one with the movement of love within and around me, looking upon life with joyful acceptance. I want to feel what I feel without shame, to express my feelings and thoughts without disclaimers, to rest comfortably in my own skin. I want to feel safe in my own body, confident in my own mind, and not question every damn little thing and lose faith in reality, to lose faith in love and joy.

And the relevant question right now is this: does hanging on to my old journals support me in the life I want to live? Or does it keep me tied to the past and my own sense of victimhood?

The fact that I responded so positively to the idea of burning my journals should offer a clue as to the answer to those questions. The thought of letting go felt empowering and joyful.

There is a hope that if I can sort through my old words, keeping the good and discarding the worthless, that perhaps it can trigger a healing in my own psyche. Perhaps the deeply damaging subconscious beliefs I’ve been burdened with can lose a bit of their grip on my mind as their physical manifestations on paper go up in flames.

I began the process of releasing my oldest journals. I copied the pages where I wrote with sincerity, where I can see my genuine Self trying to come through, even if it was painful. I saved the honest parts and discarded the rest, pages full of arrogance and total bullshit. I rabidly tore out pages dripping with shame and pathetic attempts at unnecessary justification for feelings that should have been lovingly accepted as completely normal. And as I threw each discarded journal and pile of pages in the burn box, I thanked them for serving me when I needed them, for being true friends when I had none.

I am ready to move on. I must. The gap between who I was and who I am becoming is growing wider and wider and I can no longer hold myself together. If healing requires that I sacrifice what was once most sacred to me, then I’ll gladly do so. I’ll burn these old pages as an offering upon the altar to my truest and highest Self who yearns to live through me.

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