When you were little, were you afraid of the dark?
I have a confession to make: I still am.
My fear of the dark proved to be a serious problem in college. Photojournalism students tend to spend a lot of time with the lights out. (Insert inappropriate joke here.) I spent the majority of my day in the color photo darkroom, which lacks even a red safety light.
Why is the dark so scary? Because we can’t see what’s there. And fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all.
Imagine you’re lying in bed, deep asleep. You’re awakened by a loud bump in the night. You sit up, heart pounding, face flushed. You think you see a shadow across the room but you’re not sure. It might be a big guy with a bat. Your fists clench as adrenaline floods your veins. Your hearing becomes acutely tuned to the sound of movement in the hallway.
This dramatic fight-or-flight response can be neutralized with a simple flick of the switch.
Lights on! No big guy with a bat. Just your tabby, doing midnight laps of the house again.
When it comes to mental fear and imagined danger, journaling is that light switch. It can instantly quiet our night terrors by casting a wide, bright light onto our path. The power of journal writing lies in its illumination.
Is that a skeleton in your closet?
We’ve all got skeletons in our closet. Those horrific mistakes, terrible decisions, crippling losses. Over time, those skeletons stack up. Like an overstuffed wardrobe, we shove the contents aside long enough to slam the door shut.
We forget what’s in that closet. It’s dark, we can’t see. So the fear grows. Whatever it is, we’re afraid it’s going to get out.
Journaling opens that door, turns on the closet light, and neutralizes the fear by allowing us to examine those skeletons on our own terms. We can look directly at them, pick them apart.
When we write about our skeletons, they become less scary and more familiar. We put funny hats on them. We get comfortable with those old bones.
Illuminating with journaling
Here some of the ways journaling helps us eliminate fear by managing the skeletons in the closet and the monsters under the bed:
De-scare-ify the past
Revisiting an old haunt won’t seem nearly as scary with a torch in your hand. When we journal about the past, we shine a massive flashlight in dark corners.
We have the benefit of both hindsight and illumination.
Take back the power
I’ve found that acknowledging my own baggage enables me to walk more confidently through the world. Nobody has ammunition to use against me. There’s nothing in that closet I haven’t already admitted, processed, and come to terms with in my journal.
“Skeletons? Yup – those are mine. Put them there myself. Any other questions?”
Mind you, I’d be screwed if I decided to run for office. But journaling has helped me make peace with past disasters. It’s allowed me to lay bad choices to rest.
My skeletons are still there, but it’s hard to take them seriously when they’re wearing party hats and feather boas.
Call the shots
Actively addressing your own issues, past and present, puts you in the driver’s seat. You can do it on your terms, on your time schedule. And there’s something less scary about deciding to face an issue, rather than having it thrust upon you.
When we choose something, it’s easier to endure. Think about the difference between patients in an emergency room and clients in a tattoo parlor. Same needle, same pain. Very different experience.
As a sidebar, if you’ve got some weighty topics to dive into, you might find it helpful to work with a professional therapist. Some issues are too big for us to tackle alone.
Learn from the past
Once you’ve looked at your skeletons and written about them, you realize mistakes have little control over you.
When I can see that I’ve survived a poorly-timed leap that ended in a splat, I won’t hesitate long to take that jump again when it’s indicated.
You’ll also realize you’ve learned from those dreaded mistakes. Even past disasters have helped shape you into the person you are today. You are wise. And knowing that you can learn from your mistakes enables you to act more boldly in the present tense.
Quiet down those skeletons
Lately, my skeletons sleep soundly at night. Which is good, because there’s quite a few of them packed in that tiny closet.
They don’t rattle their chains or demand attention. I’ve looked at each one, turned it over in my hands. I know it by name. I’ve actively dealt with these issues. So I can concentrate on more important things in my current world.
Facing our demons on the page makes them less threatening. It de-fangs the monster under the bed. It puts some party clothes on those skeletons.
Sometimes we can even invite them to dance.