My Story

I was raised in a distorted form of Christianity. As I became older I left that and spent many years in one branch of Christianity or another. I went to countless church services and many Bible studies. I had many Bible verses memorized and I thought of myself as a "strong Christian". I was very judgmental in my mind of "fallen" people. I spent many years searching, but now knowing that I was searching, and not knowing for what. In the midst of this I wasn't living a meaningful or Godly life.

 For many years I've listened to what others believed, and never came to any real deep convictions about what I personally thought or believed. In fact, I was trapped in the land of "What will other people think" for much of my life. That kept me trom reaching outside of the "norm" and also kept me from thinking deeply about anything or saying anything about what was inside me. I was too concerned about being accepted. And yet, even with that, I never felt accepted. for much of my life I've felt like an outsider, never really fitting in, wanting to be accepted, but never feeling accepted.

 As the years went by I made some wrong choices and went through some intense trials. I brought some very strong and long-lasting consequences upon my family and myself. I went through a period of deep darkness where everything seemed to be going wrong. (It was much later that I realized that God was setting my life in order.) I took up journaling just to survive. God taught me so much through my own writings .As a result of my bad choices I was convicted and went through twelve years of probation and "secular" individual and group counseling. I had to spend time with and learn about the "fallen people" that I had once judged. I learned that I was one of them. During this time I also did much deep questioning of my "Christian" beliefs and many of my beliefs crumbled and dissolved. This was where God became real to me for the first time in my life. He showed his care for me and that I was one of his sons whom he loved deeply.

 During those many years of trials I had to rethink much of what I thought that I believed. I have done a lot of deep soul searching, thinking, writing, wrestling with difficult concepts, researching, looking up word meanings, etc. I'm tired of just hearing what others think or believe. It takes a lot of effort and deep inner work to really struggle out what one truly thinks or believes about the important things of life. I've ignored it or put it asside for much of my life. I'm glad, and extremely blessed, to finally be on the journey. In one sense I don't care any more what religious people think or believe. I just want to know what is real and true. I want to have an answer when people question me about the deep things of life, even if the answer is simply, "I don't know."


I was raised in a what was called a "Christian" home where my parents taught us about the Bible at home. My dad had a falling out with the preacher and left the church when my brother, sister, and I were very young children. We had "Bible Study" and "church" at home most for most of my childhood. At the same time our parents abused us for many years. There was this "secret" in our home, which distorted so many areas of my life. Yet, I was blind to the distortions in my thinking and in my character.

 I had an unhealthy view of the Bible. It was an idol for much of my earlier life. I had heard people say that, "the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, and it is the supreme and final authority for all matters of faith and life." I believed that the Bible was written by men who were filled with the Spirit and (if I had thought that far) I also believed that the spirit wrote every word. I envisioned in my mind the the Spirit took control of the men's bodies, as if they were in a trance, and the Spirit used the bodies of the men to write the words of the Bible. I also believed that "all of the Bible applies to us today." I believed that the apostles lived a much higher type of live that the rest of us humans could never achieve. As a child and as an young adult I never thought out or reasoned out anything about the Bible. I just accepted what I was taught by my parents and by the church. I considered myself a "Strong" Christian. I listed to "Christian" radio for many years.

 However, my "faith" was all head knowledge that I had picked up from what I was taught. The teachings about living a godly and righteous life never made it into the life I was living. I was very judgmental of the "fallen" people that I came across. I did not say anything, but I judged them in my mind. I believed that I was one of the "good people". At the same time I was living a perverted life, but I didn't judge myself for what I did. If I did something, it as OK, but if someone else did the same thing, "they" were bad people. I was very proud and very uncaring of other people. I desperately wanted to be accepted by other for who I was. Yet I was afraid to show anyone who I was. I was never real with myself or with anyone else. God wasn't real to me. I thought of him as this being, or old man, who lived "way out there" somewhere. I didn't see God as being involved in my daily life.

 For many years I had went to home Bible studies of one church or another. I thought of them being more real than church settings. Yet, even in them, I was never real with anyone. I was afraid of saying anything that anyone would disagree with. I was afraid that if someone knew who I really was that I would be rejected.

 Well, the years passed, I finally got married much later than most people and started raising a family. I committed a dreadful sin. A couple years later I confessed to it, thinking that I would be forgiven and then everything would be OK. Instead the police and authorities came into my life and the lives of my family. My whole family was blown apart. The authorities separated me from my family for two years. During this time I started into Christian counseling. I went through some months of extreme darkness of depression. I started journaling just to survive. "Why is this happening to me? I'm one of the good guys." is part of what I wrote. I also wrote out all of my anger at the authorities and what others were doing to ME. I also discovered I was angry at God. I remember waking up in a rage. In the middle of the night I yelled out my anger at God. At this point something began to change in me. I had never thought of God being involved in my life. And yet I was realizing that God was deeply involved in my life, and I was angry about what he was doing. And yet, through this realization, for the first time in my life, that God really cared about ME. In fact, as time went on, God began to show me that I was (one of) his son, and that he loved me greatly. I began to have a joy that I had never had in all of my life. I was LOVED, by my Father, God himself!

 At the end of two years I thought I was finished with counseling. I thought I was OK. What I didn't realize at the time was I was so immature and self-centered. I needed that time of counseling to begin growing up to prepare me for what was yet to come.

 After two years we were finally allowed to move back together, and I thought everything was over. But it was just about to begin. I was convicted and sentenced to ten years of probation and ten years of treatment/counseling. I had to submit to a full disclosure polygraph where I had to disclose everything I had ever done that was wrong. It was through this process that God showed me who I truly was, a sinner. As I was taking my 32 pages of history to my counselor's office I was so afraid that the authorities would throw me in prison and throw away the key. After I arrived at his office and gave him the papers I sat there trembliing as I watched him read my story. After he had finished he said something like, "we already know all of this...." He had a genuine warmth and acceptance of me that I had never experience before. He did not approve of the bad things that I had one, it was very evident to me that he accept me. He also approved of my honesty in what I had written. For the first time in my life someone knew the worst things that I had done and still accepted me. That was such a healing balm to my soul. To be known and still be accepted. My counselor was like Christ to me. Over the following ten years my counselor became like a second father to me, a father who reparented me and taught me how to live a responsible compassionate life.

 Part of my treatment included my memorizing about 35 "Criminal Thinking Errors" (i.e. making excuses, Justifying, lying, etc.) including the descriptions. Then I had to take the seven thinking errors that most applied to my life and write out complete descriptions of how I had used those thinking errors to commit my crime and to offend others.

 After about a year of counseling my counselor thought I was ready for group that consisted of other offenders in my situation. As I entered the group meeting I found it was time for introductions. Starting with the person who had been longest in treatment, each person told of his crime with very clear, specific, and detailed descriptions. After telling exactly what he had done, he also told of his conviction, and where he was in treatment. By the time each man had similarly told his story, when it became my turn, I knew what was expected of me. So I also to my complete story. In this group there was to be no covering up and no hypocrisy. In each meeting that followed we each were to tell anything that may have happened since last meeting that might be of concern.

 In addition to that, I had to think of everyone I had offended and write out in detail a complete account of how I had hurt each person, why I had offended, what I was doing to correct my thinking and behavior, etc.

 From this, and what I had been taught earlier, I learned what "confession" was all about. It was NOT simply saying "I have sinned", but rather it is telling complete, thorough, and accurate accounting of the offense and the events and conditions that had led up to the offense. The purpose of confession is not to condemn the offender, but is part of a process of him learning how to control himself and stop the offending behavior.

 Following that first polygraph I had to take a polygraph every six months, for a total of about 25 to 27 polygraphs over the following ten years of probation. I was under the supervision of my probation officer and my counselor.

 Taking the polygraphs was God's method of teaching me that he is TRUTH, and that he wanted me to always tell the TRUTH. After passing the first and second polygraphs I failed the next three, barely passed one, and then failed the following three polygraphs. I didn't know why I was failing the polygraphs. I was extremely careful in everything that I did. For example, I kept under the speed limit at all times. I stayed away from any place that might cause me to sin. I was careful to follow all the restrictions that I was under.

 Still I kept failing the polygraphs and I didn't know why. The polygrapher was a tall ex-policeman. I felt so intimidated. He told me nothing about how the polygraph worked. I tried my best each time to do everything he asked, to answer every question truthfully to the best of my ability. I thought it might something about my breathing or something else. So, during the polygraph, I tried to keep my breathing even and consistent. In order to not change my breathing pattern I would try to wait to answer the question until I was breathing out until I answered the questions. Then the polygraphed chided me for not answering immediately. No matter what I did or what I tried almost every time I kept failing polygraphs. There seemed to be nothing that I could do to pass the polygraph. From the beginning of my taking polygraphs with him, each time the polygraph was over, he would ask, "How do you think you did?" After the first polygraphs I said I thought I had done fine. But in later polygraphs I hated each time he asked that question.

 Although I think that my counselor thought I was telling the truth, he was getting concerned. Then, when I was sure that the authorities were about to send me to jail, they had a conference with me. They suggested that I try another polygrapher. The new polygrapher was like a breath of fresh air. After filling out her information forms I told her of my experience with the past polygrapher and my fear. She explained the polygraphy process to me. She let me answer the question by a slight nod of my head (so I wouldn't have to change my breathing pattern to answer the questions.) Although she still held me to a high standard, and didn't approve of any wrong behavior, she did a lot to quiet my fears of the polygraphy process. Beginning then and in the following years I passed every polygraph I took with her.

 God used the polygraphy process to teach me the difference between law and grace. With the first polygrapher, who represented the Law, there was nothing I could do to measure up. Nothing that I did was good enough. The second polygrapher represented God's grace to me. She held me to the standard of living a responsible life, yet she was compassionate and explained what I needed to know.

 I had been taught and studied the bible for most of my life, and had went to church for many many years, I had considered myself a strong Christian for most of my earlier life. However it wasn't until I went was arrested, convicted and went through the courts, judges, PO's treatment that God became real to me. This has been the most intensely painful experience in my life, and it also has been the best time in my life. I never want to go through anything like this again, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

The Write Frame of Mind

This is an essay that I wrote about the value and importance of journaling. But it also tells about a period in my life when I was experiencing the consequences of my behavior, and the whole world around me seemed to be falling apart.

The heavy blackness lay upon me. The stark reality of the situation pressed down on me like a wrestler solidly pinning his opponent to the mat. They were gone! They had been taken away. I sat upright in the disheveled bed in a dazed stupor. Everything that meant anything to me had been stripped away. What was left to live for? How could I go on?

Sitting alone in the large, empty house, I thought back over the dismal events of the previous few days. I had confessed my hideous sin to my wife and had asked for her forgiveness. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I had not been prepared for what followed.

The police had come with the determined caseworker to interview us. I was totally open as I answered all their questions, almost as though I was in a trance. Then they drove away, taking my daughter with them. I was left alone. In the days that followed, it seemed like so many people were stepping back from me. My wife, was being forced to live somewhere else. My secure world, as I knew it, had ended; it had just been swept away right in front of my eyes. My life had forever changed. I couldn't do anything about it. I had lost everyone that I loved. What would I do? Feeling weak and drained, I struggled just to get through each day. The bleak darkness of the long dreary nights pressed heavily upon me. I needed help.

Although I don’t know why I started, I began journaling to cope with what had happened, and what was yet to transpire. When I first started writing, I only wrote a few words or sentences each time, which amounted to a few paragraphs per day. I somehow gave myself an unspoken directive -- when I write in the journal, don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, or even if I have complete sentences. Whenever I only had a piece of a thought and couldn’t think of the rest of the words, I’d just use dots “….”, which would remind me to add more words later. This turned out to be such a good decision, because it allowed me to gradually open the floodgates and let the deluge pour out.

Sunday, August 7, 1994. Yesterday was the worst time of all. I was so ..... emotionally affected that I had a very difficult time functioning to do even simple things like fixing something to eat. I was on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Many times I broke down in uncontrollable ......tears and distress to the point that I couldn't think..... There were times that I was feeling ok, but during those times I felt guilty that I didn't feel bad. I felt that if I was really sorry for what I had done the I would be feeling miserable and be in tears.”

This also began a long painful journey where extensive periods of deep blackness swallowed me up. I turned to my journal, just to cope, to try to make some sense of what I was going through. I wondered if I would be able to stand up to the test.

The question that keeps coming back to me over and over is, "Am I willing to lose everything that I have in order to become clean and follow God. This has been scaring the living daylights out of me.

A few more days passed, and I had been unable to sleep for almost a week.

August 11, 1994. Last night was the first night since the kids were taken that I was able to sleep through most of the night, (about 6 1/2 hours). It has been 1 week today since the children were taken into the custody of CSD. Our lives have been turned upside down, my family has been separated. I've only been able to work a total of perhaps 1 or 2 days in the last 2 weeks because of my emotional distress and the mountain of details involved with ....

In the weeks that followed, as I found a counselor to help me through all of this, my journal became like a close friend in my counseling process. When all others seemed to be turning away from me, it listened intently to me, waited expectantly, without judging or condemning. Opening its arms, it warmly embraced me as it tenderly applied a healing ointment to my deepest wounds. As I wrestled with all that was happening to me, I wrote much of it in my journal. Sometimes I wrote in a notebook, but mostly I just typed into my computer, which I left on day and night. Then, as emotional, traumatic, or insightful thoughts would come to me, I would try to capture as many of them as I could. Months passed as I struggled to make sense of it all, through my journal I cried out from my very innermost being.

Although learning to put my deepest thoughts and emotions into a written form has been very beneficial in my life, its healing affects has not been  to me alone. Many hurting people have experienced the therapeutic properties of struggling to put their thoughts into a written form. In one case John Mulligan, a Vietnam veteran, returned home to San Francisco after his tour of duty. Suffering with flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder he spent the next 10-12 years of his life as a “shopping cart soldier,” (9)(13) a homeless drunken bum, sleeping in the bushes or in doorways. One day he was taken to the hospital, where he remained for three days in a coma. His life had hit bottom and finally decided to make some changes in his life. During this time, he took a veterans’ writing and meditation workshop(8). He wrote about a horrific scene from the war, complete with all the blood, the noise, and the sense of loss. When he left the work shop he “was so elated he was ‘whistling and skipping.’”

In the following years he found the benefits of “facing his demons.” As he continued to put the horrific events of his past into words, his mind became clearer and he felt better.

“Mulligan has often described the very act of writing ‘Shopping Cart Soldiers’ as a cathartic and healing experience which helped him to get off the streets, and off alcohol. ”(9b) Somehow, being able to write about the trauma that he had experienced had set him free from the dreadful prison of his past memories. As Mulligan discovered, writing can have powerful therapeutic affects in one’s life.

While thoughtful writing, often called journaling, is beneficial for those who struggle with traumatic events in their past, it also has other uses and benefits. In the article, “Journaling as Therapy,” Jayne Ash, an artist, sculptor and writer, says, “Journaling helps me clear my mind and become conscious of what is going on inside. I have found that usually the first feeling I have is not the root cause of anything. There is always something underneath it and journaling helps me to get to what that is.” (2)

I have found the same thing true in my own life. Whenever I’m struggling with some type of problem or issue in my life, I start writing about the most troublesome or persistent thoughts. Then, once they’re out of the way, a whole new and deeper level thinking or solutions often appear.

Many therapists have learned the powerful affects of this type of writing. Some have included journaling as an indispensable part of the healing process.

Laurie Nadel, Ph.D. psychotherapist, regularly suggests to her clients that they keep a journal themselves For people who are depressed, in a crisis, or feel "stuck," journal- keeping is a way to gain insight into their thoughts and feelings, says Nadel. "Journaling allows you to dialogue with parts of your psyche that are frozen in time. It allows you to tap into deeper reserves of creativity and problem solving. By keeping a journal, you can get a flash of knowing and awareness that you haven't seen before." (11).

One famous psychotherapist has found journaling so beneficial that he has focused much of his practice, and his success, upon getting the patients more deeply involved in their own therapy in this manner.

Dr. Ira Progoff, a renowned psychotherapist, began pondering the value of such behavior [pouring out one’s heart and soul to a diary] in relation to his field. In his practice, Dr. Progoff encouraged several patients to use journals. He called these journals “psychological workbooks” and asked that the subjects record anything that came to mind, including emotions, anxieties, thoughts, and fears. The doctor soon realized that they were able to work through their particular feelings or situation much more quickly and easily, and he became convinced of journaling’s value as a powerful therapeutic tool. With his development of the Intensive Journal Method in the mid 1960’s and 70’s, the “father of modern journaling” established the journal as a valid therapy. (7)

Michael Rank, Ph.D., associate professor and co-director of the International Traumatology Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa says that journaling is simple to do and it forces people to do something. (11) He states that some people resist it because it is a lot of hard work, especially if they are depressed. It’s painful write about bad feelings. However, for those who work through their resistance and do it in earnest, they will improve. “What journaling provides is a way of turning subjective thoughts to objective words on paper that can be analyzed, changed, even destroyed, says Rank. ‘Once your thoughts are externalized ... once they're out of your head and onto paper, there's no longer a mystique attached to them.’” He also says that keeping a journal forces people to be honest. While he didn’t specifically say it, I think that we can safely assume that being honest with oneself is an important part of the recovery path.

Research is also beginning to show the beneficial and valuable affects of jotting down one’s thoughts. James W. Pennebaker, M.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, began journaling during a stressful time in his own marriage and found journaling to be a great help. (1) He wrote, "There are dozens of features to a relationship, journaling helps to slow things down and put them in perspective." Journaling helped him understand what he wanted and what he valued, and the marriage survived. Seeing the great benefits in his own life, he went on to conduct studies that showed that participants who journaled about the most traumatic experiences in their lives stayed healthier than those who journaled about shallow events.

Dozens of studies have found that most people, from grade-schoolers to nursing-home residents, med students to prisoners, feel happier and healthier after writing about deeply traumatic memories, says James Pennebaker, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas and leader or co-leader of many of the studies. (8)

In another example, a team of clinical psychologists and immunologists performed tests (5) that showed improved wellbeing from subjects who wrote thoughtfully and emotionally about traumatic experiences in there lives.

Our choice of words seems to make a difference in our health. The journaling that’s best for us seems to be where we give some deep, meaningful, thought to the traumatic events we are going through or have been through, and how we are really thinking and feeling. “The physical act of writing triggers brain processes that lead you to make new connections among ideas.”(12-pg 2) “Writing forces you to clarify your thinking as you use words to convey your thoughts, and a journal instills the habit of close observation and discovery.” (12-pg 28) I have personally encountered many times where answers to tough problems, which I hadn't seen before, have come to me while I was writing in my journal. Journaling has helped me to keep focused on what is really happening, and why, and has greatly helped me to make sense of all the trying times.

I’ve kept a journal for the last seven years. It has helped me tremendously in my counseling. I’ve had to be brutally honest with myself and to see myself as I am. As I look back and read my journal from those periods, I still get misty-eyed. I have written hundreds, if not thousands, of pages in my journal. This has been terrible and it has been wonderful. It has been a journey of self-discovery. I’ve had to look deeply within myself, and to see some things about myself that I really didn’t like, and didn’t want to see. Nevertheless, I had to look, and I had to admit that about myself. Then I had to work on changing those things about myself. I’ve had to do a lot of inner work, and my faithful journal has lent his compassionate ear to hear my every word. Many changes have been happening in my life, much of it recorded in, and even helped by, my journal. This has been such an invaluable time, as it allowed me to express my anger, pain, confusion, discouragement, and frustration. I have also written much about my joy of learning new things. I've expressed my thankfulness for God’s work in my life, for the new friends, and for what He has done with my family.

Since that time when my family was swept away from me, I’ve had to deal with many heavy consequences of my previous actions. I've had to learn to accept the many requirements and restrictions that have been placed upon me. For lack of knowing what else to do, I have just done what I was required to do. My journaling has really helped me to keep focused on this often arduous journey. Along the path, my wife and my daughter have been restored to me, and now we have a 3-year-old son.

“Honey,” calls my wife from the kitchen. “Could you come spend some time with the children? The kids need to spend some time with their daddy.”

I sit back and pause for a moment. As I stretch, I think to myself, “Yes, this has been a difficult journey, but its all been worth it. Keeping in the “write” frame of mind, keeping focused and following the rules have helped me to become a better daddy and a better husband. I wouldn’t trade what I have for the world.”

Shutting down my journal, I get up from the computer and go into the kitchen. My daughter and son are excitedly waiting at the kitchen table to play a game. As they spot me, their gleeful eyes twinkle with enthusiasm.

“Daddy! Daddy!” They both cry out in unison. “Can you play now?”

As I pull up a chair, I smile warmly and think to myself, “Well, I guess I’ll finish my journaling later tonight before I go to bed.”

What about you? Are you in the write frame of mind? Could you benefit from journaling? The research seems to indicate the positive benefits associated with journaling. It is easy to begin. All you need is a pencil, a notebook, and a desire to begin the journey of self-discovery. Do you have any thoughts about what you just read? Why not write them now as the beginning (or continuation) of your own journal?


1. How Journaling Keeps you Healthy,

2. “Journaling as Therapy” by Wendy Burt

3. Strange but True: Improve your Health Through Journaling,

4. Brief Writing Exercises Can Reduce Symptoms In Patients With Chronic Illness

5. Effects of Writing About Stressful Experiences on Symptom Reduction in Patients With Asthma or Rheumatoid Arthritis (A Randomized Trial)

6. Writing tonic for chronic complaints, BBC News, Online Network, Wednesday, April 14, 1999

7. A History of Journal Therapy - University of Pennsylvania – School of Arts and Sciences

8. Writing for therapy helps erase effects of trauma By Chris Woolston March 16, 2000

9. John Mulligan’s book, “Shopping Cart Soldiers” and

9b. Writers Online, volume 3, No.1 Fall 1998

This gives more of an in depth story of his book and of John Mulligan’s life

10. Disclosure of traumas and immune function: Health implications for psychotherapy.
Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology. 1988 Apr Vol 56(2) 239-245

11. Writing Your Way Out of Depression - Keeping a journal can help you cope. By Carol Sorgen

12. Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers, Lynn Quitman Troyka, pages 2, 28

13. “Choose from three excellent, healing works on Vietnam” August 24, 1997

Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@