Personal Development

The Therapeutic Value of Writing a Memoir

standing on my brother's shoulder

by Tara J Lal

Ever since my beloved brother’s death by suicide I had held onto his diaries, avidly protecting them, always maintaining some undefined hope that I would one day ‘do something’ with them. I didn’t know it would take over twenty years, or that what began as an ode to my brother would morph into an unparalleled journey of healing for me.
I began transcribing my brother’s diaries back in 2008, immersing myself in his beautifully emotive writing. Then I fell into a whirlwind relationship that saw me lost in a vortex of lust and attraction.

When the relationship ended suddenly, I found myself submerged in a deeply confusing torment. I could not differentiate the grief of the loss of my relationship from the grief associated with all the other losses in my life.

I began to write, and the vomit of words from within began. The expulsions came at random inopportune times, most often via pen to paper. The words that came weren’t thought or filtered but rather born of an inherent need to purge myself. I wrote, at that time, only for myself, as if no one else were ever going to read it.

Then one night, I awoke and without warning my book unfolded in my head, the shape of it, the form and the title. It would be for me and for my brother – it would be our story. I scribbled away in the notebook I had by my bed as if I were a woman possessed.

What had started as an expression of my confused emotions and, in many ways, a repressed grief turned subtly into what I can only reluctantly describe as a memoir, based on a vague chronological flow through the defining events of my life. There was something about writing that carried me far beyond merely the cathartic expression of emotion and words to a place where I could view my life very differently.

Having studied physiology I knew that we use different parts of our brain to speak, to think and to write, so it made perfect sense to me that writing should literally give me another perspective. I was seeing a therapist and allowing myself time to think. Writing enabled me to digest my past in a third dimension.

In order for the story to be intelligible to anyone else, I had to order my thoughts into words and sentences that made sense, to create flow and somehow join the dots of my life. The process forced me to connect my thoughts with my feelings and my past. I saw my life staring back at me in black and white from the pages that I had written and I found a new understanding of myself.

As I wrote I saw my life unfold before my very eyes. Memories long since forgotten came back to me, as did recollections of seemingly insignificant interactions along the way. The story that emerged through my pen regularly surprised me. I saw how all my experiences fitted together to shape me. Now I could grasp their impact. It was if I were watching the jigsaw puzzle of my life being put together, piece by piece. I saw, as an adult, the trauma of my childhood and the frightened little girl that I had been. I gained understanding and compassion, firstly for myself and then for others in my life for whom I had carried resentment. I let go of the past, releasing it onto the page in front of me, and I forgave myself for my imperfections and my mistakes.

Now everything that was inside is out. I’m complete. I took myself around the journey of my life and I came back to where I am with a fuller, deeper understanding of myself, of the reasons why I am the way I am. I would not have this now had I not taken the time to write my life story.

About the Author: Tara J. Lal is a female firefighter in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Born and bred in London, she tara_lalholds two university degrees and is a practising physiotherapist. She is trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention, and managed the Critical Incident Support Program in Fire & Rescue NSW, working with the Black Dog Institute to promote mental health in firefighters. Her vision is to use her book to endorse evidence-based resilience training as a way to enhance growth through trauma.


Tara J. Lal
Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders
Available from September 2015
Pre-order it on Amazon

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