About 20 years ago, when I was in my mid-forties, I was going through several concurrent crises in my life. They included the terminal illnesses of my father, my best friend, my dog, and one of my patients. In addition I had to have reconstructive knee surgery after a skiing accident. I was overwhelmed. I decided to find the words to express these experiences, and thereby, make them real. Rather than going into talk therapy, I decided that I would try to write them, and so began a twenty-year process of putting experience into written language and using expressive writing as a healing practice.
After 9-11, poetry sprang up everywhere as New Yorkers attempted to find the word to express the inexpressible. If you think about times in your life when you were moved to write a poem or keep a journal or just write, you have a first hand experience of what I mean.
As I began reading my poetry at writing workshops, poetry readings, and open mics, people would approach me and say how my poetry moved them and evoked similar experiences in them, and their writing did the same in me. I came to understand that what is most personal in a human voice is most universal.
I began to use expressive writing in my practice of psychiatry to help others find the words to express themselves, and I came to understand that poetry has the power to promote healing in others.
Amazing Change: Poetry of Healing and Transformation
The Wisdom That Illness, Death, and Dying Provide, Robert Carroll
When my parents were here last week,
they were walking different.
My father still offers his arm
as he always has,
but now he leans a bit
against my mother
otherwise he’d dodder.
seeing them from behind.
He uses her for balance,
she leans against him
They’re more of an A-frame now:
a stable way to build.
Do not look up to me my child
for heights seem out of reach
and looking up will make you lose
the sense of what I teach.
The answers lie within us all
but no, look outward first.
Horizons lend perspective
when our problems seem the worst.
Delusions grow as people age
and fail to realize
that growing up is nothing more
than knowing your own size.
So don’t be scared of heights or depths
that trap us with their lies.
A parent’s love is straight ahead
and level with your eyes.
We can go through amazing changes
when we are faced with knowing
we have limited time.
After one woman got brain cancer,
she decided what she wanted
was to go to Africa
to see the gorillas.
She and her husband and the guides
began the long trek through the jungle
up the mountains, but the woman was
having trouble. The guides tried
to convince her to go back,
but she wouldn’t.
She struggled and struggled.
Eventually she won the guides over,
and everyone was rooting for her,
but there came a point.
She couldn’t go on, so
she laid down on the grass,
and when she did, the gorillas
came out of the jungle