I got my very first journal when I was a freshman in high school. My creative writing teacher stopped me after class one day and gave me a simple, red, spiral bound notebook with the simple instruction that I could write about whatever I wanted without fear of retribution or punishment for anything that I happened to jot down. I didn’t trust her at first, thinking immediately it was a trap to get me to tell the truth about my abusive home, and I tried to give her the notebook back, but she refused and said that out of all of the students in her class, I needed this the most.

“Do I have to turn it into you for grading?” I asked her.

“Absolutely not. I won’t read anything in it unless you ask me to. That is YOUR journal” she replied with a smile.

I stuffed the notebook into my backpack, muttered a thank you, and scurried out of her classroom as quickly as I could. I found the idea of a journal absolutely silly and to be honest, it was dangerous for me to keep anything like that in my house. If I wrote down anything that Mom did to me in a journal or diary and she happened to find it; the beating I would get from that probably would have killed me. You didn’t talk about what happened in our house to anyone and you certainly didn’t write anything down that happened behind closed doors. That was our “secret” and no one else’s business.

I went home after school that day, and Mom was in a “mood”. I don’t know exactly what made her so mad while I was gone all day, but I was sure going to pay for it. And pay for it I did; it started with name calling and put downs the minute I walked through the door and ended a couple of hours later on the floor in my bedroom. After Mom had slammed my bedroom door behind her, I picked myself up, wiped my tears, wiped the blood off of my lip, and sat down on the edge of my bed.

I was tired. Tired of being abused and hit, tired of hiding the truth and my bruises day after day, and tired of being told what a worthless human being I was. I was tired of holding in my anger and muffling my screams of fear and pain so the neighbors couldn’t hear Mom beating me. I was tired of everything and I didn’t know where to turn.

My teacher’s voice rang through my head, “You can write about anything you want without fear.” No fear? It sounded too good to be true.

I reached into my backpack and pulled out the red notebook my teacher had given me earlier that day. I opened the cover and ran my fingers over the first empty white page while thousands of thoughts began running through my head. I had so much to say and so many feelings to get out that I didn’t even know where to start. I had never told my secret to anyone before, never shared how Mom made me feel, or even been honest with anyone about how I felt about my mother.

I dug through my backpack, found a black ink pen, and wrote, “I Hate My Mother” on the first page of that red notebook. I looked at the words after I wrote them and I immediately got nervous; nervous because it was the first time I had verbalized how I felt about Mom. Of course, I had that thought go through my head thousands of times over the course of my childhood; but I had never heard the words come out of my mouth or seen them written on paper.

I immediately felt guilt for what I had just written, quickly closed the cover of my notebook, and shut my eyes. I wanted to run outside and burn that notebook, destroying all evidence of what I had just written before Mom got a chance to find it and read it. Because if Mom saw that; well, I shudder to think about what she would have done to me.

But after the guilt, came a sense of relief. Relief that I finally “said” what I had wanted to say for years. Relief that I “said” it and the world didn’t stop turning and Mom wasn’t standing over me, pummeling me and kicking me for speaking my truth. Relief that I hadn’t ran outside and burned that notebook because I had so much more to say.

I stayed in my room the rest of that night, filling up page after page of that notebook and going through two black ink pens by the time I was done. I wrote about every feeling I had at that moment in my life, I wrote about how Mom made me feel, I wrote about some of the things she did to me and how angry that made me, and I wrote about my dreams of living a happy life with a family who wanted me and who loved me.

By the time I graduated high school, I had filled up almost 10 notebooks, all of which my teacher kept safe for me in her classroom. I know she read them, but she never called the authorities on my mother or questioned me about any of the abuse I wrote about. I don’t know why; in this day and age, a teacher would be mandated to report the things I wrote about, but I’m grateful she didn’t say a word. I think that she knew that those journals helped me more than anything in the world.

The only time I could be completely honest about my feelings and my life behind closed doors was when I was writing in one of my journals. My journals never judged me, never called an 800 number and made a report, never criticized me for anything that I wrote, and I was never punished because of anything I wrote in them. Before I journaled my feelings and experiences, I would sit in the corner of my bed, wrapped up in a little ball, consumed in my thoughts and desperate to scream at the top of my lungs. But once I began putting pen to paper and letting my feelings out, those days of curling up into a ball ended.

I still journal to this day and find it to be one of the most therapeutic things I have ever done in my life. My journal is the one place I can be completely honest without fear of being judged or put down. My journal is where I can have the craziest of dreams and have hopes bigger than Mount Everest without being made fun of by anyone. My journal is where I can let my hair down, vent, and say things I would never say out loud to anyone.

Where are my high school journals now? My teacher kept them safe at her house for years until she had a house fire and they all burned. But that’s OK, because there are always more pages to write.