Wednesday, 3 July 2013

[Innocent Tear] Own Your Words

This post was written for Innocent Tear. Innocent Tear is an organisation which aims to support Muslim women who have faced any form of sexual violence. Although the experience I share is nothing compared to what my sisters are going through, I hope what it taught me can bring some kind of relief to all of us.

Source: The Albany Centre
Inspired by some videos I'd seen, I opened Notepad on my laptop and started typing. It wasn't prose, it wasn't poetry, it was just sentences; thoughts flowing from my fingertips. The words were painfully open, clumsily worded and fantastically embarrassing.

I stopped and read it back. Ten lines of utter rubbish, it would not do. I hit enter twice, and started again. This time, 15 shorter lines came out. A little messy but a lot more composed than my first attempt. I looked at what I had written; the contents of my heart that I'd never dared to actually verbalise in my own head, never mind out in the real world. I looked and I cried.

It was then I realised how low I felt, how I was scared of getting so weak I'd blow away before the storm was over, how, even if I did stay in place, there'd be nothing of me left at the end. I sensed anger in what I had written and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. I'd opened up something deep, and it was not pretty. My heart sunk and I didn't know how to see any positive in my situation. Writing hadn't worked. It was time to leave it. Despite a fear of someone ever coming across the file, something motivated me to keep it. I saved it in my folder of writings and closed Notepad.

I don't remember what it was that inspired me to open the file up two weeks later, but I did. I think I wanted to fix it. I skipped my embarrassing first attempt at 'Telling My Story' and read the second. That hurt I'd felt wasn't there. It was as if reading something someone else had written that I happened to be able to relate to.

I reached the last line, "It's making me feel worthless." No one with an ounce of humanity in their souls could believe that about another human being. Just like I would when advising another I thought, "How do I show them that that's not true?" I then began to type, to explain why I couldn't just give up, why there was good to come and why there was good already right with me. When I finished I read it over and was very happy with my piece. So much so I even shared it with my sisters. That pain, that embarrassment, that shame that I had previously felt about the way I was coping with my circumstances was now a 'fightable' enemy.

It took me some time to realise it, but that emotional reaction I used to have to specific memories and thoughts had almost gone. Don't get me wrong, I'm far from thinking I can now conquer the world, but I certainly feel like some of my demons have been caged up and are withering away in some cell in my subconscious.

And it's not just me; people the world over experience the very same thing. Writing out our thoughts and feelings is therapeutic in and of itself. Many studies have found that writing about a negative experience can improve psychological well-being, self-esteem and even physical health. One study got participants to take a few minutes each day to write their deepest thoughts and feelings about recently losing their job. Those who wrote about their experience were more likely to think positively about it and get reemployed than those who write on another topic or did not write at all. What's interesting is, talking about a negative experience to a supportive (untrained) listener doesn't have the same therapeutic effect. There's something about writing itself that helps us work through our emotions.

It's paradoxical how sometimes, even when you know the solution to your problem, you have to write it out before it really sinks in. Intellectually, I knew my situation wasn't hopeless, that there's no such thing as no hope when one believes in Allah. But, because my intellect hadn't allowed me to accept that the feeling was there, it prevented me from dealing with it. Shame can make us suppress emotions to the point where they're buried away. Like skin healing over the weapon that cut it, it's still going to cause damage, even if you can't see it anymore.

Source: Fast Company
Writing is something I would challenge anyone to try. Get a paper and a pen or open up a writing program on your computer and let your fingers talk. Write a journal, write a story about a girl with your story, write a poem, write spoken word, write a letter to the person who hurt you... Nobody ever needs to see it so don't be afraid of being open. Tell your story, because even you won't know what you're feeling until you're courageous enough to express it. Yes, it takes courage to open up, even to yourself. Letting yourself access your deepest, darkest emotions makes you feel vulnerable and exposed. Being honest with yourself about how little you may think of yourself or how angry you may be with your situation might make you feel ashamed. As a Muslim you know you shouldn't feel these things. However, there should be no shame in what we have no control over. You're not accountable for your feelings, you're accountable for what you dwell in and act on. So write them down and then work your own way through them until you get to the conclusion you know Islamically to be true. If you'd like, edit what you've written, fix it up and make something you're proud of. No matter how awfully you think you write, how 'inarticulate' or 'uncreative' you consider yourself, the window into you is in itself beautiful. It is a piece of human experience; a piece of you.

Maybe one day, you'll read through what you wrote and will be ready to share it. It may be shared anonymously through a means like Innocent Tear and go on to help others come to accept their own emotions and help them on their journey to healing. Perhaps you'll decide to tell someone who needs to know by writing to them to overcome your fear of doing it face to face. And one day, one day you might be ready to read it to others yourself. When control over your own body has been taken away from you, own your words, own your feelings, own your experience.

Recommended Reading:
Baikie & Wilhelm (2005) - Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing
Psyche Central - The Health Benefits of Journaling


  1. Mashallah, this is a really beautiful post and it's really inspiring :)

    1. Jazakillahu khairan for your lovely comment, Hayat. I pray Allah blesses your writing!

  2. This is a very well written and honest piece, love it! As I was reading it I was thinking of all the things I could finally talk about through writing. Thank you for sharing :)

    1. Jazakillahu khairan for your comment! I hope you find piece through it (and maybe even a hidden talent!)