The Unsent Letter technique is something I’ve often thought about but hadn’t really sat down to do. That is… until last Tuesday. Last Tuesday is the day where I felt like I was losing my ever-lovin’ mind. To sum it all up I drove 45 minutes to a therapy appointment that didn’t exist, went back home and just felt incredibly sad and beat up. Everything was making me cry. I pretty much felt like a two-year-old and I felt like I was losing it.
In my first therapy session (the only one I’ve had up to this point) my therapist suggested writing an unsent letter to Mike. (To keep this post on-topic, you can read more about Mike here and here.) My younger sister (daughter of my mom and Mike) had actually already done this a few months ago but I kept putting it off. I had a lot of mixed feelings and didn’t really know where to begin and then I think I just got more anxious about it as time went along. Well, you know how to accomplish something that’s really hard? You just have to make the decision to do it. And then start.
On Tuesday of last week, I wrote my very first unsent letter. Since I didn’t actually have a therapy session with Jennifer, I had a session of my own. I could immediately feel a release when I was finished. After I closed my journal, I just laid on my bed for a while and found myself taking really deep breaths. It was like I could finally relax, even if just a little bit. The rest of the week went by much better than how it had started and when I realized how much difference one little letter made, I realized that I needed to share the process so that somebody else could feel a little relief too.
Obviously, I’m not an unsent letter expert or anything, but I wanted to share some things about the process and some of the things I feel helped me with the process.
Journaling Tip: Writing An Unsent Letter
Gather your favorite supplies. For me, this was simply my journal and my favorite pen. You can use anything you’d like, just make sure you gather it all up before you start.
Set the tone. Find a place where you won’t be bothered and have time to write freely. I chose my bedroom and I decided to light a candle. I also listened to a song that makes me think of Mike.
Write freely. What you write is for your eyes only. It’s for you to externalize what you’re feeling and what you’d like to say to the other person. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure or any of that. This is difficult for me because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to spelling and grammar. I tried my best to let go and just write and it was very freeing for me.
Give forgiveness and ask for it too. Mike and I had a pretty great relationship while I was growing up but it became more complicated as I got older. After seeing all of my younger siblings get older (I’m the oldest), I realized that he struggled to let us go, as most parents do. I’m sure I will experience that myself as my kids get older. In my letter I forgave him for the things he did (or said) that upset me and I also asked him to forgive me for things I had said and/or done. None of us are perfect and now that I have my own blended family, it’s clear to me that being a good stepparent is challenging and difficult. I think giving forgiveness and asking for forgiveness in an unsent letter is really helpful and one of the most important things you can include to make it truly therapeutic.
Document the bad with the good. Finish positive. No relationship is perfect. In your letter, it’s important to be completely honest which includes writing about the good and the bad. I included negative feelings as well as great ones and I made sure to finish my letter in a positive way. I wanted to get all the negative stuff down but I also wanted to finish in a way that wrapped things up in a positive light.
Write about your feelings. When describing an event, situation or circumstance, it’s very therapeutic to incorporate your feelings into your writing. Try to avoid just stating facts. I fully documented details of my sexual abuse in a journal I kept when I was 15 but I’m not sure I incorporated my feelings into that writing? I’m not sure I even knew what I was feeling at the time and I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it. I’ve learned over time that it’s important to do that with any kind of journaling. When you connect your feelings to the event I think it just allows your mind to process and work through it. In my opinion (and I’ve been through a lot of shit) you never “get over” things unless you work through them. If you just block things out or repress them, they’re still there waiting to destroy you or annoy you or just take up negative space in your head. The only way to beat your demons is to shine a light on them.
Choose your disposal method. When it comes to unsent letters, there really are no “rules” but you might want to think about your disposal method. Are you going to keep the letter in your journal? Some disposal options include burning it or tearing it up and flushing it down the toilet. The most important aspect is writing the letter but that doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Absolutely feel free to destroy it in any manner you choose.
Decompress. Once you’re finished writing your letter, you’ll probably feel pretty drained. It’s important to take a few minutes for yourself to relax and decompress. I did this by laying in my bed until I felt ready to get up. I cried pretty hard before, during and after the letter writing process. Within minutes after I finished, while I was laying down, I noticed I began taking really deep breaths and started to feel a bit more relaxed.
Writing my unsent letter to Mike felt like a tremendous release. It was really tough for me to do because I had so many mixed feelings which is why I kept putting the whole thing off. I was procrastinating and driving myself crazy in the process. When I finally decided to sit my butt down and do the work, I felt so much better. Writing an unsent letter doesn’t cure everything, but it sure does help the healing process.