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Dealing with the Loss of Your Journals

I received an email from a reader this week with a pretty big roadblock. She diligently kept a digital journal for years. And then through a computing error, every single one of her files was accidentally deleted. After suffering this loss, she’s understandably having a hard time returning to journaling.

Here are six steps for working through the loss of your journals. I hope these suggestions can help you return to the practice of journaling, which is itself healing.

1. Honor the Sense of Loss

It may sound melodramatic, but losing your journals is a death in a way. Don’t trivialize this sense of loss. While not everyone will understand your grief, I can assure you that other journalers do understand. Many of us have lost our journals before, or fear losing them, and can identify with your pain.

When I lived on a houseboat, I would sometimes awake in a panic, fearing a leak. If we took on water, 20 years worth of writing would get wet and be lost forever to depths of Lake Union.

Losing a large amount of journaling is akin to losing part of your identity. So don’t try to talk yourself out of feeling the grief. Acknowledge it and honor it. You have experienced a devastating loss and it will affect you profoundly. Let it.

2. Hold a Small Ceremony

For eons, humans have created rituals around loss to help us process the experience. Ceremonies create a sense of closure, which are necessary to complete the cycle of grief and allow us to move on.

Creating a small ceremony for yourself to acknowledge the loss and provide closure may help you move forward. Think of it like a funeral for your journals. Light a candle, say a few words. If you have a trusted friend you’d like present, ask them to participate.

3. Remedy the Fear

There’s nothing wrong with being emotionally attached to your journals; they’re part of you. But before you can start journaling again, you need to eliminate the fear of losing everything all over again. This will remedy the “why bother” syndrome you’re experiencing.

Create an indestructible backup system for your files. Set a reminder on your calendar to back up weekly or monthly to an external hard drive or CD-R. Or use software that backs up your computer automatically. My MacBook, for example, automatically backs up onto the Time Machine every two weeks.

Once you have faith that your journal won’t be lost all over again, you’ll feel safer getting “involved.”

4. Do it differently

Journaling in a totally different way can help break through the paralysis as well. Make the process different enough from how you used to do it that it won’t remind you too much of what has been lost. It’s kind of like avoiding a certain restaurant after ending a relationship. You wouldn’t take your new date to the place where you broke up with your partner. In fact, you might want to do something totally novel with them, like having a picnic.

So try a new angle on your journaling. Perhaps you can buy yourself the gift of a beautiful new journal and try writing by hand for awhile instead of on the computer. (That could also help heal the fear of deleting the files again.) Or perhaps journal in a new location.

Avoiding the circumstances surrounding the original loss can help you move on and establish new journaling rituals.

5. Remember Why you Journal

Journaling is such a gift. Think about why you originally started journaling. It made you feel better. It improved your outlook, deepened your experience, created indelible memories for you. It was a method of self-care. When you’re suffering a loss, self-care is exactly what you need. So the very thing that caused you the original pain can help you heal from it.

Remind yourself how important journaling is to you and how much you benefit from it. Working through the discomfort of starting again will totally be worth it.

6. Try to embrace the new beginning

Perhaps after completing the previous steps, you’ll be able to at least try to see this situation as an opportunity for a new beginning. It can be very challenging to summon this mindset, but if you can do it, the change in perspective will help you immensely to start journaling again.

It will get better.

Time heals all wounds, as the adage goes. The sense of loss is still fresh and you haven’t been able to start up journaling again. But if you can push through the discomfort in the beginning, you’ll begin to heal through the act of journaling. The discomfort will fade, and the grief will subside. But it’s going to be difficult in the beginning. Just acknowledge that and remind yourself how improtant journaling is to you.

As time passes, the loss will become less and less painful. And you’ll have a new treasure trove of journal entries to fill the hole left from the ones you lost.

Moving on is never easy. If you’re suffering the loss of your journals, know that you’re not alone in your grief and that you can heal from this. You will be able to embrace the joy of journaling once again and benefit from its presence in your life.

This post was written in response to a reader question. Have a question you’d like answered? Drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.

5 comments

  1. So what if you don’t know what happened to your lost journals? Mine may have gone missing a move, may be in someone else’s possession, may still be in my house somewhere though I’ve checked every nook and cranny… No closure possible.

  2. I lost all of my journal writing in 1997. Just after I lost both breasts to cancer. I had documented each day from the day I found out about the cancer; I had included all of the emails in this writing ~ was going to write a documentation for other women with breast cancer. No survivors.
    Another computer crash took out everything I had written since my transition to retirement. And yet another crash devoured another year.
    All of my journal writing during my 75th year was with paper and pen. I’m still doing it the old-fashioned way.

  3. Condolences to both of you – that must have been very difficult. Stephanie, I would personally be searching high and low for my journals until I found them – the possibilities of where they could be is limited, no? And Sue – I’ve always been about pen and paper myself, for many reasons. I’m glad to hear that losing all that writing didn’t keep you from starting again!

  4. Not sure for certain when they went missing – when I moved out of my place with my ex? when I moved out of my own apartment? when I put everything in storage to travel for 3 months? when I moved to Florida? When I moved to my house 5 years ago (which is when I noticed they were gone)… They could be anywhere. I’ve searched and searched.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear of these losses. It’s a tough thing that, unfortunately, not too many could understand. That’s why it’s nice to have a blog like Kristin’s where she and her readers TOTALLY understand that it’s nothing less than traumatic.

    I tried keeping a journal on a computer (a couple of times actually) and just couldn’t do it. It’s been pen and paper for me since my last attempt. However, I kept a special journal during my Mom’s illness with brain cancer (she lost that fight back in 2000) that meant *everything* to me. I have scanned that entire journal, encompassing six months, and now have it safely tucked away in several places on hard drives and in the cloud as a pdf file. I have even thought of taking the time and doing the same with several other “special” journals.

    Again, I’m sorry for the loss of your journals. I can’t even stand to think about it. They are, in a very real way, direct extensions of us. I agree with Kristin — pickup today, journal again and move on. It may be something you never “get over” but it’s definitely something you will get through.