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Finding the Treasure Within the Struggle

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” –Joseph Campbell

Every Friday morning, I work with teen parents at South High School in Minneapolis, teaching journaling as a wellness practice.  Each week, pen to paper, we contemplate important questions about our lives in our journals.  We use our journals to unload our stress, to unravel tight balls of thoughts and emotions, to understand ourselves, realize our gifts, and dream into our highest possibilities.

This path of teaching is an unexpected blessing for me. Seventeen years ago, on October 19, 1992, I bought myself a journal and walked into Espresso Royale on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.  I ordered a cup of coffee, sat down, and wrote, “These are the first words I have ever written in a journal.”

I was 20 years old.  Both of my parents were drowning: my mother in an alcoholic torrent, my father in a lead-footed depression.  I was in and out of a rocky relationship and barely able to support myself while making my way through college waiting tables and bartending.  To the outside observer, however, I seemed fine.  On the inside, I was barraged by negative self-talk, crumbling beneath the rubble of a shattered self-esteem.  My grades were plummeting.  I rarely attended my classes.  I was depressed and emotionally desolate.  Alone.

When I began journaling, I did not know that I was constructing a life raft that would carry me along this journey called Life. All I knew was that I too was drowning, and I needed to save myself.  Day after day, I walked into that coffee shop and wrote.  I began to fill journals, one after the other.  Rarely did I go back and read what I had written.  It was the process of writing that kept me returning to the blank page.

Through journaling and the reflection it fosters, I lifted myself out of that current of despair and began a process of elevating my self-esteem by getting closer to myself.  With every page I wrote, I cultivated my inner strength.  As I became clearer about who I was, my relationships began to improve.  The problems with my parents did not cease, but my propensity to delve into their darkness did.  I took charge of my life.  I began to dream big dreams on paper, and then over the years, watch those dreams materialize into reality.  I wrote.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.  I never stopped writing.

I could not have known then that 20 years later, I would find a treasure beneath the rubble of the struggle I had experienced.

“The tribute to learning is teaching.”
–Wise saying from the Orient (and on my green tea bag)

Now, twenty years later, in the grace of this classroom at South High, in the grace of this career, I finally understand the purpose of this two decades-long journey: the practice of writing in a journal, for me, was life-saving.  And I believe it’s my responsibility and luck to be able to share this gift with others.

The practice of journaling has become my faith.  It is my faith because it has allowed me to see the interconnectedness of all of us and of our experiences.  It teaches me that we are groomed through our struggles to help others.  That is the point–so human, so basic, and so divine all at the same time.

In a school of thousands of people, these students are the probably the most qualified to work with and help other teen parents in the future.  Through their struggle, they are cultivating an empathy that can only be realized by going into the abyss.  This is just one of the infinite possibilities for them in their young lives.  I see it so clearly.  My job is to help students see the beauty in their struggle.

When you lift the debris, dirt, and rubble of the struggles in your lives, what treasures do you see?

Janna Brayman Krawczyk MAT
reflect.  envision.  create.


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