Baggage: How I Wrote My Way Through Self Destruction

by Melissa Rose

Five and a half years ago I was perhaps in one of the most confusing and chaotic years of my life. I was struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, using alcohol to self medicate, and putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations by involving myself in abusive relationships. Looking back now, I can see why I was in that place, where the need to self destruct stemmed from, yet at the time, all I was trying to do was make it through the day in any way I could.


This is the time in my life I did not want to remember. I didn’t want to remember the mess I was, lashing out at anyone who tried to help me. Blaming everyone for my own misery. I didn’t want to think about all of the shame of being in such a low place and being completely out of control. And I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t want to survive and all of my behavior during that time reflected this desire.

As fate would have it, I became pregnant, and my entire life changed. I was able to pull myself back to reality and remember there was a reason for living. I was able to stop the spiral I was in and turn my thoughts to the future for once. I moved on from that dark place and I became a mother to my son and tucked the years I spent on a bender in the back of my mind, like trash stuffed under a bed. But the more years that passed, the more I began to smell the rot I had been ignoring.

I sometimes worry that my history is doomed to repeat itself. I still fear ever slipping back into the person I was all those years ago. It frightens me to think of myself in that place again. To be so utterly out of control. I could pretend that nothing happened, that it was just a “bad time”, but that description didn’t do the experience justice.

Last year, I began writing about the years I didn’t want to think about. I mentally transported myself back to that place and time. I imagined myself as that young woman, confused and scared and alone. I wrote about my selfishness. My cruelty. All of the shameful things I did and said and how I justified it. Where it all came from. Where the self destructive tendencies started. Throughout the process it was as if I was able to cast a light on the shadow of my past and take away its power over me. I was able to face the parts of me I was most afraid of and reflect on them from a new perspective.

Eventually, I would turn these writings into a script. My first one-woman show, entitled “Baggage”. This 50 minute exploration of my past took place in an airport as I flew home from Europe, confused and jetlagged—completely unsure of where I was going to go next. Being separated from those memories for so long unearthed a million feelings I had been ignoring, and as I sifted through them, I was able to embark on my own healing process, and forgive myself for all of the things I was so ashamed of. I was able to see myself not as a monster, but as a human being who did what they had to do and survived.

I knew that to bring my story full circle, I would have to perform my piece, but I was nervous about how an audience would perceive me. I put off scheduling a performance for fear I would be overly exposed. I have written and performed about many personal things, but this piece was somehow different. The raw honesty in it cut me close enough to bleed.

I knew that in order to honor and love that young woman I was, I needed to tell her story. It was the only way to release her from that pain she felt all those years ago. It was the only way to let her know that she was important and worthy of love, even during those dark times. I owed it to myself to make sure I could heal in order to never be in that place again. So I set a date for the performance, and begin practicing my piece, pouring all of the experience into my words and movements. Embodying the woman I was for the first time in years. It felt like I was reuniting with a part of me I hated, and as I began to embrace that character, I was able to love her in a way I never had before.


After the performance, I felt a sense of relief, like I had let go of something weighing heavy on me.  I had survived. I wanted to survive. Even during those times. No matter how often I tried to convince myself otherwise.

Through writing and performing my story,  I finally was able to unpack the baggage I had been carrying with me for so long.

Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.



TLA, Online Support Groups, and the Opioid Crisis

by Susan Hulsebos

The DEA and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, released a statement in a joint news conference this month stating that the opioid crisis is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. Amy Goodman, in her June 7th, 2017 article reporting for the Global Independent News source: Democracy Now!, presents a shocking list of fatality rates from the conference:

“…opioid deaths have now surpassed the peak in death by car crash in 1972, AIDS deaths in 1995 and gun deaths in 1993. After 20 years of heavy combat in South Vietnam, U.S. military casualties represented only one-third of the death toll from 10 years of opioid overdoses.”

This list takes my breath away. Just as cancer took the breath of my son away almost two years ago after his 7 year battle with prescribed Oxy and then heroin addiction. You can’t escape hearing in the nightly news about the daily battle EMT’s and law enforcement have to save victims of opiate related overdose. The city of Everett Washington has just this week filed an unprecedented lawsuit charging a pharmaceutical manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, with the devastation of their city and citizens. As the mother of four adult child who first learned of her oldest son’s addiction with shock and disbelief – before this crisis hit the news – I experienced gut wrenching worry in isolation, confusion, denial and panic as I tried to wrap my mind around heroin? I knew it was deadly and I needed to find someone who could help me get a handle on my emotions, options and yes – who could get past the stigma against “junkies” that even I was carrying around inside my misinformed stereotypes. So I started an internet search for information and help.

What emerged among the horrifying data of low recovery rates with detailed images disclosing the damage addiction to heroin was already having on the brain of my child, was a Facebook page set up to support parents and family members dealing with heroin addiction. It was a closed group. When I was admitted, I found about 1,000 parents, siblings and spouses on the cutting edge of our current crisis pouring out their stories. And I found raw and aching language, post after post, both commiserating, comforting, offering knowledge, resources, support and sobbing over stories. And through the power of shared stories to unite us, these precious aching souls became my new community.

Caryn Miriam-Goldberg, in her introduction to The Power of Words, lays a wide foundation for understanding the practice of transformative language arts and the healing power it holds for social and personal transformation.

“TLA is the practice of connection and community…TLA practice works to resist community fragmentation…TLA is so much about letting and listening to people speak in their own voice, telling their own truths in a language authentic to them…”

I did not know at the time I began to contribute my story and respond to others that this online community would become my life-line. In the privacy of our homes, we regularly wrote how no one wanted to be here, but also how grateful we were for it. We followed each others stories as we dealt with trying to locate and help our addicted loved ones get into treatment. Writing here was unguarded, filled with unconditional acceptance, devoid of stigma unlike hurtful, naive input many of us were getting from our family and community. This group was diverse to it’s core. Even international members found us and were welcomed in with sadness because they had cause to join us, but with gladness that they found us. New comers were given encouragement to post and join their stories with ours. We needed our stories to be understood and to be met with love and acceptance. For me it began to heal some of the isolation and pain.

Then, after two years in this online group, and 3 ½ precious months getting to know my beautiful son again, he was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Large tumors lined his colon and were spreading through his lungs – the result of years of smoking, drinking and heavy opiate use.

I informed my online community that my son had passed and I stopped posting to the group for fear of discouraging others still hoping their loved one will beat the odds and recover. I looked for and found a new group, GRASP: Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. This national support group facilitates community in person and online. I continue to be helped along by the words I read and contribute. At last look, my former community was numbering over 5,000. My “new normal” is this new community of equally thousands of broken hearts huddled together and “listening” each other through the shock and numbness. Once again, the power of our truths unites us.

Editor’s note: This is Susan’s 5th and final blog post requirement for her TLA certification. We have enjoyed having her share her writing with us!

Sparks! Gathering Tonight!


Join us tonight at Sparks! A Free Online Gathering for Poetry, Stories, and Songs for  a preview of POW 2017 workshops!

7:00-8:15pm (CDT)

Hosted by Kelly DuMar

Whether you’re already registered for POW in August, or you’re wondering if you should – this is your chance to learn more about some of the wonderful workshops we have in store for you. Workshop leaders will share what they’re presenting and how you will benefit from their unique Transformative Language Arts approach.

Bring a poem to share during a poetry open mic following the discussion and inspire others! Everyone who participates in the teleconference is welcome to share an original poem. Whether you’re reading your poetry aloud for the first time, or you’re a seasoned reader, this is a chance to share your writing in the supportive presence of appreciative listeners. It’s a remarkably fun and moving experience.

Format of the Gathering

  • Kelly will interview workshop presenters on the call for 30 minutes about their POW workshops.
  • We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask questions and discuss TLA, your own practice, goals, or vision.
  • We’ll devote the next 15 or so minutes to the open mic poetry readings.
  • You don’t need to be a member of TLAN to participate!

Click here to sign up!

About Kelly DuMar

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-57-26-amKelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator whose chapbook “All These Cures,” won the 2014 Lit House Press poetry contest. Kelly’s poems have been published in many literary journals, and her award winning plays have been produced around the US and published by dramatic publishers. She produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights & Poets, held at Wellesley College, now in its 9th year. Kelly has a Master’s Degree in Education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Her certification in psychodrama and training in Playback Theatre inspire her workshops with transformative energy. Kelly has presented professional workshops at Mass. Poetry Festival, The Boston Book Festival, Playback North America, The New England Theatre Conference, the Transformative Language Arts Conference, ASGPP, The National Association for Poetry Therapy, and The International Women’s Writing Guild. She is a Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama, a member of the Advisory Council of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and a Council Member of the Transformative Language Arts Network. Her website it, and she publishes a bi-monthly essay about the writing life to her subscribers.

“The Skeleton Man” with Joseph Bruchac

Joseph Bruchac is one of the Keynote speakers at this year’s POW conference. Witness one of his enjoyable live performances here:

For over thirty years Joseph has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies, and music that reflect his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions. He is the author of more than 120 books for children and adults. The best selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his “Keepers” series, with its remarkable integration of science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country.

Discount On Classes This Weekend!

Sign up for Cait Meissner’s class, “The Poetics of Witness: Writing Beyond The Self “ or Angie River’s class, “The Five Sense and The Four Elements: Connecting with The Body and Nature Through Poetry” this weekend and receive 20% off the enrollment price!

Both classes run from June 14-July 25th, can be accessed online at your own pace, and are guaranteed to inspire you on your TLA journey. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Read our recent interviews with Cait and Angie and learn more about them and their classes!

Guiding Values in TLA Practices


by Melissa Rose


“The growth of TLA as a movement and academic field is having, and can further catalyze, profound effects on our culture, such as exploring how language can begin to break through cultural, political and historic agendas, and through the personal fear, rage and despair that disempower individuals and communities. TLA seeks to preserve the richness and diversity of language itself, and the intimacy of human-to-human contact in an increasingly technological age.”

Often times when I am describing my work as a TLA student, I am met with intrigue and curiosity about what exactly TLA is. The answer is broad, because TLA is such a fluid and malleable practice that can easily be molded to fit the community it serves.

Writing, storytelling, theatre, and music can work towards community-building, cultural and ecological restoration, and personal development. Transformative Language artists, scholars, facilitators, and consultants facilitate in many venues, including community centers, schools, prisons, health centers and hospitals, businesses, research facilities, and retreat centers.”

This is one of the elements of TLA that makes it so wonderful. It can exist almost anywhere expression and language is invited. While describing the method we each use for our own TLA practices may vary, the TLA Network has designed a set of guiding values that encompass all of the work regardless of the details.

As we more forward as practitioners and students in TLA, having a firm grasp on the guiding values that fuel our TLA experiences will help us stay grounded in the work we do. While the situations, communities, and details of our TLA experiences may be unique, the values that we strive to hold those experiences to do not change.

Guiding Values

  • Cooperation — collaborating for the good of all.
  • Community-building — fostering community among those of us in the field, and sharing tools and for strengthening our local communities.
  • Empowerment — working in ways that help people, organizations, businesses, institutions and communities further empower themselves.
  • Sustainability — developing sustainable ways to do this work we love, build community, and sustain our individual and collective health.
  • Collective Wisdom — recognizing that we each hold a piece of the truth, and together, we can best honor the love and wisdom guiding us.

Interested in learning more about TLA? Consider getting a certification in Transformative Language Arts from the TLA Network or take one of our classes. 

Learn more about the history of the TLA Network and its founder, Caryn Mirriam Goldberg

Writing in concert

by Barbara Burt

I have been leading a writing workshop at my local community center. While I enjoy hearing the writing that the four members have worked on over the past week and are eager to share, I think the most fruitful part of the workshop is the prompted writing during the workshop. Often the prompt is met with moans: “I hate these introspective exercises.” “I can’t think of anything…” But invariably, within a minute or two, everyone is writing away, engrossed in their response to the question that may have made them feel a bit uncomfortable at first (although that’s not my aim).

When the time comes to share the prompted writing, at least one or two people find that there is the germ of a story to follow up on, planted in that day’s scribbling. To me, there is definite music in the quiet sound of all that thinking and writing that reminds me of playing chamber music. We are aware of each other, listening, but also intent on our own part. It happens that the music of our own writing is more meaningful, somehow, residing in the harmony of our group endeavor, whether we share it or not.

I wrote this during the most recent workshop:

Writing in Concert

We sit in folding chairs
and set our elbows on the plastic tabletop.
Its bumpy surface doesn’t slow us.
The mah-jongg game in the next room
erupts in loud laughter.
Still, we are not deterred.

Pens scratch.
Hands swish across smooth sheets,
pages are turned, paper rattles.
We hold our breath
or sigh.                                                                                                                                         Sip coffee.
Or rest our foreheads in our hands,
eyes closed, thinking.

There is companionship in writing alone
Our thoughts are secret
but our output obvious.
We start together with the same prompt
then wander separate paths,
secure in the knowledge that
each step is worthy of its effort
and will be celebrated.

Celebrated, whether spoken or
Celebrated by our fellow writers
in the chamber music of creation.