I’ve journaled ever since I was a kid in grade school.

I have no idea why I started. And I’ve dropped this habit many times over the years, only to pick it back up whenever I felt confused. Or lonely. Or thought I had something big to say. I never did.

I never planned out what went on each page. Sometimes I wrote with pencils, sometimes with a fancy pen my grandmother gave me. Often, my journaling was done on yellow pads of paper, other times, in spiral-bound notebooks. On a few occasions, I bought real leather-bound, book-like journals, as if putting an expensive casing around my writing would somehow enhance the quality of what went inside. (No such luck!)

A few months ago, I gathered together all the stacks of my old journals. I had decided it was time to dispose of these pages and palimpsests. Why burden my wife or kids with having to read through these ramblings after I was gone? I wasn’t sentimental about this disposal—it was time.

But a job that I had thought would take me a half-hour turned into a full day’s work. And then another day. I found myself paging through so many memories. There was the time my sisters and I beat up my tough, big brother. There was getting my forearm burned on the hot line of Reynolds Aluminum. There was trying to explain on paper why I kept drinking too much, too often. There was how old I felt when I turned 45.

By the time I had filled the second black trash bag, I realized that the value of journaling wasn’t about revisiting old memories. Nor was its purpose to provide a factual history for all the weird, wonderful or wacky circumstances that entered my life. The beauty of my journaling was in the understanding and acceptance I received in telling all those little stories about myself, to myself. As I jotted down all those words, I received a richer insight on my beliefs and emotions that were the real drivers of my behavior. I think one of my life’s purposes is to understand what makes me tick, even when my clock is a bit out of whack.

The filled black trash bags are gone now. And I’m okay with that. After all, I’m still here with a pencil and a fresh sheet of paper.