Write On! The Power of Journaling in Addiction Recovery
Imagine having a safe haven in which you could share your deepest, most private thoughts and no one but you would ever read the words unless you chose to reveal them. Would you accept the opportunity to enter? Well, that “room” is as close as a pen and piece of paper.
Journaling is one of many tools to add to your transformational toolkit. It is a simple and profound way to process your emotions, document your journey from addiction to recovery and give voice to ideas that you may not feel comfortable uttering aloud. It is also a place to celebrate victories and mourn losses.
Your Personal Record
I have kept journals from as far back as my early teens. In the beginning, they were adolescent “Dear Diary” type of entries that catalogued my “oh so exciting life” of swim team practice, Hebrew school and Girl Scouts; dreaming about the cute boys I knew. It wasn’t until my late teens and early 20s that the writing got a bit deeper and more insightful.
Recently, I perused my journals from 1978 to the present day and was astounded to discover that in many ways, my beliefs and feelings about some things haven’t changed, which is both disappointing and reassuring – the former because some of the same patterns in terms of self- perception remain intact; the latter because in many ways, at 55, I maintain the youthful optimism of my early adulthood. I laughed at some of my relationship dynamics back when I was young enough to be the daughter of the woman I am now.
You too can look back and see how far you have come.
Your journal can be as simple as a loose-leaf notebook, or as elaborate as something embellished with nature scenes. Most book or card stores carry them. Make it part of the ritual to choose one that feels right for you. Carry it with you if possible, since you never know when something may come up that you want to record. Some are more at ease keeping their journal electronically. You can use different colored pens or markers to add a more creative flair to the pages.
Starting a Recovery Journal
So, where to begin? If you have never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, it may feel a bit intimidating. Try these approaches and see where they lead:
This might also be called“stream of consciousness writing.”Ask a question, such as “What makes me happy?” and then take a breath, close your eyes and begin to write or type. Don’t censor or edit. Just be in the moment and let the words flow. Continue until you feel complete for the time being. You may be astonished by what you read.
As you move through your day, take notice of the world around you. Jot down what you feel, see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Let it be a moment-by-moment exercise, or take a set time period – five minutes to start – and record what your senses take in as if you were a small child experiencing them for the first time.
Choose a theme based on an event that occurs that day. Many times my writing prompts come from something I heard another person say, a song on the radio, an animal that shows up unexpectedly, carrying a message I needed to hear, or perhaps a phone call from an old friend.
Work Your Steps
Your journal can house your Step work.
Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. While rigorous honesty is central to this step, it is not necessary to beat yourself up. Owning your missteps, or as I have heard someone say “mistakes of epic proportions,” can be expressed on your pages.
Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. This can be as simple as writing names and then next to the name, the nature of the interactions and then what you would like to do to rectify the situation if at all possible.
Step 10 – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. Since recovery is not a “one and done” event – it’s a marathon, not a sprint – you will find yourself re-visiting previously trod-upon territory. As you turn back pages in your journal, you may give yourself a knowing nod that some of what you continue to face is sadly familiar.
Document Your Dreams
Dreams may be seen as the mind’s way of working through what we may not be consciously aware of in our waking hours. Keep the journal by your bed so that when you awaken, you can jot down what you recall before the images fade. From what I have learned, every symbol is an aspect of the dreamer. Have a dialog with each part. Ask it what it wants you to know. It is not uncommon for people in recovery to have drug and alcohol themed dreams. Many of my clients have revealed that they woke up relieved that they were still sober.
An Attitude of Gratitude
You may have heard the term “grateful recovering alcoholic or addict.” That’s more than a slogan. For many who are escaping the bonds of addiction, they are watchwords that are followed up by action. One concrete action is making a daily gratitude list. It is a simple as saying, “Today I am grateful for…” and then fill in the blank. On the first day you may only come up with one or two items. The more you contemplate what it is you have to be thankful for, the more the words will flow and the more you will have to be grateful for.
Dialog with the Addiction – Imagine a conversation with your addiction and/or drug(s) of choice. See it in front of you and have a back-and-forth conversation with whatever you perceive it to look, smell, taste, sound and feel like. Give it a voice and let it speak on the paper. Hear it out. Tell it what you want it to know as well.
Non-Dominant Hand Writing – You can use your dominant hand to write a question to yourself and your non-dominant hand to respond. I’ve heard it said that doing so can bring forth more of the unconscious thoughts and inner-child insights. Likely too that your writing will look like it did when you were young.
One final reminder: Just as with any new skill, it takes time to get proficient at journaling. The more you do it, the more you will likely enjoy it and reap benefits. Remember that your story is still unwritten. Make your life a page turner.