Journaling: How Writing Heals

Addiction Recovery | Transcend Recovery Community

The act of journaling is simple and can help immensely in the addiction recovery process. You sit down, have a think, and try to pour your heart out. You might fail to find the words you need at first, going over and starting several paragraphs to no avail, until it comes gushing out of you in the right way. And afterwards, once it’s all spilled out on paper, you’ll come to realize that you feel a little better.

Some people get around to writing an entry in their diary once or twice every five years. Other people do it religiously. And others yet have never touched the idea of keeping a journal. But for those struggling with their addiction recovery, journaling can be a safe way to:

  • Keep track of your emotions.
  • Express yourself.
  • Understand your own thought process.
  • Explore the recesses of your mind.
  • Release stress and relive unpleasant memories.
  • Go over happy memories and remember what life felt like when you were in love with it.
  • And much, much more.

Effectively, if an addiction like alcoholism occurred out of a subconscious need for numbing the mind and self-medicating yourself in times of stress, alienation and loneliness, then journaling is a form of self-therapy, where you sit in a couch with yourself and your pen, and pick at your own mind until you come to the conclusions you need to come to. However, like any good addiction recovery plan, journaling won’t produce results immediately. It’s something you must give time – but if you stick to it, you’ll discover things about yourself that you might never have figured out.

Journaling as an Aid to Recovery

Keeping a journal is an introspective exercise. Just like meditation and mindfulness exercises, journaling allows you to pose a question, and give an answer. It allows you to direct your own self-inspection, and because of its introspective nature, journaling gives you pause to think and consider your life before a major decision. It allows you to remove the urge to be rash or make hasty decisions by encouraging you to actively confront and question the way you feel.

Addiction, on some level, occurs because we continuously feel the urge to run away from something. In many cases, it may be a feeling of loneliness, or some other painful emotional state. Journaling instead helps you safely and painlessly live out that emotion, and find closure.

This also helps you organize your life. Life is, by its very nature, chaotic. There’s an overarching order to things that seems almost poetic, especially when you’re looking at the world in a macro-scale – but down on the ground, the details get muddy, dirty, grimy. Things rare go the way they’re “supposed to”, and a good chunk of being happy relies on knowing how to improvise in life, rather than plan.

Yet despite that, using journaling to organize your thoughts can help mitigate a lot of stress while undergoing addiction recovery. It allows you to allocate the proper time for self-reflection and creates an outlet for a lot of frustration or confusion, instead of letting yourself be overwhelmed and preoccupied with these feelings daily. This way, you can concentrate on functioning – at work, with your family, with your friends.

Finally, journaling can be used to pinpoint an issue and get down to the root cause of emotional discomfort. When you’re feeling down, depressed or just not great at all and you aren’t sure why, then sitting down with a pen and some paper and thinking long and hard about all the reasons you might be upset can help you find out what’s really bothering you, and help you start the process to being at peace with that.

If you’re going through group therapy or living in a social therapy setting like a sober housing program, then having the time to tackle your deepest issues alone and in privacy can also be a source of comfort. There’s nothing wrong with opening to others – in fact, it’s important that we learn how to do so – but there might always be things we keep to ourselves, thoughts and memories we’d rather go over and resolve on our own.

How to Start Journaling

Like most things in life, journaling is something you get into by starting it. The first step is to look at your schedule and consider just when in the day you have the five or ten minutes needed to collect your thoughts and write out a few words. You don’t have to write a novella every time you sit down to do some journaling – and you don’t have to beat yourself up when there are days where you manage nothing more than a single sentence.

It’s typically best to journal at the end of your day, when you’ve collected your thoughts, but some journals (such as dream journals) are typically updated in the mornings. It’s a matter of preference, and what you’re trying to achieve with your journal.

You also must consider that there are several ways to write a journal. It’s not just about sitting down and chronicling your daily thoughts, or asking yourself a series of questions. You could do:

  • Stream-of-consciousness: This is the simplest and rawest form of journaling. You sit down and let your thoughts loose, without proper rhyme or reason. You might write in prose, in the form of a poem, or just a single run-on sentence of a few hundred words. Your writing may not even have to make sense at first, as long as you’re saying what you really want to say.
  • Daily writing: Like most things, journaling is something that should be done daily – but daily writing specifically implies a diary-style chronicling of your days in recovery. It’s up to you whether to leave the “dear diary” out of the equation, and the only rule for this type of writing is that you give a daily update, taking the time to reflect on what you enjoyed today, and what might have annoyed or worried you.
  • Prompts: These are either questions you might ask yourself, or they’re prompts given to you by a therapist. Think of them like homework – you start with a question or two, and take your time giving the most comprehensive answer possible. If you’re recovering without a therapist, then there are many online writing prompts for those journaling in addiction recovery.
  • Gratitude: Often used in the treatment of depression, gratitude journaling involves making a short little list of all the things you’re happy about in any given day. The idea is to help you focus on the brighter and more worthwhile parts of your life, rather than succumbing to negative emotions.

Sticking to the Journal

There’s no easy way to stick to journaling, but there are a few things you could do to help you ensure that it becomes a regular habit. First, tie it to a point in your existing schedule.

If you have a regular routine that has become habit for you, then things will go over much smoother if you choose an activity that you can replace or supplement with journaling. For example, if you switch the TV on after work every night, then consider leaving it off for another 10-20 minutes until you finished your daily entry.

Journaling doesn’t have to be a life-long endeavor – but it’s a good thing to pull out of your pocket and get back into when addiction recovery begins to get overwhelming.