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Dear Yesterday: Journaling in Recovery

My first journal, gifted to me at age five, is a silly mess of kindergarten thoughts and illustrations. It sits on a shelf in my childhood home, along with ten dozen of its friends (ten dozen, unfortunately for conservation’s sake, is not an exaggeration).

As a little girl I adored the romanticism of keeping a diary, and spent most of my time thinking up ways to shield the prying eyes of my big brothers from the “juicy secrets” that my wire-bound books contained.

Regardless of what I was writing about, journaling became a habit that stuck with me. Time went on and the topics became harder; I could trace over every heartbreak with a highlighter upon rereading my words, hindsight peeking through page after page of analysis and anxiety. There were good days—but there were plenty of bad ones, too.

In these past twenty years I have spilled everything onto those pages, waiting for something to make sense.

It still doesn’t make sense; I am still writing.

As Voltaire so eloquently stated, “Writing is the painting of the voice.”

Whether nonsensical or well defined, it is a voice that should be heard. Even if the paper itself is your only listener.

A Creative Catharsis

Writing, at its core, is a powerful catharsis—a purging or cleansing of emotions. As a therapeutic tool in addiction treatment, journaling has been proven effective in stimulating self-awareness, alleviating stress, and promoting accountability.

Keeping a record of your thoughts can serve as an interactive dialogue with your future self. Documenting your experiences as they are taking place is an impactful release. A blank sheet of paper can become whatever you’d like it to be—a biography, an imaginary world, a place of peace.

Through writing, you begin a conversation with the person you are becoming. It does not have to be deeply philosophical or formal; it can simply be a portrait of your day.

Our reactions often magnify our experiences, and allow us to gain greater insight into our emotions. When we write out these reactions, we give ourselves a tangible gift of healing. We can learn, through the process of self-expression, the ways in which our minds operate and interact. Being honest with ourselves on paper creates room for accountability to grow.

Our writings become words that we can hold onto. We can reread them and recognize patterns that we have sketched; we can reread them and remember pathways that we have left behind.

Methods to Try

In the treatment setting, we recommend many different methods of self-expression, each of which ignite their own form of creative inspiration and healing.

Journaling is just one of these tools. Your words can be kept in a private space, allowing you to be open with your feelings. Putting your addiction into perspective through writing is an impactful experience that will continue to serve you as long as you continue to write.

The act of journaling itself contains many different methods that you can experiment with, including:

  • Keep a gratitude journal.

What’s one thing you felt grateful for today? Creating a log of these feelings stimulates hopefulness and appreciation.

  • Write yourself a letter.

What would you tell the person you were 5 years ago, knowing what you know now? What would you tell yourself 5 years into the future? This is a great way to document your progress.

  • Look for writing prompts.

If you want to take a more creative approach to journaling, seek out writing prompts. This article provides you with tons of ideas.

Though no matter which writing technique you begin with, there is one thing to keep in mind.

There are no rules.

Let the words take over. Ask yourself questions; scribble the alphabet; make lists. Don’t worry about the results, or how your words might sound. They are simply messengers of thought—a painting of the voice.

This “painting”—no matter what form it may take—does not need to be pretty.

It does not need to be anything but yours.


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