You CAN live a SOBER LIFE again - CALL NOW for treatment options
1-800-259-1361

Journaling Through the Recovery Journey

 

I am writing this down before I lose my resolve. I can never drink again. I will never have a normal relationship with alcohol and any attempts I make to justify drinking again in the future are lies.
– Jen Anderson

Since writing those words in my journal on September 4, 2014, I have not had one drop of alcohol. Author Charles Duhigg gained wide acclaim for his book on Keystone Habits. In essence, these are habits that provide the foundation for all other aspects of your life. They vary greatly by person, but ultimately shape the way you navigate your day-to-day life. By adopting just a few keystones, you can expect a domino effect of positive change.

In my case, it was a matter of survival to adopt a keystone habit when I gave up drinking. I felt as though I’d been through the biggest break-up of my life and I needed a way to honor my grief. Addiction communities employ the term “dry drunk” to describe a person who gives up alcohol, but neglects the other aspects of recovery. Nurturing one’s physical, emotional, and social needs are just as critical to sobriety as putting down the bottle.

Journaling felt like a natural fit for several reasons. First and foremost, I was reading a great deal of sobriety literature, which included workbooks. Daily, I underlined meaningful passages and highlighted useful exercises. Exploring these further through writing was a logical next step. Additionally, I had a long-standing love affair with language and had allowed my passion for writing to become one more casualty of my drinking behaviors. As a teen and young adult, journaling had proven a useful tool in working through my emotions. Why should that be any different now?

A background in writing and journaling is, by no means, a prerequisite for reaping the benefits of a regular practice. According to an article on BJ Psych Advances:

“[G]iven its simplicity, expressive writing appears to have great potential as a therapeutic tool in diverse clinical settings or as a means of self-help, either alone or as an adjunct to traditional therapies.”

Below, I’ve listed various ways to utilize writing in the recovery journey. The beauty of personal journaling is that there are no rules. You can find what works for you and run with it:

Journaling to Prepare

My clients that struggle with addiction often ask, “When will it click? When will I be ready?” Typically, this question results from failed attempts at sobriety or moderation, and while there isn’t a one-sized-fits-all response, I often say the following: Readiness is difficult to predict. What flips that sobriety switch for one person might not phase another person with the same addiction. BUT, there are ways to nurture readiness and complacency is not one of them. You do not have to be sober to make progress toward sobriety. Collecting tools and establishing keystone habits like journaling can equip you in ways that will further anchor you to your commitment when that day does come.

Journaling to Grieve

Eliminating drugs or alcohol can feel like a death. The substance dependence that results from years of abuse is both physical and psychological. Despite the healthy implications of quitting, addicts regularly experience the feelings one associates with loss. A journal provides a safe space to process those emotions–particularly those that are difficult to share with loved ones. In some senses, a journal allows you to eulogize alcohol, and that process of letting go can be a critical step toward healing.

Journaling to Process

Sobriety ushers in a mixed bag of emotions. The highs and lows can be overwhelming–so much so that they often lead to relapse. The simple act of documenting daily moods and feelings prevented me from compartmentalizing them. By getting my thoughts down on paper, it was far easier to process them in an objective way. Oftentimes, I shared excerpts of my writing with my therapist. I was on such an emotional roller coaster in early recovery that having detailed documentation of the ups and downs took a weight off my shoulders. It also afforded my therapist with a more concrete sense of my current mental state.

Journaling to Help Others

On day 100 of my sobriety journey, I felt compelled to share my story with others. At that point, writing felt like a completely natural way to put my experiences out into the world. I’d learned so much and believed that my message would resonate with others. Not only did the process feel cathartic, but it also cemented me more fully to my own commitment. I was no longer just accountable to myself and the loved ones in my support network, but to my readers as well. The feedback I’ve received has been humbling.

Journaling to Document Progress

An unexpected benefit of writing daily for a year and a half has been the ability to look back. In early sobriety, I couldn’t imagine forgetting the details of my emotional journey, but, like childbirth, they quickly faded into half-formed memories. Once I hit my first “sober-versary” I immediately pulled out the entry I’d written on my first day of the recovery process.

It was like opening a time capsule–like holding up a “before and after” picture following an extreme makeover. Not only had I redesigned my life, but I’d documented the process each step of the way. As a coach and therapist, I’m able to draw from those “then and now” contrasts to encourage clients and to normalize the various stages of the recovery process.

When I wake up early each day to complete my morning journaling, there is no dread or resistance. Because I so closely associate writing with my recovery, it feels as non-negotiable as brushing my teeth. Adopting this particular keystone habit has opened countless doors for me, both recovery related and otherwise.

Living in our heads can be overwhelming and a blank page affords us with a safe space to process those thoughts. As I look back on my journal entry from September of 2014, I hardly recognize the author. She was so vacant–so lost. As of today, she feels whole and would argue that it was the direct result of throwing out the wine bottle and replacing it with a really powerful pen.


jen-anderson-addiction-counselorJen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.

Related Articles

5 Must Read Books for Loved Ones of Addicts When your loved one is struggling with addiction, sometimes you feel very alone and confused as to how you should go about being there for him or her. It can be challenging to contend with addicts, wh...
The Long Road of Depression and How I Came Out of It Many people think that alcoholics are all about fun and they don’t care about anything else. While this may be true for a small portion of alcoholics, that isn’t true for most of them and it certainly...
Hypnosis for Addictions Like many people, my first impressions of hypnosis were on TV, on stage, and in the movies, where it was used almost exclusively for entertainment. It wasn’t until I studied therapeutic hypnosis in gr...
What to Expect When You Enter Rehab I went into rehab to save my marriage, but I wound up saving myself." - Michael Douglas What is Rehab? Entering rehab can be an intimidating, but necessary step in the addiction journey. When outpat...
Dry January: Can You Give Up Drinking for 31 Days? With the New Year just around the corner many people are already thinking of their New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s losing that 10 pounds or starting the fitness center membership back up, January...
10 Signs You’re Ready For Recovery "One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on "going it alone." Somehow we've come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a he...
How to Stay in Recovery People can become addicted to a wide range of substances, and this includes alcohol, prescription medications and illegal substances alike. Many who develop an addiction will seek treatment through in...
Which Comes First: Mental Health or Addiction? The broad and ever-changing landscape of mental health and addictions programs can be overwhelming. When considering treatment options, even concepts as basic as “dual diagnosis treatment” can leave o...
Approaching Addiction Through a Language of Gains I am a failure. I am a disappointment. I am a useless addict. These are sad statements--void of hope. They are also the types of messages that substance abusers play and replay internally throu...
Overcoming Common Obstacles in Early Recovery The view from the bottom is honest and ugly. Part of what fuels relapse and returning to active addiction is the totality of the big picture. When what we see is overwhelming, it's easier to look away...
How to Gain Trust Back After Addiction It’s no surprise that active addicts can burn plenty of relationship bridges due to their behavior while using alcohol and drugs. Whether it’s broken promises, lies, irresponsibility, risky behaviors,...
Is Recovery Possible Without AA? When it comes to recovery, it seems there is one method that is the most recommended and most talked about. Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step program that was created in the 1930s as a way to save tho...

Leave a Reply