Journaling’s Effect on Wellness in Recovery

Keeping a written record of daily thoughts can be a useful tool for organizing a recovery lifestyle. Since living in recovery involves building new habits and using coping skills, a journal can offer a daily catalog of actions that work or should be tossed to the side.

Journaling and Sober Living

Through writing a person can practice important skills, such as self-awareness and self-knowledge, according to a Journal of Experiential Education article. Journaling gives a person the chance to put his current thoughts down on paper making them a written reflection of his internal experience. By seeing these thoughts in print, thoughts about successes and struggles, the journal writer has a better chance of creating meaning from the thoughts. The journal essentially becomes a conduit between the inner mind and the outside world.

People who are living a sober lifestyle must actively manage cravings and find effective stress management techniques according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Learning the best ways to stay on track requires personal awareness. A person must know the best ways to fight stress like a warm bath work or a walk in a beautiful setting. Creating change also requires daily dedication. A journal can act as a daily reminder to stay on track with personal goals and improve a person’s awareness of thoughts and motivations.

The ability to be self-aware is not easy. Even though humans have access to internal thoughts and beliefs, they often shy away from uncomfortable thoughts or lack the ability to examine all thoughts because they occur on a subconscious level according to an Annual Review of Psychology article.

The most effective journaling style appears to combine the writer’s ability to capture emotions and perceptions according to an Annals of Behavioral Medicine article. In a study of students’ journals about a stressful or traumatic event, students who focused on emotions and personal insights came away with more positive benefits from the stressful event than students using a purely emotional focus. Students who focused only on the emotional impact of the trauma experienced more severe illness symptoms, possibly due to a more intense focus on negative emotions while writing.

Steps for Journal Writing

Even when a person wants to begin journaling, he may feel paralyzed by uncertainty. It can be challenging to develop a new skill especially when the process is unfamiliar. Getting started is as simple as breaking the task into simple steps according to the Center for Journal Therapy.

The following five steps ease a person into the journaling habit:

  • Ask a few questions to choose a writing topic – Questions may include, “What’s going on,” or “How do I feel?”
  • Reflect on the topic – The process may include a few minutes of deep breathing.
  • Explore thoughts and feelings by writing them down – If the momentum stops, close your eyes and breathe until more thoughts return.
  • Place a time limit on the writing session – Limit the session to five to 15 minutes.
  • End the session by re-reading the entry and summing it up with a sentence that describes a new feeling or awareness.

The Center for Journal Therapy offers several other strategies for making the most of journaling. Once a new writer feels comfortable writing his first entry, it’s important to establish a journaling habit. Set a phone timer as a reminder to begin writing at the same time every day or make it part of a nighttime routine to get ready for bed.

It may be necessary to find ways to keep the journal private. When living with other people, explain the importance of keeping the journal private, or set up a private email account with a protected password and email entries to the account. In addition, it’s important to put a date on every entry as a way to provide context when returning to the journal after an absence.

To get the most out of journaling, take a moment before writing to provide direction to the entry. Want to keep up with progress on a goal? Make the goal a focus of the journal and then write as fast as possible to keep the words flowing and avoid a tendency to criticize the writing.

During treatment, addicts attend groups where they must verbally explain their emotions, fears, and plans for the future. While this is effective in a supportive environment where others were also experiencing the same emotions and fears, recovering addicts may experience difficulty verbally expressing themselves once treatment is completed. Recovering addicts often feel judged and constantly criticized for their past addiction struggles and because of this often hide their feelings and emotions, even from loved ones.

Once in recovery, recovering addicts are encouraged to keep a journal which can be used to help explain their struggles and emotions or to keep track of their daily routine. Journal keeping is encouraged to help individuals explain their emotions, spot risky behaviors in their daily routine, or even to help work through struggles. People in recovery are also encouraged to read through their journal so they can see where they once struggled, re-celebrate their triumphs, and spot behaviors that could jeopardize their recovery.  Although keeping a journal may not be ideal for all recovering addicts, it is worth a try and could greatly improve one’s relationships by improving one’s communication skills.

How Does Journaling Affect One’s Recovery?

Some individuals are able to express themselves verbally while others may find this form of communication unnerving and confrontational. Those who are unable to verbally express themselves effectively, may find that they are able to further their recovery if they start to keep a journal to help express their emotions and behaviors. Being able to identify healthy behaviors as well as the behaviors that can jeopardize  recovery is vital to  success in sobriety. Included in the following are some examples on how a journal can help improve recovery:

  • Improve communication
  • Keep your thoughts and head in order
  • Escape from reality

Often times, individuals are not able to fully communicate or explain their feelings, behaviors, or current mindset and being able to write down all their emotions can be tremendous for their recovery. Journaling can help individuals uncover hidden emotions, release feelings and emotions they’ve kept under wraps, and explain to others how they feel when they are unable to verbalize it. Journaling allows an individual to be completely honest with themselves.  Because every individual has secrets, insecurities, along with regrets that are often kept in silence, these bottled up feelings always find a way out. The best way to express these feelings is by writing them in a journal, so that they do not come out at the wrong time.

Keeping a journal also has an extremely practical side to it as well. During recovery, recovering addicts are encouraged to self-reflect, or review their actions for the day and see if there could have been any improvements made for the next day. It is always important to remind oneself about the good things they have accomplished as well as where they have fallen short. Many recovering addicts tend to be hard on themselves so taking the proper time to self-reflect is extremely important. Planning the day and staying organized can help individuals maintain their focus and be prepared for the day. Without maintaining focus or having a direction to go, many individuals find themselves almost running in circles and becoming extremely frustrated. Planning for the day in a journal can help individuals reduce their anxiety levels, which is an important coping skill.  Taking the time to plan their days and list their priorities can be directly linked to happiness and success in recovery.

When individuals are focused on their writing, they often do not think about anything else.  This can help individuals escape reality and get lost in their writing, which could help them temporarily forget about their cravings for drugs and alcohol. This has been beneficial for many in recovery because the reason they looked to drugs in the first place was to help them escape reality, even if it was just temporary.  Those who enjoy writing may get this escape when writing either in their journal about their recovery, writing a short story, or even writing letters to loved ones.