The Benefits of Journaling for Recovery
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I don’t know about you, but in my early recovery, it sometimes felt like I had an entirely separate person living inside my head. They would fill my thoughts with horrible images from my past, or notions that I would never be able to stay sober, or that no one wanted me around. Pretty dark stuff, and it could be hard to differentiate, before going through the 12 steps, that it was actually just my addiction talking to me.
My therapist in treatment recommended I try journaling. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, I felt some sort of stigma against it, like writing in a diary with a little lock on it was something that only those characters in the Babysitters Club books would do. But I decided to try it. Why not?
The journaling process started out with me more describing every activity of my day and yelling at whatever God was out there listening and then turned into some weird doodling for a while until finally, I was able to piece together some thoughts that were spiraling around my brain, and actually put them on paper.
Letting Loose of Toxic Memories
It was almost like I had opened a floodgate. Memories and emotions from my childhood were poured onto the pages, and embarrassing things that I said to my friends when I was drunk, and the shame I was still harboring from dark times during my using, I started to fill the spiral notebook I was given on my first day in treatment.
Shortly after, my journaling began to develop into more of a creative expression of my emotions, a logbook of my thoughts and desires and grew into sort of becoming my most trusted advisor – someone I could tell everything to. My journaling was never judgemental, it didn’t make me feel bad for those petty thoughts that I had, or that I still felt upset about the guy that cut me off on the highway.
I have no idea why, but it actually felt better after I finished writing. Like the thought I wrote about had been temporarily plucked from the endless row of torment that crashed around my brain while I lay in bed trying to sleep at night. It was a form of catharsis for me in treatment.
As I got a little soberer and went back to the real world, I managed to lose my habit of journaling. It’s funny how sometimes in recovery, we can forget to do the easiest stuff that works the best for us. Thankfully, after a while of not writing, I started to feel the pain get great enough, and I picked the pen up again while I sipped my morning coffee.
It still works for me. Some days I feel stiff when I write, and sometimes it’s like a waterfall of resentments or gratitude from the day before. Whatever I write, it’s cool to be able to kind of go back and see the progressions and fallbacks that I experience. It’s like my own Game of Thrones, where I can go back to any episode and watch a part that relates to something important that is happening now and realize the huge connection that I failed to see before.
How it Can Benefit Physical Health
A lot of people out there may relate to that stigma of journaling, or hate the idea of writing after they have been subjected to the topics we were given throughout school. However, there is actually a lot of data out there, and a whole bunch of studies that have been done that suggest that journaling every day can actually be BENEFICIAL TO YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH!
- The University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes
- Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.
- That same study also tracked the participants long-term and discovered that they reported lower blood pressure, increased lung functioning, fewer PTSD symptoms, as well as things like a higher grade point average and fewer sick days at work.
This study compared people who have experienced trauma, with one group writing about superficial topics such as their room or their shoes, while the other group wrote about past the most traumatic or upsetting experience of their life. The control group, the superficial writing topic, did show some improvements in their moods, but the experimental group, that wrote about the traumatic event, showed dramatically increased improvements in many different areas of their lives.
How it Can Benefit Brain Functioning
These studies and others have shown that journaling allows both your left and right brain to be activated. The actual physical act of writing activates your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While all that is happening on the left side, the right side, the master of the creative side of you, is opened up for free-thinking and non-judgmental expression from the left side.
- Writing and Journaling removes mental blocks and allows activation of both sides of the brain.
- You can begin to know yourself better after routinely jotting your thoughts down on paper.
- You can learn to more easily identify situations and people that are toxic or beneficial for your life.
- You can reduce stress and anger by writing about it. As I stated earlier, it can be highly therapeutic to get those thoughts out of your head and permanently placed somewhere else.
- Learn to process problems and dilemmas more clearly. We usually try to resolve problems in the rational, left brain, but when we write it out, we can come to a more creative option that we may have never thought of by using both sides of the brain.
- You can start to develop a pattern for yourself. You will become more in tune with your thoughts and your emotions and behaviors when you journal frequently.
- You can learn about the way you perceive situations, and you can always go back to something to see your own part in it (perfect for practicing steps 4, 6, and 7!)
How to Get it Going
It can be a little weird in the beginning, or it might feel stiff if you are a perfectionist like I am, but researchers indicate that there are some helpful guidelines to journaling that will help improve creativity and help you feel more comfortable with the whole idea of it.
- Start by setting up a private environment, no one around, just you and a notebook
- Try to write for at least 15-20 minutes, if possible.
- It can be helpful to have a topic to write about
- I like to read a passage from a morning meditation book, and then write on what I got from the passage, whether it be an idea, a word, or how that reading relates to my current life.
- In the beginning, try not to worry about punctuation, or how it sounds or if it is in AMA format. Be as liberal as possible with your writing, pass no judgment on it, just get those thoughts onto that paper.
- Remember, this is YOUR creative time, there are no rules – let your creative juices flow!
Freedom From Addiction is Possible, Here!
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism or addiction, understand that you are not alone in your struggles! If you are ready to change your life and finally be free of your addiction, then Find Addiction Rehabs can help. We can give you the jump-start you need in order to experience the recovery you have always wanted.
Edward lives and works in South Florida and has been a part of its recovery community for many years. With a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts, he works to help Find Addiction Rehabs as both a writer and marketer. Edward loves to share his passion for the field through writing about addiction topics, effective treatment for addiction, and behavioral health as a whole. Alongside personal experience, Edward has deep connections to the mental health treatment industry, having worked as a medical office manager for a psychiatric consortium for many years.