A journal is a valuable tool on the road to addiction recovery because it allows you to form a new identity as you release past memories and habits while honoring your present emotions and thoughts. Journaling helps you to gain independence by becoming more in control of your thoughts, because, laid out in front of you, you get to decide what actions and thoughts are valuable, and what you need and/or want to release.
Journaling, though, can sometimes be intimidating, uncomfortable, and even overwhelming because it asks you to explore areas of the mind that perhaps aren’t accustomed to being explored. Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, however, opens up many possibilities for release, healing, and growth. Keep this truth in mind, and you’ll find a hunger to write developing naturally.
The first step in connecting with your journal is to view it as a trusted friend: you may not see your friend every day, but he or she is there for you and ready to listen to you when you are ready to share. Don’t put limits or expectations on your journaling practice. The most important thing to remember is that this journal is for you. Approach your journal with gentleness, compassion, and an open mind. Sure, you might feel silly writing only to yourself at first, because so much of our lives demand that we look outward towards the needs of others. But, recovery is about nurturing yourself and caring for your own needs. Journaling helps you to explore what is true for you, and to name what is false.
Simple Tips to Keeping a Journal:
1. Your journal is a valuable vehicle that enables you to travel down the road of recovery toward independence, so it should be reflective of you. To begin, take the time to buy or make a journal that reflects who you are or want to be, just as you’d take the time to pick out a new wardrobe or car. (Most bookstores sell journals, and you can find handmade ones on the craft site Etsy.com. Or, make your own from instructions found on the DIY site Pinterest.com. Of course, a simple notebook will do, too!)
2. Write your name and the date in your journal for the first moment of connection. You might also put your phone number and/or mailing address on the first page, should you leave it behind somewhere and would like it returned.
3. Find a place where you feel centered, whether it’s your own home, a neighborhood coffee shop, a park, or someplace deep in the woods. Taking a few mindful breaths can help to center your mind and connect your mind with your body before engaging on the page.
4. Approach your first (and every!) entry with optimism and little expectation. There’s no need to fill a time or page requirement, or to prove anything. Journaling is learning to be with your own thoughts, so allow what comes up to be written without judging yourself for it. No one is grading your journal, and no one has to see it unless you grant permission. You even have the freedom to rip pages out, if it feels right to you. You might staple written pages together so that the memory is there, but not readily accessible (this practice is especially helpful with memories connected to trauma, abuse, or shame). Then, fill the next few pages with hopes and dreams for your future!
5. Give yourself a gentle goal for writing. For example, maybe you write for ten minutes before bed, or during your fifteen-minute break at work. Perhaps carry a small pad around with you in a pocket or purse to jot down thoughts, emotions, and ideas throughout your day. You might leave them in this pad, or transfer your thoughts to a larger notebook. Another way to journal is to leave a notebook by your bed or dining area to journal upon waking and before returning to sleep. This way, you can write down your hopes and expectations for your day, and then respond to them in the evening.
6. The biggest obstacle to keeping a journal is our own self-judgment, so give yourself grace and speak to yourself with compassion when you aren’t able to journal. You are learning to become friends with yourself as you explore and speak to yourself through words, so approach the page with gentleness and compassion and begin to create your own story one word at a time, at your own pace and in your own space.
7. When you can’t seem to find words, consider making a list of thoughts, emotions, or even simply name the objects around you. There is no goal for journaling except to explore your world—both inner and outer—through words. If the words aren’t there, draw, doodle, or glue words and/or images found in magazines.
Remember, journaling is not a task to be completed, but an adventure to embark on!