While quitting a substance stood as a significant step toward rehabilitation, it was learning how to creatively funnel the cyclone of racing thoughts that truly unlocked a doorway within me to achieve sustainable sobriety.
While there are many channels of release such as yoga, running, and meditation, journaling for emotional awareness can provide an exceptional shelter from the storm of emotions that comes with getting clean.
How It Helps
Just like the addictive loops of substance use, thoughts can build patterns that repeat in our heads. When those thoughts are positive and motivating, they should be nurtured and encouraged to thrive. On the other hand, negative thought patterns stemming from inadequacies, regret, or shame can swell to an insurmountable darkness. If left to spiral, this can lead to depression or even relapse.
The unfair reality of thoughts seems to be that the more you try to stop them, the stronger they become. This is a basic law of physics: resistance. What you resist, persists.
Writing allows you to break the resistance by pouting those thoughts onto a page. Once out of you head, you can see the thought on the page which allows for a natural shift in perspective.
How to Write an Entry
Keep it simple. Don’t overthink how you are transcribing your thoughts. Sentences needn’t be poetic, just let the words land on the page in whichever fashion they fall. If you want, you can always go back and revise at a later time.
One of the best tools for freewriting is a timer. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, or however long best suits you. Tell yourself that you are going to write without stopping until the timer stops. Sometimes that means you might just write that you don’t know what to write. Other times, you might be writing fervently when the timer ends. If this is the case, keep writing. That’s the whole point.
Another way to think about an entry is to consider it a way to capture all the colors of your emotions like crafting a mood ring. In this case, keep your journal with you or nearby as much as possible. When you become overwhelmed with an emotion, rather than lashing out or retreating into a stubborn ball, paint that emotion onto the page. Let that raw emotion tumble out. This kind of writing is often very passionate. You might just end up filling three pages with a rant of how unfair a situation seems or how much a conversation upset you.
Don’t be too self-conscious or hold back. Remember, this is your journal. What you are writing is not an attempt to record facts. Rather, it is an instrument to allow your emotions space to breathe.
How Do I Know if I’m Doing It Right?
The thing about writing is, like any art, there are no hard rules. Writing is an expression of verbal associations. It is employing the freedom to paint the world as you see it, out of which you may find order within the chaos of the world.
Sometimes, an entry may catch a rhythm and flow. The next could be a more distant approach or include a scene with dialog. It could be a list or even a sketch with words and arrows. It can be happy, sad, disappointed, or angry. It doesn’t matter. The point is to try to strike at something honest within yourself. The more painfully honest or vulnerable you can be, the more likely you are to discover insight. And to discover insight, is to stake a gold mine within your heart.
In short, if you are writing frequently and toward brutal honesty, you are doing it right.
What if I Feel Worse After Writing?
Feeling an upswing in emotion is natural after writing, especially if it something contains emotionally-charged or traumatic content. Under these circumstance, writing can break down a dam so overwhelming you might spend the rest of the afternoon sobbing. But to write a love letter to an ex that hurt you or a scene of the worst thing you’ve ever done is surprisingly liberating. You needn’t be afraid of this kind of release. With release comes healing, and healing often hurts.
Before allowing yourself to externalize shameful experiences, you left them to rot inside of you. On the page, you will most likely find that your story exists within a tapestry of like stories. You will be able to more clearly differentiate the person you are now from the person you used to be, a clarity that in given time will stand as proof of survival. Look at what you’ve overcome. And here you are, still alive. Still breathing.
What Kind of Journal Should I Get?
This is important. If you are able, find a way to make your journal specific to you then take the time to find the right one. Do you prefer lined or unlined pages? Do you like spiral notebooks or a big yellow legal notepad? It’s important to choose a notebook that feels comfortable. If it’s too small or too cluttered with illustrations, you are less likely to want to use it.
Beware of anything too fancy. I find that fancy notebooks make me feel like I need to write brilliantly in order to grace its pages. And remember that’s not what this journal is for—this journal is for emotional liberation. Emotions are messy things. Keep that in mind. Find a notebook that welcomes you to scrawl within the pages.
As both a writer and writing teacher, I have seen the fundamental difference that writing offers individuals in recovery, not only in writing but sharing that writing with their recovery community.