When Beth first started going through treatment, she couldn’t talk about her experience of being sexually abused as a child. For years, she had kept her feelings and thoughts clenched in her heart like a fist. Then she started writing. At first, the words poured out in great waves onto the pages of her journal. Over time, she began to notice how each sentence and each page brought greater release and distance from the pain she had borne in silence for so many years. Her painful childhood began to lose its power and stranglehold on her and her life.
Journaling, in conjunction with therapy or other help, can help you bridge your inner and outer worlds and connect with a path of action and reflection. Writing is sorting. Writing gives you a way to respect your mind, choose and harness your thoughts, interact with and change who you think you are. That is what a spiritual journey is—it’s a major change, over time, of your self-identity. This is followed by a corresponding change in what you believe you are capable of achieving.
While keeping a journal or recording your feelings is not a substitute for therapy or treatment, writing can measurably improve your health. Researchers theorize that journaling is effective because it lets people synthesize and make sense of their experiences.
In early Twelve Step recovery, you were encouraged to tell your story as a way to openly and honestly acknowledge your powerlessness over addiction. As you worked the Steps, your story unfolded further as you took stock of yourself and your behavior. Because it accepts your truths and stories without judgment, a journal can be a valuable tool during this introspective process.
Recording your truths and feelings in a journal will better prepare you to interact honestly with others in mutual self-help groups, in your family, and in all other aspects of your life.
How do you start to keep a journal?
There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. It may be helpful for you to simply sit down with pen and paper, or at the computer, and make a contract with yourself to write for at least five or ten minutes. If you need to, set a timer to verify that you’ve accomplished your daily writing goal.
Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or whether or not your writing makes sense. Just write. Sometimes it helps to use a repetitive phrase such as “I used to _____________, but now I ___________.” List whatever comes to mind.
You don’t have to stay with the original sentence or subject. Follow your thoughts and write about wherever they lead you. A journal isn’t just a negative dumping ground. It is a place to record positive thoughts as well. You may want to consider recording blessings from each day. Each night before you go to bed, list the gifts you were given that day: the quality of light on a cloudy day, the friendly clerk at the grocery store, the laughter of a child, or anything else that made your heart lighter, even for a moment. This is a great way to fall asleep with what recovering people call “an attitude of gratitude.”
Keeping a journal makes good sense for those who participate in Twelve Step recovery programs. Letting go and turning over what you cannot change, changing what you can, acknowledging your weaknesses, and celebrating your joys are all integral aspects of Twelve Step recovery. A journal is a safe place where you can record those changes, let go of your fears, and express confusion, anger, doubt, remorse, and joy. A journal is a constant friend that accepts your negative and positive feelings unconditionally. It is also a place where you can chart your growth, step by step.