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How Journaling Can Help in Recovery

How Journaling Can Help in Recovery Image

One of the toughest parts about recovery is dealing with the noise in your own head. Before, you drowned it out with alcohol and drugs, but once you are sober, it’s still there, as loud and chaotic as ever.

What are you supposed to do with all these intense thoughts and emotions?

Some rehabs and treatment centers help patients express their thoughts and emotions through journaling. Journaling, defined, is simple: “a personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a daily basis.”

You may think, But I’m not a writer, or I could never be consistent with keeping a journal. Throw these thoughts away for now. You don’t have to be a great writer to keep a journal (only will you will be reading it anyway), and you may find journaling becomes a habit quicker than you think.

Research and testimonials show that journaling can be a powerful tool in recovery. According to psychologist Dr. Barbara Marakway, “There’s simply no better way to learn about your thought processes than to write them down.” It’s true that sometimes you don’t know how you feel or think about something until you write about it.

Let’s look at some benefits of recovery journaling:

Benefits of Keeping a Journal in Recovery

Keeping a journal in sobriety can prove to be a powerful tool to help you stay sober. Here are some ways journaling can help:

Articulating your thoughts and emotions

It’s normal in early recovery to feel emotionally out of control. One minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re crying, and then all of a sudden, you’re angry. You may not even know why.

Writing down thoughts and emotions in a journal helps sort them out to make sense. For example, you may think you feel angry at someone in your life, but when you sit down and write about it, you can step back and discover that you’re not angry at them at all; maybe you’re sad about something else.

Identifying triggers

It’s important to be honest in recovery about your triggers that could lead you back to your addiction. Triggers in recovery can be people, places, objects, behaviors, or emotions that make you want to drink or use. Journaling is a great way to recognize, understand, and deal with your personal triggers.

Getting to know yourself

Recovery is about figuring out who you truly are at the core of yourself. During active addiction, you lose who you are, and when you get sober, you may need to rediscover yourself. Keeping a journal can be a pathway for self-discovery. You can also use journaling prompts to aid you.

Relieving stress and anxiety

If you’re stressed and anxious, grab a pen and your journal and write out how you feel without stopping until you feel some relief. Don’t worry about anything other than getting the words on paper. Journaling can serve as a de-stressor because it gives you a safe place to vent.

Reflecting and seeing growth

On days when you feel like you are not progressing, you can reread your journal and see how far you have come. Seeing growth inspires you to keep going forward.

In addition, journaling accesses a different part of your brain than talking. When you write down thoughts and emotions, specific connections are made, and your mind reorganizes and makes sense of what you are writing.

Every person is different; while recovery groups are vital in recovery, some people are better at writing out their feelings than speaking them.

Tips for Keeping a Journal in Recovery

The best part of journaling is there is no right or wrong way to do it. You just write. You can buy a 25 cent notebook at the store, or you could spend money on a fancier journal if you wish. Some people prefer typing in a word processor or in the notes on their smartphone.

Start by devoting a certain amount of time a day, say 15 minutes, to write about how you feel, what you want, and what you need.

If you need a little more structure, consider the following types of recovery journals:

Diary journal – You can record daily events and how you feel about them in a diary journal. This will give you insight into triggers that may lead to negative thinking or behavior. It also helps you look back at progress in recovery.

Gratitude journal – Gratitude is an important part of recovery. Focus on the positive parts of your life and recovery and make daily gratitude lists. Research from Harvard Medical School found that daily gratitude practices, including journaling, is strongly linked to improved health, better relationships, and overall happiness.

Goal journal – Part of recovery is looking ahead and making goals for your future. You can record short term and long term goals in a recovery goal themed journal.

Spiritual journal – Keeping a spiritual journal is a way to keep track of your spiritual growth in recovery.

Health journal – Keep track of your wellness goals as you develop habits like nutritious eating and exercise in a health-themed journal.

Some in recovery have found the following tips helpful:

  • Choose a private, comfortable place free from distractions.
  • Set aside 20-30 minutes each day to write.
  • Try to write every day, if possible.
  • Keep a pen and paper handy throughout the day if you think of something to write down.
  • Set aside time every week to review your journal entries and reflect on them.


Recovery Journal: Just Write and Go From There

Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and actions allows you to reflect on your experiences and discover your authentic self. Journaling in recovery can relieve stress and anxiety and serves as a healthy tool for keeping yourself accountable.

There’s no right or wrong way to journal in recovery. You should give it a try, make it a habit, and see what works best for you.

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Adam Nesenhoff

Adam Nesenhoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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