Journaling seems to be one of those buzz words that ranks high on the list of beneficial things to do in recovery. Maybe you really don’t feel like journaling, but you still want to heal. If that’s the case, is this therapeutic action completely off the table for you? Are there new and different ways to journal that aren’t such a pain? The answers are “no” and “yes” respectively. Perhaps more to the point, by investigating some of the techniques, you may find that journaling offers some long-term benefits that you may not have realized or thought you couldn’t take advantage of. Best of all, you may discover that journaling is actually fun.
Write a Letter to Yourself
If the idea of a full commitment to daily journal writing is as distasteful as going to the dentist to have a cavity filled, do an abbreviated form of writing. Compose a letter to yourself where you recap the events of the day or talk about something that used to bother you and now you’ve figured out a way to deal with it in a more effective manner. Since you know yourself best, use language that feels like the way you talk. If you need to be angry, be angry. If you’re upset, say so. If you feel delighted about something that happened today, mention it. Whether you save your letter for future reference, put it in the shredder or ball it up and burn it, the contents are strictly for you and whatever benefit you derive from it. This is probably one of the easiest ways to tiptoe into journaling without feeling trapped or obligated.
Do “Automatic Writing”
Some people also call this “unconscious writing.” The process goes like this: You write down whatever comes into your thoughts on a piece of paper — or use a computer or tablet if you prefer. Don’t censor anything. The point is to allow the free-flow of thoughts, and with them any emotions that bubble up. If you’re sitting there and nothing comes to mind, try word association. Write down a word — for example, “anger” — and quickly, without judgment, start writing everything you associate with that word. It could be boss, deadlines, pressure, stress, tension, kids, partner/spouse/family member and more. Whatever it is, you’re getting it out of your system and reducing negative emotions at the same time. According to psychologists, putting words down on paper reduces activity in the amygdale of the brain, the area that controls intensity of emotions. By getting rid of that self-destructive emotion, you’re paving the way to feeling happier. Maybe “automatic writing” isn’t officially journaling, but if the technique works, why not make use of it?
Make Use of Technology
Pen and paper may seem so old school that it’s a definite turn-off. Thankfully, we’re now fortunate enough to have access to many high-tech devices, including computers, tablets and smartphones. This provides a natural access and tool for journaling, especially for those who are short on time and long on things to do. The point is to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. An app that helps you keep track of your daily moods and activities can prove helpful in your overall recovery progress. Best of all, it’s simple, quick and easy to manage. No worries about writing 500 to 1,000 words that have you grinding your teeth or taking off for a 10-mile run.
Express Yourself With Art
If you like to dabble in oils or watercolors, doodle with pen or pencil, sculpt, mold, weld or use some other creative process to express yourself, this is another effective way to engage in journaling. You’ll have tangible results of your efforts when you finish being creative for today. You’ll also find that working with your hands this way helps alleviate stress, calms your nerves, eases tension, relaxes your body and clarifies your thinking. While you’re engrossed in your creative activity, you’re also freeing your mind to allow possible solutions to thorny problems or pent-up issues to emerge — without judgment, pressure, or criticism from anyone else.
Meditation and Yoga Count, Too
Another way to approach journaling from a possibly less “painful” perspective is to get into the regular practice of meditation or yoga. Both are ancient practices that have proven effective in reducing stress, easing pain, overcoming negative emotions and calming nerves. Meditation and yoga also help increase clarity of focus, streamline clutter, eliminate conflicting demands and restore balance. Meditation and yoga require a certain amount of discipline, rhythmic breathing, accessing the quiet part of your mind and allowing time to acquire a sense of familiarity with the practice. As with any other effective recovery technique, you’ll get better the more you practice. Consider this journaling of the mind. Isn’t that where all journaling starts to begin with?
Mark Griffiths, PhD, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University who has written a number of articles on the psychology of writing, said: “A number of studies have indicated that writing down your feelings is psychologically good for you. Research has demonstrated that those who spend time writing about emotionally bad feelings visit their general practitioner less than those that write about non-emotional feelings. Individuals that benefit the most from expressive diary writing typically use more causal analysis and express more emotion while writing. Therefore, expressive diary writing may be helping individuals simplify and organize their fragmented memories.” It’s important to note that words are very powerful. In journaling, be kind to yourself and treat yourself with the respect and compassion you’d want others to exhibit towards you. Trying to come to terms with the messiness and consequences of addiction requires a lot of effort. Consider that you’re talking to a trusted friend, one who’ll always stand by you. That person is you. You are very wise, even if you haven’t yet discovered this about yourself. Don’t hold anything back. Recognize that journaling can be very cathartic, allowing you to find a bright and shiny path in the dark forest of uncertainty. On the other side, you’ll emerge feeling more confident and capable, with a renewed belief in what you can do — if you put your heart and mind into it. By Suzanne Kane