The Power of Keeping a Journal in Addiction Recovery

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When reading about the various stages of addiction treatment, most things written are ideal situations. It’s hard to account for all of the different personalities and approaches to treatment, so all we can give are “by the book” accounts. For instance, when seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction at The River Source, clients start with an intensive recovery program after detox. They attend individual, group and family therapy and learn vital coping mechanisms and life skills. But what if the addict is not ready to talk? What if they haven’t made sense of their behavior?

At our holistic treatment center, we get addicts in all stages of recovery. Some have reached rock bottom and are fully committed to their recoveries, while others have been strongly encouraged to enter treatment by their families. Maybe they were given an ultimatum, so they took it, but they aren’t exactly on board with treatment. With so many backgrounds, personalities and underlying factors, it’s safe to say that each journey to sobriety is unique.

That’s why journaling is a vital tool embraced by The River Source.

What We Love About Journaling

All clients are encouraged to keep a journal detailing their recovery. Some are apprehensive at first, but we remind them that journaling consists of nothing but letting go. It’s private, so no one has to know what’s being written. Journaling is especially constructive for addicts who aren’t quite ready to open up during counseling sessions. Some may not even know where to begin. Journaling helps get feelings out and on paper, which makes it easier to recognize inner emotions.

There is another reason why we at The River Source encourage journaling: it shows the progress that has been made. It’s common for recovering addicts to have days when they feel frustrated, defeated or even on the brink of relapse. By keeping a detailed journal, these clients have something to look back on. They can see the progress they’ve made and why they don’t want to return to using. We have many clients who will look back at their journals and say, “Wow. I never want to feel like that again.”

In this way, journaling can also help prevent relapse. When temptations start to run high, recovering addicts often don’t know where to turn. If they can’t get a hold of their sponsor, for instance, they may start feeling lost in their thoughts. Journaling can help a recovering addict during a moment like this. They can write in their journals about their thoughts and feelings, and hopefully by the time the entry has been written, the feelings of using again will have somewhat subsided.

Expressing these fears can also provide enlightenment, which can also help prevent relapse. An addict may write about what’s really bothering them – the stress of the holidays, the announcement of a new baby – and come to terms with what they are really feeling. When they know what’s at the source of them wanting to use again, they can deal with the problem in a constructive, healthy manner. It can be scary for a recovering addict to face their problems sober, but it’s necessary for long-term sobriety.

The Benefits to Keeping a Journal

Some clients may have an excuse right off the bat for not wanting to keep a journal. We don’t take excuses, though, and we instead remind clients of the many benefits to journaling:

  • It allows addicts to learn more about themselves.
  • It reduces stress levels.
  • It encourages accountability.
  • It tracks progress.
  • It makes addicts feel more in tune to their inner emotions.
  • It encourages people to think clearly and critically.
  • It reminds addicts of how far they have come.
  • There is no judging from others.

Types of Journaling

There are many types of journaling. At The River Source, there are no guidelines except to write freely. Don’t let emotions stand in your way to feel or sort through problems. Don’t let the fear of others judging you block you from writing how you really feel. Don’t be consumed with what’s socially acceptable or not. Just write. There is something special about writing that cannot be replicated by any other type of therapy. Writing is personal and private. There are no rules to follow or norms to adhere to.

Below are some various types of journaling practiced by our clients:

  • Stream of consciousness – Writing whatever comes to mind for a specified period of time.
  • Diary – A daily account of important things that happened for the day.
  • Gratitude – Focuses on positive things to change negative attitudes and outlooks.
  • Spiritual – Includes regular observations about spiritual development.
  • Exercise/Health – Keeps track of healthy living, including meal plans and exercise.

Journaling is an excellent symbol of self preservation. Many clients continue keeping a journal long after treatment because of its unbiased outlet for sharing feelings, emotions, thoughts and progress.