4 Powerful Reasons Why Journaling Helps in Addiction Recovery

There is nothing to writing.

All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

– Ernest Hemingway, U.S. author, and journalist

I once loved writing as much as I once loved getting drunker than anyone else in the room. And then some. As a kid, I loved to write little stories and drew pictures to illustrate them. I wrote countless adventures about spacemen, superheroes, and cowboys, with me taking the role of the most handsome and heroic character every single time. Naturally.

However, I never became addicted to writing. It never kept me awake at night until I blacked out, it never resulted in another bar-room fight I was destined to lose, yet another job termination for swearing at customers or my bosses (again), or another miserable, broken and failed relationship.

Getting drunker than anyone else in the room, though? That, as they say, is a completely different story.

I find it ironic now that when once my alcoholism put an end to my desire to pick up a pen and write down my thoughts and story ideas, every one of them, it has now returned to me as a way of continuing to remain focused and positive about my addiction recovery, even when the days are hard. In fact, especially when the days are hard.

I’ve been clean and sober, without any relapses, for over 6 years now. All thanks to a Phoenix rehab center. As part of my recovery, I eat healthily, I exercise nearly every day (and mostly that’s with the dog), and I try to keep to a routine too. I read once that, as humans, we love repetition. In fact, around 60% of what we did yesterday, we’ll do today. And tomorrow too. Having taken that one fact to heart, I ensure all my habits are good ones.

As a desperate alcoholic, I would repeat pretty much all of the previous days, and none of my habits or my routines were good ones.

And, of course, I write now. I keep both a journal and a kind of diary. The journal is for “processing” everything that comes to my racing mind, like memories, thoughts, and feelings, and story ideas (I still get those, and even act on a few), and the diary is simply a daily record of my actions, and important dates and things I need to make a note of.

Unsurprisingly, me being me, I’m now on my 11th journal and my 7th diary. If there’s one thing I’m certain of, neither will be the last. To make reference to the Hemingway quote which begins this article, I still may have a fair bit of bleeding yet to do, but I know for sure I’m healing when I do it. When the words are finally thought through and written down, another old wound closes for good.

It is this wonderfully therapeutic process of writing that I wanted to share with you – “4 Powerful Reasons Why Journaling Helps in Addiction Recovery.” Here’s why…

#1. Writing a Journal is Empowering Therapy

Addiction, in itself, is incredibly powerful. According to the medical profession, addiction is a “chronic, relapsing brain disorder,” and the U.S. is an addicted society. Well before the nation was struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, it was still getting to grips with the “Opioid Crisis” – the opioid abuse epidemic that has affected every state therein, and continues to do so.

U.S. substance use disorders (SUD) numbers are staggering. In 2017, an estimated 11.1 million Americans misused opioids, around the same number misused painkillers, and nearly 900,000 were using heroin (SAMHSA, 2018).

Let’s look at alcohol, my own substance of choice – back in the day.

In the same year, 14.5 million Americans identified themselves as having an alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, one study estimated that figure to be much, much higher – in fact, again in 2017, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions study found that 1 in 8 U.S. adults meet the criteria for AUD. 1 in 8… Just think about that for a second.

As an alcoholic, I was defined by my alcoholism. I felt isolated, and, to a degree, an outcast. I couldn’t express myself properly – I couldn’t even articulate how I felt.

However, in the early days of my recovery, I finally found my voice again. For anyone in the same position, being able to express yourself – your own thoughts and feelings – is a very empowering therapy just in itself. This process has been described by some as spiritual and mental emancipation.

As part of this therapy, keeping a journal (or “journaling,” if you prefer) provides you with a way of gathering yourself, and a feeling of control, which has obviously been missing in your life for a long time.

#2. Writing is “Craving Control”

At the beginning of my recovery, cravings were intense and frightening. When powerful enough, they can make you think you’ve lost the sense of control that you thought you had. As my writing became more fluid and expressive, I learned I could write through a craving. Looking back at some of those early journals, many parts were written in a hard-to-read scribble (because my hand was simply shaking so much).

Furthermore, because of the chronological order, they were written in, it became easy to identify when those cravings would occur – what I was thinking about at the time, and how those thoughts were affecting me. By studying these, I could even begin to predict when cravings would come, and prepare for them.

#3. Writing is Scientifically Beneficial for Your Brain

Did you know that keeping a journal and writing regularly therein is proven to be beneficial for your recovering brain – the target of your addiction’s prolonged chemical abuse? This is because writing accesses a different part of your brain than simply speaking. Yes, indeed it does.

All experts agree on the proven benefit of both individual and group therapy sessions during addiction recovery. However, the full benefits of releasing past emotions and talking about your hopes for the future is more achievable when we also write these things down in tandem with speaking about them.

#4. Writing about Your Hopes & Goals

Have you heard about those who believe that writing your hopes and wishes in a note will release those desires into the universe, and ultimately come back to you? Personally, I wouldn’t know if that’s true, but I do believe that writing them down in a journal is an exceptionally positive step for someone in recovery to take.

According to Forbes, referencing a Dominican University study, “those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write down their goals.”

Putting your hopes and aspirations for the future (a future that, as an addict or an alcoholic, would be impossible to even begin to visualize) down in writing is one of the best parts of keeping a journal. You’ll even smile at yourself as you look back and see how they change (and they do) as you progress through your recovery.

Your Journal is Yours & No More…

No one will ever read my series of journals. They are for me, and me alone. Maybe when I’m long gone, someone will read them. Who knows? All I’m confident of now is that if I never drink alcohol again, I’ll have a happy life – or, at least, a far better one than if I did one day pick up a drink. Longer, that’s for sure.

So, there you go – those are the “4 Powerful Reasons Why Journaling Helps in Addiction Recovery”:

  • Writing a Journal is Empowering Therapy
  • Writing is “Craving Control”
  • Writing is Scientifically Beneficial for Your Brain
  • Writing about Your Hopes & Goals

Try it. You’ll be surprised. Do you have any experience of writing a journal? Please share with others by a comment below – thanks. Good luck to you, and I’ll end this with another favorite quote about writing…

Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

– Stephen King, U.S. author, and novelist, from “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”

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