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Recovery Journaling at The Key to Recovery

Recovery journaling isn’t a new concept. Writing therapy is a tool that many people have used in the past and present to sort out their emotions. As a matter of fact, historians theorize that this form of therapy was present in ancient Egyptian times (1200 BC). A pharaoh noted the healing power of words at the entrance to his royal library. 

Writing therapy isn’t completely different from when the ancient Egyptians practiced it. The difference is that it’s now backed by scientific research. A multitude of studies suggests that journaling to facilitate healing and maintain sound mental health is efficient. 

Writing therapy can help individuals struggling with a dual diagnosis (aka co-occurring disorder) and is proven to help those trying to overcome a substance use disorder. Keeping an addiction recovery journal during and after treatment can act as a healthy coping mechanism. Plus, it can even help therapists and counselors create an effective treatment plan.  

Main Benefits of Recovery Journaling 

How To Get Started With Recovery JournalingThere are many benefits to journaling while in recovery. It would be impossible to name them all, as everyone finds different reasons as to how therapeutic writing benefits them. Yet, there are specific benefits that are universal. 

  • It’s convenient. Members at a facility may be asked by addiction treatment staff to write for a certain amount of time or answer specific recovery journaling prompts for therapy. That said, individuals can bring a journal anywhere and write in it for as little or as much as they would like. People in recovery going through a rough period can process their emotions in a healthy way without resorting to drugs and alcohol by writing about it. 
  • Journaling tracks progress. Sometimes it’s difficult to see how far one has come in addiction recovery. A journal acts as proof.
  • Writing is free. It takes 0 dollars to pick up a pen or pencil to write. There is the fact that one needs a journal and writing utensils to get started on their writing journey. The fact is that these items are inexpensive and can be borrowed in a pinch. Writing itself asks for no money in return for emotional release. Plus, people don’t need a fancy pen or journal to engage in therapeutic writing. They can even check out a library’s computer and use free software online to start a journal. 
  • Acts as a healthy emotional outlet. Many people engage in substance abuse to mask painful feelings. If they don’t address these feelings out in the open it can result in self-destructive habits. Writing as a form of addiction treatment allows individuals to openly express their pain and get to the root of it in a healthy way. They might even uncover what leads them to substance abuse in the first place through writing. 

The Science Behind Recovery Journaling 

Countless studies advocate for writing as a form of therapy. One notable mention is from the American Psychological Association (APA). In one of their journals, they write that “expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory.” Memory aside, those struggling with a substance use disorder likely have intrusive thoughts that lead them to drink and use drugs. 

The APA writes that writing in recovery can reduce negative thoughts because it frees up other mental space. When people ruminate about an issue, it doesn’t act as a release. It actually acts contrary to that by forcing individuals to focus on an issue without expressing it and without coming to a solution. Scientifically, writing allows people to sort out what is hurting them, reflect on the issue positively, and discover a solution. 

One study the APA notes is by Klein and Boals. They measured how expressive writing could help people quell intrusive and avoidant thoughts. They asked participants to write about a negative experience that they thought about frequently or made a point to avoid thinking about altogether. After the study concluded, Klein and Boals saw that the writing participants improved their working memories and had less intrusive/avoidant thoughts overall. 

How To Get Started With Recovery Journaling 

Recovery JournalingThe best way to get started with a recovery journal is by looking into experiential therapy programs at an addiction treatment center. The reason is that trained addiction treatment staff can guide clients through tested journaling prompts for therapy. Then, staff can combine other experiential therapies and talk therapies to complement writing therapy. In doing so, they can craft a more effective treatment plan for each client. 

Keeping that in mind, it’s beneficial to start a recovery journal even before addiction treatment. If an action, like writing, can be the difference between momentarily choosing sobriety over substance abuse, it’s worth it. It’s easy to get started with the right mindset and instruction. 

Steps To Get Started 

  1. Don’t stress about the journal. One of the most important parts of therapeutic writing is just getting started. It can also be one of the most difficult parts. It can be easy to procrastinate on writing because a person is looking for the perfect journal to track their important thoughts and progress. Instead, choose a journal that’s been lying around (rip the pages out of used ones). Alternatively, purchase one without checking out multiple stores. 
  2. Consistency is key. It’s better to focus on consistently writing every day instead of on how much to write or how long to write for. Even better, block out time each day to write. The APA writes that writing for as little as 20 minutes a day can yield major results. 
  3. Don’t focus on the quality. It may be tempting to deeply think about verbiage or edit passages that don’t read easily. As long as it’s legible, it’s okay. Those engaging in writing to help recovery aren’t writing the next bestseller. Instead, they use it as a way to release emotions and avoid intrusive thoughts—typos and all. 
  4. Make sure to date each entry. Part of how journaling in recovery helps is by allowing people to track progress. Dates help keep track of how long people have been dealing with a certain issue and any progress they have made or haven’t.

Recovery Journaling Prompts for Therapy 

Getting started with writing for addiction recovery won’t always come naturally. Some days, people aren’t particularly in the mood to write or feel like they just don’t have anything to write about. Journaling prompts for therapy in addiction recovery can help bridge that gap. Some recovery prompts that may help include: 

  • An entry about 10 things you’re grateful for. 
  • What would the perfect day look like for you? 
  • What is one of the best memories you have? 
  • Write about what you’d like to do before you die. 
  • What are simple actions and items that give you joy? 
  • Write about an obstacle you were able to overcome. 
  • Write about intrusive thoughts along with the solution or why it’s an irrational thought. 

It’s perfectly fine to write about negative, intrusive thoughts. But it doesn’t help to make a recovery journal an extension of rumination. To combat this, always conclude on a positive note. This may be ending with the fact that you have overcome many other obstacles in your life. Whatever the conclusion is, don’t make it a pessimistic one. Focusing on positive writing exercises can improve mental health overall by promoting mindfulness. 

Recovery Journaling and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Recovery JournalingCognitive-behavioral therapy works on helping individuals recognize harmful thought patterns and the behaviors that stem from them as a result. Before CBT was a concept, a psychiatrist noticed that his depressed patients had automatic, intrusive thoughts that deeply affected their mental health. By identifying these thoughts, his patients were able to combat them and lead more productive lives. 

Journaling in recovery can help individuals recognize any underlying thoughts that may push them to substance abuse. The more people recognize these thoughts and potentially what triggers them, the easier it becomes to combat them. Over time, these thoughts should happen less frequently and may stop completely.

Expressive Recovery Journaling 

Around half of the individuals struggling with a substance use disorder also suffer from a mental illness. When this happens, it’s defined as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. While writing with a CBT emphasis can help those with mental illness in various ways, so can plain expressive writing. 

One reason is that individuals can’t always pinpoint what’s bothering them. Often, expressive writing lets people write until they come to the real reason behind what is causing them emotional anguish. Also, it gives them an opportunity to challenge these thoughts with a positive one. What makes journaling for addiction recovery so powerful is that there are many methods that can aid the healing process.

Discover the Power of Recovery Journaling in Southern California 

There is no singular route to recovery. If so, substance use disorders wouldn’t be classified as complex chronic relapse disorders. That’s why here at The Key to Recovery, we combine medical and clinical techniques along with natural therapies, such as writing, to achieve recovery. The combination of both practices helps build a sustainable, individualized recovery program for each client at our center. Contact us now if you or a loved one wants to explore how journaling in recovery can help overcome addiction.   

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