At The Key To Recovery, our mission is greater than initial sobriety.
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.
There 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.
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.
The 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.
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:
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.
Cognitive-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.
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.
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.