I always wanted to be a writer and during some of my drinking sprees, I would open that second bottle of wine, get out pen and paper and start writing what I thought were very important and life changing revelations. These writings seemed to be in the form of letters. I remember writing long letters to my Father (because I had “Daddy” issues; and because phoning him at that hour of the night wouldn’t win me the kind of attention I wanted). I also wrote letters to my husband (because I had “husband” issues; although I’m only on my third), and I often wrote letters for the benefit of all mankind.
In the morning I would take my sick self downstairs and find my illegible scratching strewn across my desk or under the desk. Sometimes I would find these letters in unexpected places, probably because I wanted them to be my private musings and thought to hide them away. I actually thought that these letters contained brilliant gems of wisdom and that I should keep them for future reference. Ironically, during my alcohol free days, I was absolutely mute. I could not put one word on a piece of paper. This led me further to believe that my real genius only comes out when I am drinking wine in copious amounts.
This was my feeble attempt at starting a personal journal and it was a huge benefit to me. It kept me occupied and stopped me from making embarrassing phone calls in the middle of the night.
There are all types of journals. Some people start travel diaries, bug-list diaries, prayer diaries, confession diaries, weather diaries. Others have companion journals where they write down the private parts of their life. And yes, journals can even be in the form of letters. Take for example the letters written by John Adams to his wife Abigail. They exchanged over 1100 letters which follow their courtship and his political career.
Barnet and Stubbs draw a distinction between a journal and a diary.
“A diary mentions things that have happened; a journal reflects on the happenings. A diary lists appointments; a journal records events, but gives some sense of why they were meaningful.”
If you are trying to overcome an addiction, journal writing is a valuable tool and it will take you far. A recovery journal should contain both types of entries – diary entries where you keep track of your recovery process, document specific tasks that you have completed, follow day to day stats on alcohol consumption or cravings; and it should also contain journal type entries, where you can look at your inner self, where you can reflect, get “stuff” out of your head and attempt to understand the world around you and understand yourself.
I know that it’s scary to look inward, especially for an alcoholic or addict. We often think that inward is where our addiction lives. If we look there we will find only insanity, dark and depraved thoughts, regrets and self hatred. But a recovery journal is a lot different than you might think. A recovery journal is all about new beginnings – a renewal so to speak. It is like having an intimate friend or maybe it is something that you can come home to and settle in with like a great cup of coffee or a fluffy pillow. It is your security blanket.
A recovery journal starts at the beginning of your recovery and follows you until you reach the end. You will want to review past entries to see how much you have grown and remind yourself of the issues that you have tackled and the things that you are still working on.
Here are some ideas that you can start with to get going on your recovery journal. I would recommend dividing the journal into different sections. Some sections will be more like diary entries and other sections more reflective.
This section documents your recovery process. Record when you fall down and when you get up. Record the hurdles you have overcome. Record your drinking levels (if you are stepping down). Record your level of cravings from no cravings to severe. Record tasks and activities you have done during recovery. What worked and what didn’t work.
Questions about Recovery
Most people in recovery have a support system, coach or therapist. Jot down things you don’t understand, or questions that you need answered and ask your coach or counselor at your next session. For e.g. you might want to know how to make a recovery plan, or find out how long your cravings will last, or maybe you want to know why you feel anxious all the time.
There is likely to be many things that have been neglected because of your addiction. You may have neglected things in your life such as finances, your home, your family, your job. Tasks have been half done or never started. Now that your family sees that you are sober they put more and more demands on your time. All of this can be overwhelming to say the least. You are just one person and sobriety is your number one job. In this section you can make to-do lists and complete the tasks as you can in order of importance.
Hopes and Dreams
Write down the good things you want for you and your family and your hopes for the future. There is no use dreaming small when you can dream big. After all, this is a confidential journal and no one will read it. You are perfectly safe in writing that you want to be the first woman on mars wearing Chanel in Prada heels.
Feelings and Emotions
During the recovery process, you many experience many different kinds of emotions – both good and bad. This is the brain “off” of drugs. Depression is common when coming off of alcohol. You may get angry easily or become anxious, fearful or jealous. Practice naming your feelings or describing them on paper. If you are angry for e.g., writing it all down is better than lashing out.
Reflections and Musings
Here you may want to include life lessons that you have learned or thoughts about the world around you and how you fit into it. Or you may just want to record a daydream.
These are just a few examples of the things you can put in your recovery journal, but there are hundreds of options. Remember that this journal is a record of your journey. It is just for you and should be kept confidential. Always be honest with yourself and when you are ready to “look inward” add that as another section in your journal. You will find nothing there that you and your journal can’t handle together.
I am sure that you are wondering about my private letters mentioned earlier and if they have survived after all these years for the sake of future humanity. I regret telling you that they were lost in a fire – a bonfire!