James Haggerty Recovery
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The Power of Journaling for Addiction Recovery

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February 27, 2023
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Journaling for Addiction Recovery

The recovery journey as an ongoing process certainly holds true, even for a person who has been blessed in maintaining continued sobriety for years. As one of these individuals, I understand the struggles that can arise on a day-by-day basis, even a decade or more removed from my initial encounter with the recovery process. To continue to progress in my recovery, I’ve found that it’s beneficial to find various activities to channel those challenging thoughts, struggles, emotions, and experiences. Employing tools like music, art, or something as simple as journaling can help you address the challenging experiences in your own life.

Journaling allows you to set time aside each day to be mindful and express thoughts and feelings that could become overwhelming otherwise. You can get creative within a loose set of parameters and avoid some of the artistic pressure that can come with other creative processes. Among these parameters are recovery-specific journaling prompts.

In fact, discovering journaling prompts that support recovery can be a game-changer when it comes to lasting success because it makes journaling more accessible.

Is Journaling Good for Addiction?

As I’ve noted, journaling can be an ideal tool for people in recovery from substance use disorder. Journaling is good for recovery because it provides you with the ability to express thoughts or emotions without fear or worry that can come with sharing those thoughts with someone else. By expressing your thoughts, you can experience a sense of freedom and release.

When you use journaling as a tool for recovery, there is no pressure or judgment; simply a resource to help you express the highs and lows of living a sober life. Whether on paper or a digital platform, journaling is a therapeutic way to sort through past, current, and even future events. A recovery journal can also help you stay accountable for the actions and decisions made throughout your recovery journey.

Types of Journaling

Gratitude Journaling
Journaling is a creative form of writing that offers multiple avenues to achieve whatever your idea of success is for your journaling project. You aren’t looking to create a story or develop useful insights for others; instead, you are simply putting your thoughts and feelings to paper. In this way, journaling is designed to help you confront and understand your thoughts and emotions.

There are numerous diverse types of journaling, and these are among those most often recommended for recovery.

Diary

The most common method of journaling involves recording your thoughts in a diary. A typical diary could consist of writing down the events of the day and how you felt about them. It is essentially a play-by-play of your day and the thoughts and emotions the events created within you. As one of the most popular mottos in recovery is “one day at a time,” a diary can be a fantastic way to keep your focus small. Writing in a diary may enable you to focus on the smaller picture of their everyday life, but also take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the big picture.

Reflection Journal

This journal form is much like a diary in that it is typically completed at the end of each day and provides an opportunity to reflect on the day’s events. A reflection journal, however, is not only meant to allow you to recap what happened. It is also meant to uncover the choices, thoughts, or behaviors you could have utilized and how making those changes could have altered the course of the day. Recovery is much more than simply letting go of the substances that once controlled you. It is also relearning how to think and express emotions daily. A reflection journal can help you see the ways you are changing and the opportunities to make better choices in the future.

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude journaling focuses on finding the things in your daily life or in difficult situations that you feel grateful for. For this reason, it is common for daily journal prompts to begin by stating, “I am grateful for….” A gratitude journal simply consists of brief statements like these that keep you focused on the positive aspects of the day. Developing a positive focus is a terrific way to keep intrusive thoughts from overwhelming you.

Goal-Focused Journal

This journal form is designed to help you keep track of your various goals and objectives. This type of journaling can consist of both short and long-term goals – recovery and otherwise. Writing down your goals and tracking your progress can help you not only see what you’ve been able to accomplish but notice patterns for success and challenges alike. Assessing these aspects of your goal-focused journal can help you make the changes you need to accomplish your goals and aspirations.

Benefits of Recovery Journaling

Using journaling to express the thoughts and emotions you experience in recovery is beneficial in several ways. As mentioned, you can explore your thoughts privately without the dread some people experience when having to share with a group. Expressing the things you feel as you navigate daily life and challenges alike can also help reduce feelings of depression or anxiety and may even make it easier to process those emotions. Journaling can also help to reduce stress, leading to improved mental health and wellness.

Journaling while in recovery can be a useful tool for identifying and understanding your triggers and can even serve as a tool to deal with them in the future. People participating in cognitive behavioral therapy may wish to use a journal to help identify negative, intrusive thoughts that can be counterproductive to the healing journey or even lead to relapse. With these benefits, journaling can be one of the best therapeutic tools in your arsenal.

What Should a Recovery Journal Include?

Just as every recovery journey is unique, so is every recovery journal. As a result, there is no specific list of items your recovery journal should include. You can choose to structure your journal strictly as a goals journal or a gratitude journal, or you switch between journaling styles depending on how you’re feeling that day.

To put it succinctly: there is no wrong way to keep a recovery journal. Whether you use the journal to write about your day in a structured form, express yourself through poetry, add inspirational quotes, or something else, the journey is truly yours. Make sure your journal reflects your place in your recovery, and the rest is up to you.

Using Journal Prompts

Sometimes, journaling can feel stagnant. You may feel that you haven’t had much happening in your life, that writing gratitude statements simply isn’t working for you, or even that you just aren’t very creative. Whether you find yourself with writer’s block or want to embark on a fresh challenge each day, journal prompts may be the key.

Journal prompts are a great way to mix up your topics, reinvigorate the process, and allow you to tap into your creativity. At the same time, if you’re feeling boxed in or negative, a prompt can help you get started on the right foot. When you aren’t sure what to write about, consider some of these insightful journal prompts.

Journaling Prompts That Support Recovery

  1. Dear past me…
  2. What I wish others knew about me…
  3. Who is one of your personal heroes? What is it about them that is so inspiring?
  4. What does recovery look like to you?
  5. What does your dream life look like?
  6. What is an aspiration you had when you were younger?
  7. What were the best parts of your childhood?
  8. What were the hardest parts of your childhood?
  9. Create a short narrative story with yourself as a main character.
  10. What is a manageable goal for you to accomplish in the next year?
  11. What is a manageable goal you can accomplish within five years?
  12. What are three things you do better than most people?
  13. Write a goodbye letter to someone or something you want to let go
  14. Write a thank you speech to everyone who has helped you in your journey – yourself included.
  15. Create a motivational speech for others struggling with substance use disorder. What advice can you provide?
  16. Write about a time during your recovery when you were taught a valuable lesson.
  17. What are you grateful for today?
  18. Why is generosity important?
  19. What scares you the most about recovery?
  20. If you could develop a sense of peace about a past event, what would it be?
  21. How do you decide if someone can be considered trustworthy?
  22. If you could share one piece of advice with yourself on your first day of recovery, what would it be?
  23. What is the kindest thing someone has done for you?
  24. If my body could talk, it would say…
  25. How would you explain addiction to someone who has never experienced it?
  26. What gives you hope?
  27. What are the benefits of sharing your experiences with others?
  28. What is your current outlook on life?
  29. Do you have a self-care routine? What does it look like?
  30. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?
  31. When did you first feel dependent on a substance?
  32. How have different relationships in your life impacted your recovery?
  33. What is the best advice you’ve been given in your recovery journey?
  34. What is the worst advice you’ve been given?
  35. What made you smile today?
  36. If you weren’t in recovery, what would life be like today?
  37. Write a toast for your five-years sobriety party. What moments deserve reflection? What insight can you give?

Additional Tips for Journaling

Journaling Tips for Addiction Recovery

There is no wrong way to journal, but there are some tips to consider to ensure you get the most out of your journaling process.

Find a Journaling Place

Regardless of whether you choose to keep a physical or digital journal, it is beneficial to find a private place to write that is free from distractions. This can mean finding an empty space in your home or simply putting your phone on silent. On the other hand, it’s important to note that journaling doesn’t have to be an at-home experience. You can incorporate your journaling into other wellness-based activities, such as going on a hike or relaxing in nature.

Try to Write Every Day

Consistency is best when it comes to organizing your thoughts and ensuring you can reflect on both highs and lows. That’s why trying to write each day is so beneficial. Some days, you’ll feel more invested in the journaling process to the point where you can write pages and pages. Generally, you should set aside at least 20 to 30 minutes to give yourself time to decompress and reflect on what you wrote for the day.

Record Your Ideas

It isn’t uncommon to get home after a long day and feel like you have nothing to write about. For these times, it can be useful to keep some paper and a pen on you or use your phone’s note app to jot down your observations or thoughts throughout the day. This gives you something to expand upon once you can fully invest your time in your journal.

Be Honest

When it comes to getting the most out of your journaling, it is important to remember that your entries need to be honest. Honesty is the only way to successfully grow and learn. Journaling provides a safe space to confront different events and emotions you face throughout your journey – if you can’t trust yourself with your truth, who can you trust?

Celebrate Your Victories

When it comes to recovery, there is no victory too small to be worth a bit of celebration. While a journal is a great platform for facing the hardest situations, it is also the perfect platform for capturing the good stuff. Keeping track of your various accomplishments can provide a self-esteem boost when you need it the most.

Reflect On Past Posts

Setting aside time to reflect on previous journal posts is important, especially during recovery. Reading past thoughts and events can be therapeutic and revealing. You’ll be amazed at the amount of process you’ve made as days become weeks, months, and years. Then, channel this sense of pride into a firm resolve to stay on track moving forward.

Find the Right Journal

Find a journal that fits who you are. This could be a simple spiral notebook, a saved file on your computer, or something more aesthetically pleasing you’ll enjoy opening every day. You might consider using colored inks, including stickers or photographs, or even designing your own cover. For this, it’s best to start with a simple journal you can truly make your own – bonus points if it’s spiral-bound to stand up to daily use.

These notebook style bullet journals from my non-profit organization, ECHO Recovery, are perfect for daily reflections or art journaling. And, every purchase made helps support a great cause!

ECHO Recovery Notebooks for Journaling

Journaling Supports Addiction Recovery

No matter where you are in your sobriety journey, starting a recovery journal can be a great tool for additional support. In fact, for me, journaling was the best platform for getting out all my thoughts, emotions, and challenges without fear of judgment. Write about your goals, your triumphs, your challenges, your moments of gratitude, and everything in between; what matters is that you’re focused on your recovery. Then, your heart and your creative spirit – and some handy journaling prompts – can lead you the rest of the way.

You’ve got this,

Jim

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James Haggerty
JIM HAGGERTY

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