The Case For Journaling In Sobriety
In sobriety, one of the toughest things you have to contend with is what to do with the noise in your brain. Before, you drowned out with booze. But now you’ve stopped and it’s all there, driving you mad.
A noisy brain has led many a well-intending person to relapse, myself included.
So if we’re going to make sobriety work, it’s our responsibility to figure out what to do with that noisy brain.
That’s where journaling comes in.
The Benefits of Journaling
I believe everyone should journal, but especially people trying to start their lives over and get sober.
You don’t have to fancy yourself a writer to reap the benefits of journaling. If you’re reading this and thinking, “I can’t write,” knock it off. Yes you can and nobody’s going to read it but you anyway.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, a daily journaling practice can help you:
- Manage anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Cope with depression
- Help you prioritize problems and concerns
- Track symptoms so you can recognize triggers and better control them
- Provides you an opportunity for positive self-talk
- Helps you identify negative self-talk and root causes
It’s also a great tool for working out issues you may have with other people and gain clarity around what’s going on in other aspects of your life.
Besides think about how powerful of a tool it is to have all your thoughts, reactions, and feelings in a central location. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you don’t understand where your head is at, your journals can provide you invaluable insight.
It’s easy to “forget” or water-down what we thought or felt in a high-intensity moment once we’ve calmed down a bit. Journals give you a more accurate version of what was really going on.
Why A Daily Journal Helps Your Sobriety
When you’re writing every day, even if it’s just dumping all the shitty thoughts in your head onto paper, you’re effectively keeping a record.
That’s incredibly useful when you’re trying to do some of the deeper work of recovery. You can go back and see what triggers you and piece together negative patterns you have.
When we get swept up by thoughts and emotions, we’re flying blind.
Putting it on paper and going back to visit it after the storm has passed is one of the best ways to gain insight into your behavior and addiction.
You might cringe a little reading back some of the passages (I certainly do!), but it’s worth doing for a couple of reasons.
- Once you’re clear-headed, seeing what your inner world looks like when it’s a mess is very insightful. You can start to unpack your triggers and think through ways to talk yourself down off the ledge, so to speak, the next time a similar incident pops up.
- On days you feel like you aren’t progressing like you want, go back and read some journal meltdowns. I guarantee you’ll feel A LOT better about your current mental state.
- Writing down overwhelming thoughts and emotions weakens them.
To add onto #3, on days when your brain is going a mile a minute and you feel like you’re going to crack, sometimes just dumping it all onto paper until your hand hurts is enough to help you get through the craving without drinking again.
Using Journaling As A Tool To Fight Cravings
What might journaling as a tool for sobriety look like?
Let’s say you get home from work and it’s been a shitty day. Your boss is being horrible to you or maybe you got into a fight with a close friend.
This makes you want to drink.
Because uncomfortable emotions are welling up inside of you and you don’t want to feel them anymore. You’re looking for an escape.
Instead of heading to the liquor store, head to a coffee shop or your room and just start writing. Put it all on the page. Rage. Vent.
What happened? Who said what? How did it make you feel? Now you want to drink. How is THAT making you feel? What’s causing all of this?
Just keep writing until your hand says, “enough!” And then take a deep breath. Chances are the surge of the storm has passed. You’re calmer. You can make a better choice now like sitting down to watch some Netflix or do some stretching or get lost in a book.
After you’ve slept and (thankfully) wake up with your sobriety still in tact, you can go back into your journal and start to evaluate how this emotional swell happened. Is this something that’s been building or did it seemingly pop up out of nowhere?
You’re now able to use your experience to learn AND you’ve found a way to channel powerful energy that makes your brain freak out and say, “I NEED A DRINK!”
Journaling As A Form Of Mindfulness
In case you’re wondering, no journaling is not a two-for. You still need to meditate every day as well. BUT journaling can help you get into a state of flow.
You ever start writing and just get lost in it? After a while, it’s like you’re on autopilot and the words are pouring out on their own.
That’s the delicious state of flow also known as being “in the zone.”
When you become singularly focused on a task, the world temporarily melts away. You lose time and feel amazingly clear-headed and calm once you snap out of it.
This used to happen to me in college when I wrote papers (nerd alert!). I’d sit down and once I got going, it’s like I didn’t even come up for air. I just cranked out the work and boom! Two hours would fly by in a blink.
Any singular focus is a form of mindfulness.
Journaling often performs the double duty of allowing you space to redirect negative or overwhelming energy and giving your brain a break from the hustle and bustle of living.
Yah, But Journaling Isn’t My Thing
Boooooooo! And also, total bullshit.
Journaling is for everyone. Even you.
You don’t need to write a small novel every night to reap the benefits. Write whatever you want for however long you want. There’s no rigidity to journaling.
Besides, all the cool people are doing it. You know how likes to journal every day? Oprah.
Other famous journal aficionados include:
- George Washington
- Marcus Aurelius
- Winston Churchill
- Charles Darwin
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Marie Curie
- Albert Einstein
Those people seemed to do alright with their lives.
If you’re a bit of curmudgeon, stuck in your ways, James Clear recommends starting with just one sentence per day. That’s it. Build the habit and then build onto it.
You’ll feel better. I promise.
How To Journal
There is no one way to journal. You can buy a little composition book and write a couple sentences in it each day and that, my friend, is journaling.
The only “rule” if you will that I personally recommend is to write and not type.
The act of writing is helpful for critical thinking and memory recall. Typing is obviously much quicker, but we run the risk of the not adequately processing and internalizing our thoughts.
That being said, if you want to type, please do type.
Just because writing by hand may be more effective for processing your thoughts and emotions does not mean that typing them out has no benefit. Do what feels right for you.
What if I want a bit of structure?
Not a problem. There are a bevy of journals out there with built in prompts to help you navigate specific issues or work towards particular goals.
I’ve created two journals specifically for sobriety that you may find useful as well.
When I sat down to create a tool that would help support people on their journey through sobriety, I focused on creating space for people to flesh out different aspects of their sobriety:
- Why they wanted sobriety
- The impact sobriety would have on their life
- The effects of drinking on their life
- What a sober future could look like
- The roots of their drinking
- The consequences of their drinking
- Creating plans for dealing with tough emotions and triggers in sobriety
…and much more.
At the their core, I wanted the journals to help people think about important topics and questions that need answered in order to really breakthrough into long term sobriety.
It’s easy to get swept up in a cycle of sobriety, relapse, binge, repeat. One of the reasons this happens is because people try to white knuckle their sobriety without confronting the deeper, underlying causes.
Another reason is that without drinking, some people lack an outlet for all the emotions and cravings that invariably pop up. You can only fight them back for so long before the brain gives up.
Journaling, meditation, and exercise all provide places to redirect that energy in a healthy way. They are NOT QUICK FIXES, but when done consistently, over time, will radically transform your life.
The Sober(ish) Journals
The Early Sobriety Journal is good for people who are just starting out and want to start exploring their motivation for sobriety and start forming plans for dealing with the inevitable triggers and annoyances that will surely pop up.
There are 49 pages of journaling prompts and worksheets + a bonus section to help you bounce back if you make a mistake and drink again.
The journal is digital and can be used digitally or printed for those who prefer to write (which I recommend).
Visit the Sobriety Journals page to learn more.
The Deep Dive Edition is exactly what it sounds like: a deep dive into the emotional work of sobriety. This journal has 89 pages of prompts, worksheets, quotes, and resources to help readers navigate a wide range of topics.
Some of the questions are not easy to grapple with, but they will ALL help you gain clarity around your drinking, help reaffirm your commitment to making this change, and inspire you to look to the future with some optimism and hope.
Visit the Sobriety Journals page to learn more.
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