To Journal or Not to Journal…

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What exactly is journaling?  You might automatically think it’s like keeping a diary.  True, diaries are one form of journaling, but there are many other types as well.  Some of you reading this might already use journaling as a type of self-care.  Perhaps you choose not to journal because you don’t know what to write about.  Or, you might be so disconnected from your feelings because of drug and alcohol use that you still feel emotionally numb.

Emotional Detachment and Addiction

Many who become addicted to drugs and alcohol have done so, attempting to mask unpleasant feelings or memories.  Firestone (2016) suggested that addictive behaviors stem from the desire to self-soothe.  The pattern of numbing uncomfortable feelings leads to a dangerous spiral of escaping pain and feeling pain from the methods used to avoid.  Drugs and alcohol do not selectively mask "negative" emotions; they also numb "positive" feelings like joy, happiness, and pleasure.  This disconnection from feelings can also contribute to a loss of self or identity.

Psychological pain is like a warning system, an alert that something is not quite right (Firestone, 2016).  Drugs and alcohol stunt our natural warning system, which could take time and work to reset.  The amount of time required to reconnect emotionally to self is not a set timeframe and is different for everyone. 

What are the Basic Emotions?

If it’s difficult for you to identify your feelings, relearning the basics might be helpful.  The primary emotions can be grouped into four categories of opposites (Burton, 2016).

  1. Joy – Sadness
  2. Anger – Fear
  3. Trust – Distrust
  4. Surprise – Anticipation

Others have used happy, mad, sad, and glad as the primary emotions we experience.  Burton (2016) indicated that emotions evolve according to the ecological challenges we face.  Our bodies provide information about our feelings long before the brain processes the information.  For example, in a suspenseful movie scene, you might notice that your heart beats faster, your palms are sweaty, and your hands are balled up by your mouth.  Your body is responding to fear; however, you might not be consciously aware of it.  It takes practice and time to reconnect emotionally.

How Can Journaling Help Me Emotionally Reconnect?

There are plenty of beautiful graphs and pictures that expand on the underlying emotions.  One way to expand your emotional vocabulary is by looking up adjective words for each feeling word.  For instance, terrified, petrified, and scared are a few alternatives for fear.  Tartakovsky (2018) provided a sentence completion journal prompt to help with discovering emotions.

If _________ (feeling) were a color, it would be ______________________

If _________ (feeling) was weather, it would be ______________________

If _________ (feeling) was a landscape, it would be ___________________

If _________ (feeling) was music, it would be ________________________

If _________ (feeling) was an object, it would be _____________________

This exercise can be completed on your own or in a group setting.  The goal is to increase your awareness so that you can identify your emotions more easily.  Journal prompts can be used for multiple ways to improve your life.  Ingall (2018) indicated that journaling can also be used to help improve goal setting, creativity, kindness, and sleep.  Journaling is not just writing thoughts and feelings on paper in a particular book.  Prompts help those that are purposeful in their journaling quest, like improving emotional awareness.

Gratitude Journaling

“An attitude of gratitude brings great things.”

~ Yogi Bhajan

Who doesn’t want great things?  Keeping a thankful journal does not need to be a running list of all that you appreciate.  You can also use prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

  1. Write a letter to yourself, thanking you for the good things in your life.
  2. What skills or abilities are you thankful to have?
  3. Write about a challenging experience right now that you can be thankful for
  4. What about the city you live in are you grateful for?
  5. List 5 people in your life that are difficult to get along with? What is at least one quality about each of these people that you are grateful for?
  6. What music are you thankful for and why?
  7. What elements of nature are you grateful for, and why?
  8. What accomplishment are you proud of, and why?

It is impossible to be both grateful and ungrateful at the same time.  The internet has a plethora of ideas for gratitude journaling.  Often, twelve-step sponsors will ask their mentees to keep a gratitude list.  If you attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and are working with a sponsor, try using these questions to guide you.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Journaling?

There are not very many negatives to keeping a journal.  Persons who have a learning disability like dyslexia might feel frustrated with writing (Scott, 2020).  Those who have perfectionistic tendencies also might have difficulty with journaling by focusing on extraneous factors (e.g., penmanship, word choice).  Imaginably, those who are not ready to relive painful memories and experiences may want to work with a therapist first.  Give journaling a try to see if it is a good outlet and resource to use.  Journaling is not for everyone.

Are There Really Health Benefits to Journaling?

Absolutely!  You might be surprised to learn that journaling strengthens immune cells, decreases asthma symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis, and acts as a stress management tool (Purcell, 2018).  Other benefits of journaling include:

  1. Clarifying thoughts and feelings. By writing down your thoughts and feelings, without editing, you can help clear your mind.
  2. Get to know yourself better. Consistently writing can help you discover your boundaries.
  3. Reduce stress. Writing about your feelings can reduce their intensity.
  4. Efficient problem-solving. Writing is a right-brained, creative process where creativity and intuition thrive.  Most problems are solved analytically in the left-brain.
  5. Resolve disagreements. Writing about the situation could help you see the other person’s perspective.

If you are interested in learning more about how journaling can help you heal, contact our admission team today at (714) 581-3974.  The Ho tai Way – Recovery for Women is in beautiful Costa Mesa, California.  If you are a current client reading this blog, we understand that you need a place where they can feel safe, vulnerable, and supported.  Ask your therapist how journaling can benefit you. 

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