What I do to maintain recovery: Journaling

Our peer workers Oliver* and Eddie* connect with members on the Counselling Online Peer Support forums to share what they’ve learned with other people in recovery. We liked this answer about journaling from Oliver so much that we asked him to expand it for the blog!

wrting in journal

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Oliver's answer
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What do I do to maintain recovery day to day you ask?

It's all pretty simple stuff... and you know what they say: a simple program for complicated people.  

There's one thing I've done since Day One at rehab and I haven't missed a day since: I journal.  Every night I just write one page in a journal book — not a big page, just a page. Sometimes it's what I've done, what I could do better, what happened, what I can learn from, what I can own… whatever. 

I find that if there's a theme for a few days or weeks then clearly there's something I need to address. I can't hide from myself in those pages. It's what keeps me accountable. Out of everything I've done in recovery this is the thing that I'm deadset scared to stop. My fear is that if I stop journaling I might start believing the [email protected]#$% I tell myself some days in order to get through.  

Honesty has to be a cornerstone of my life or I'm in real trouble and the journal is where I'm forced into honesty… even if it takes a few days or weeks to happen. This is where that gets highlighted which forces me to either take action or risk falling into the same old ways because if I don't continually assess my behaviours in recovery then I might just lose it.

A lot of people say they have trouble journaling, that they don't know how to journal. My advice, just start putting words on a page and the rest will follow.  It's not about what you write, how much you write or how long you write for — it's about the ritual. About reflecting on your day, exploring your thoughts and letting them out, giving them an escape and freeing them from your head.

Maybe you start with the first word that comes into your head. Maybe you put random words on the page or start writing about what happened that day and let the rest flow. In rehab we had to journal every night and hand them in each morning. It was a communication between us and our counsellors and it's still how I write my journal today, like I'm telling someone else what's happening for me. It forces me to describe things more, to think about it more and try to make more sense of things.

There's another benefit I find: it clears my head before I go to sleep, stops the ruminating thoughts, helps me make sense of the day so I can leave today where it is and get some sleep to start tomorrow fresh. Another way of using a journal is to keep a notepad beside the bed and if you wake up in the middle of the night you write your thoughts down straight away — get the thoughts out of your head so you can get back to sleep.

I also try to keep a routine. I aim to exercise every morning or else my day just isn't the same. If that's a walk, a swim, some weights or a half hour on the exercise bike. It doesn't matter what it is, I just need to get up and moving.

That's what helps me get rid of excess energy, gets my breathing in a rhythm and is like a moving meditation where my thoughts get time to find some order so I start my day focused. Getting the NA Just For Today emailed to me each day helps too. I read that before I exercise which helps me set an intention for the day.

That's the simple stuff I do and it works for me. That's what's important — finding what works for you.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.