Pouring out your feelings in your diary or writing to-do lists in your planner might not seem like something that would qualify as writing therapy, but any writing exercise can give you the opportunity to change your mindset and strengthen your emotional well-being. For those struggling with addiction, the impact of writing therapy can be especially profound.
Writing therapy, or expressive writing, is a type of therapeutic activity that those in recovery can use to access their inner selves, translating pain caused by addiction into a force for positive change. When people have trouble expressing emotions or reflecting on traumatic experiences through traditional forms of therapy, a simple pen and paper can provide a safe outlet for them to articulate their thoughts.
Here are some of the many ways that writing therapy can enhance recovery:
The act of recording spontaneous thoughts and emotions onto paper encourages the mind to be present in the moment. By writing and reading their feelings reflected on paper, people in recovery can uncover and process emotions rather than bottle them up. Through this process, writers become more mindful and emotionally intelligent. Writing therapy and other creative wellness practices, such as art therapy and music therapy, also put people in touch with positive emotions by prompting them to reconnect with their fun-loving side, which may have taken a backseat during active addiction.
People struggling with addiction tend to abuse substances as a means of coping with inner conflict. Stress caused by grief after a loss, professional duties, family conflicts, marital issues, or personal feelings of inadequacy can cause people to drink excessively or use drugs. What if instead of turning to substances to cope with pain, people channeled their emotions by putting pen to paper? This is one of the rationales behind writing therapy. Whether a person lets go of negative emotions through their own writing or experiences vicarious healing through someone else’s, writing therapy gives those in recovery the chance to undergo a therapeutic release of thoughts and feelings such as sadness, anger, and guilt.
Writing allows people to express themselves without explicitly stating how they feel. Alternately, it grants writers the chance to state exactly how they feel, depending on their comfort level. People in recovery can especially benefit from this ability to choose what they write about because they might not be willing to fully divulge all of the grief that addiction has caused them. The freedom that writing permits encourages people to examine their inner selves and identify triggers that could be driving negative emotions.
Not all writing has to be creative. Keeping a to-do list or a journal filled with short- and long-term goals can be valuable for people in recovery because it keeps them more accountable by adding structure to their week. If a person writes down that they have to make their bed, do their laundry, meet with their clinician, or attend an AA meeting, the task they assigned themselves will be at the forefront of their mind, and they will feel more focused and motivated to accomplish it.
As a therapeutic exercise, writing can soothe an overactive mind and reduce stress by organizing chaotic thoughts and emotions, helping people sleep and feel better, become more social, and achieve mental clarity. When the mind becomes clearer and more balanced, a person’s overall health improves. Those who engage in writing therapy may find that they are less prone to high blood pressure or illness. Writing therapy has also been proven to help alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
How to Incorporate Writing into a Daily Routine
While each of these reasons sound appealing on paper, a person in recovery might be wondering how they can fit writing exercises into their busy schedules. It’s important to remember that someone does not have to be a novelist to be considered a writer. Being able to incorporate even ten to fifteen minutes of writing into a daily routine can be valuable for long-term recovery. Here’s how to do it.
Create a To-Do List
Slowly incorporating a small practice into a routine can make people feel less overwhelmed and more likely to keep going. Writing a to-do list is a great introduction to writing therapy because it helps people in recovery organize their tasks and form new, productive routines. Best of all, being able to check a box or cross off an item on the list gives them a self-esteem boost by making them feel accomplished.
Simply recording the events that happen over the course of a day can help a person remember moments that left an impact on them while practicing their writing chops. Keeping a “gratefulness” journal can be especially helpful because writing about just three people, places, or things that a person is thankful for each day can help them to shape a more positive mindset over time.
Write a Personal Letter
The practice of writing letters is slowly becoming a thing of the past, but this tends to make people more appreciative when they receive one. The person receiving the letter will have a memento of their loved one that they can reference whenever they are feeling down or needing a reminder that they are appreciated. A personal letter can also be cathartic for the person writing it because it gives the writer the opportunity to express feelings they might not have felt comfortable telling a loved one in person. A person in recovery might choose to explain the impact their addiction has had on them to their loved one through writing for example or thank their family member or friend for the support that they have shown them during the recovery process.
Look Up Writing Prompts
Those who enjoy creative writing can find plenty of short writing prompts online. Common topics include writing about fears, dreams, nightmares, triumphs, or relationships with others. Those interested in responding to these prompts can answer them in as little or as many words as they choose.
People recovering from addiction can use writing therapy as a tool for processing the effects that the disease has had on them while allowing them the space to contemplate how they can break the cycle. Writing therapy not only helps people in recovery reawaken their creativity but may also encourage them to discover a new passion. After all, writers who reflect on overcoming adversity often create the most compelling, dynamic stories and develop their talent in the process. People who become invested in the writing process may easily become more invested in recovery and in reshaping their own story.