How to Journal Your Way to Authenticity in 12-Step Recovery

At a recent meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, a young woman brought up the topic of anger to be discussed. She wanted to know how to get over her feelings of resentment over being an alcoholic. New to sobriety, the woman expressed her dismay over other “normal” people’s ability to handle liquor and not end up with severe negative consequences.

The discussion began. One old-timer provided an intellectual perspective – relating how alcoholism is a disease, similar to diabetes or cancer with part of the treatment being the 12 steps. A chemical “allergy,” the old-timer spoke about how an alcoholic is like any other person facing a fatal disease – initially going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. Once we arrive at a level of “acceptance,” maintaining sobriety becomes a journey in recovery. Another woman then piped in with talk of spirituality – how prayer and surrendering one’s life to God would show the woman the way through the anger and frustration. A second empathetic woman told about how, while she had not lost everything (house, family, job, relationships) before recovery, she was totally broken and empty inside when she arrived “in the rooms.”

Having covered the intellectual and spiritual perspectives of the disease, a gentleman with many years sobriety spoke about the energy of the anger, and how it could be channeled into something positive. “Go for a run,” he advised, “or a bike ride. Try to work out the anger from your body physically.”

I chimed in at this point to suggest journal writing. Many of us are aware of the tremendous power of journaling – the many physical and mental health benefits, plus the personal growth opportunities that can be obtained through a steady practice of journal writing. Julia Cameron’s work in The Artist’s Way outlines a practice of “morning papers.” By writing nonstop for 20 or so minutes each morning without thought of content or style, this stream-of-consciousness writing expels the clutter in one’s mind – freeing you to move through your day with less anxiety, more clarity and a deeper sense of serenity. For those in AA and NA, I also recommended a second recovery journaling exercise – one that can perhaps be done in the evenings.

Finding a quiet, comfortable place to write, summarize your day in one word. For the young woman, her word would obviously be “anger.” Then, write one paragraph about this word – what it means to you for that day, why it is so important, and any descriptive emotions that surround that word for you. Turn to a new, blank page in your journal and begin a written dialogue. This dialogue can be with yourself, with God, a trusted friend, anyone. The idea is to ask questions and make statements, and then write the reply. Continue until “the conversation” is over. Reread your journal writings and look for themes that might emerge. Many times, this act of journaling will take the air out of any heightened negative emotion, help you gain clarity on an issue, and bring you closer to knowing and understanding your true self. The truth will emerge.

Living an authentic life starts with taking off the mask from our inner selves. It means finding and knowing who we are… and sticking with that goodness through up times and down. Journal writing in recovery can bring us ever closer to meeting and honoring our true selves – whether we are angry, serene or joyous.

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