The benefits of journaling in sobriety are many. A journaling practice is a powerful way to support you in your sobriety. Here are just some of benefits you can enjoy.
- Journaling provides a safe space to process emotions
- You can manage cravings with the help of your journal
- Journaling is a way of sorting through negative thoughts
- Journaling can help you to organise thoughts and ideas
- Your journal is a way of creating space for self reflection
- Journaling can help you to understand and get to know yourself
- Your journal is a place for cultivating Inspiration and motivation for the future
If you’ve been following me for a while or receive my regular newsletters you will know that a journaling practice keeps me grounded and safe and makes up one of my core practices in my toolkit. These sober tools have become my life tools and I’ve been leaning on the heavily lately. Since my husband’s stroke in 2022 and most recently the devastating loss of our son, my morning journaling is holding me up and keeping me going.
I also use my journal to help me to get inspired and excited for the future. Many of my work ideas begin as scribbled notes in my journal and it’s also a place for my daily lists, recipe ideas, inspiration for adventures, affirmations, favourite quotes and so much more. I use a variety of different journaling techniques and prompts depending on my mood or the amount of time I have.
Sometimes I sit for over an hour and incorporate an oracle card reading into the practice, other times I write my shopping list or to-do list and a few words. There are many times when I just grump and complain and whinge onto the page until I feel better.
Journaling in sobriety is such a powerful tool that can literally help to transform your thoughts, feelings, fears and worries or ideas and inspiration into something you can work with in a calm and organised way, freeing up your mind and creating space in your heart.
I believe in journaling as a sober tool so much that I created a series of workbooks to go with both the three month and intensive one to one coaching programs I take my clients through. These workbooks are in effect a journaling course designed to help you dig deep, shine a light on the dark corners of your life to reveal the next best steps for you and uncover the hidden gems you have within, so that you can heal and return to yourself.
In my upcoming book ‘Sober Bliss: Quit Drinking. Feel Good,’ you will find the most transformative journal prompts from my workbooks designed to take you on a healing journey right there within the pages.
This is an extract of what I say about journaling in my book:
“Your journal will be a source of comfort to you and a place where you can write and reflect as we go through the journey together. It is important to be very honest with yourself when you do your journaling. At the very core of this book is the practice of getting to know yourself deeper and discovering why you drink, your beliefs about drinking and what is happening in your life. What changes do you truly want to see? How do you want to feel? What is missing? What is taking up too much space and energy?
Answers will appear as you move through the tasks and burdens will be eased. You will gradually come to lean on this practice as a safe space to poke around and work through difficulties. Molly, one of my recent clients, writes,
“This evening after work I really want to spend time journaling! I have found it such a revealing exercise and I want to run with the momentum.”
As I explain in my book and what I want to share here, is that there really are no rules with journaling, except one: write freely, write without judgement. Do not beat yourself up about what spills out.
Okay, maybe there is another rule. Please try not to type your journal entries. Instead it is far more cathartic and transformational to put pen to paper because something magical happens when the ink hits the page and you get lost in the flow. Furthermore, the act of actually writing stuff down with a pen as opposed to typing on a keyboard has far more impact on our thought process and goes deep into our subconscious, uncovering things we didn’t even know were there.
What are the benefits of journaling in sobriety?
Journaling provides a safe space to process emotions
Alcohol is a way of numbing out from emotions or avoiding them. Stress and anxiety are the most common emotions we use alcohol most to numb out from, so it can be incredibly difficult to know how to handle these feelings. If you have no idea what do with your emotions or simply due to social conditioning and upbringing, or because you’ve been taught to avoid or ignore emotions, your journal is a great place to begin to look at what you are feeling and experiencing without judgement. Your journal is a safe space to explore your emotions and use them as the guiding light they are.
You can manage cravings with the help of your journal
A powerful craving can sometimes knock us for six. It can come out of nowhere and we may have trouble understanding where it comes from or how to get through it. Journaling is a really effective way to help you through a craving. One exercise I recommend that all my clients do is to write out a craving as it happens.
Really go into as much detail and sit with as much awareness as you possibly can. Shout at whoever you need to shout at, complain, grumble, stamp your feet – do whatever you need to do on the page. Keep writing until your hand is about to fall off! Focus on all the details, use all your senses. Not only will this help you through the moment itself but will proved clarity and insights into the trigger behind the craving and what’s going on underneath to help you learn from this experience so it doesn’t hit you in the face the same way again!
Journaling is a way of sorting through negative thoughts
Often when negative thoughts pop up, it can be incredibly hard to get out of that negative thinking spiral of doom. I go into lots of detail in one of my popular blog posts and podcast about dealing with thoughts and thinking, and one of the tools I talk about is writing.
Writing your thoughts down is a great way to distance ourselves and give our thoughts some perspective. When we write our thoughts down it is as if we are separating ourselves from them it makes them less scary, less true and takes away their power. When you see something in black and white, you see it for what it is, not for how it is making you feel at the time which is game changing.
Journaling can help you to organise thoughts and ideas
Similarly if you have lots of thoughts and ideas flying through your mind as I do, and all your ideas feel like one big jumble or bubbling soup, your journal is a safe space to offload everything. Start by just getting everything out and then you can begin to organise your ideas into different areas which has an incredibly calming effect. Just by getting them out of your head and onto paper, you already create space, freedom and a little bit of much needed peace and headspace.
I’ve also found that journaling is a great exercise in mindfulness. When you dedicate the time and space to yourself this way, of allowing everything out you can very easily get lost in flow. Which, according to Positive Psychology and the Father of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (no, I am not going to pronounce that) “Flow occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal.” I think we can argue that baring your soul and being totally honest with yourself requires a certain level of skill and is probably one of the most challenging things we can do.
Surrendering to your journaling this way and allowing yourself to get lost in the moment is incredibly cathartic, promoting feelings of peace and joy – for this reason alone, it’s worth doing it!
Your journal is a way of creating space for self reflection
How often do you get the change to stop and sow down in your day, to pause and reflect? Not very often I would imagine which leads to rushing through the days and then numbing out at the end of it all. Journaling is a way of giving yourself time and space to look back at the day or week and put all your thoughts in one place. It’s also a great tool for observing and acknowledging your celebrations, wins, what you could do differently next time, what worked and what didn’t. This space is such a powerful personal tool for growth.
Journaling can help you to understand and get to know yourself
Often when we first decide to change our drinking habits or commit to sobriety we do it with willpower and white knuckles. Your journal is such a great outlet for all the feelings and new experiences you will encounter. If all you’ve ever done is drink over your own desires to keep the peace, please other people or ‘because it’s what you’ve always done’, it can be quite a shock when you suddenly find that actually you really would rather not hang out with Lizzy and Joe anymore or that you suddenly have the urge to run along the beach or drink tea and read instead of your usual Saturday afternoon activities.
Your journal is a safe space to allow your true self to slowly come to life, to dig around underneath the surface and to ask yourself deep questions about yourself, your hopes and dreams. Your journal is a place where you can slowly begin to understand yourself again, make friends with yourself and figure out who you really are once the veil of alcohol has gone.
Your journal is a place for cultivating Inspiration and motivation for the future
Once alcohol is removed for your life, you will find that all sort of ideas pop up and inspiration will strike all the time. All of a sudden you won’t just be ‘drunk dreaming’ of hiking the PCT, taking up weight lifting or as Dawn shared in our podcast interview, finally training for the triathlon – you’ll really want to do it and have the energy and motivation to do so.
It can be a little overwhelming, this sudden bombardment and your journal is the perfect place to keep track of it all. I recommend my clients have a ‘Dreams ‘ section in their journal where they write down everything they want to have, be and do, the stronger and more inspired they become. This is the place to write your list of new clothes or experiences you will treat yourself with thanks to the money you’re saving. Write down what skills you want to learn, what new career you might pursue, your dream home ideas and any inspiration for the wonderful, beautiful future alcohol-free you!
Your journal is a place to pour out your heart and soul in all of its many forms. It’s where the magic happens and the transformation begins.
How to get started with a journaling practice
Do it every day
Just like yoga, meditation, journaling in sobriety is a practice. To get the most rewards and deepest transformation commit to sitting down and putting pen to page every single day. Even if you just sit for five minutes and write 2 words you are committing to yourself and showing yourself that you are worth the time and effort. This is a very powerful message.
Try different types of journaling
There are many different ways to journal and you can have fun exploring the options. Some of my favourite journaling methods are gratitude journaling, future self journaling, bullet journaling, following journal prompts, or Morning Pages. Morning Pages is a daily writing practice from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. This is how the author describes them, “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for Your Eyes Only.”
Write don’t type
As I explained above, write, don’t type. Journaling is not writing. People often say they are not writers and can’t journal. If you can write down a shopping list then you can journal. If you can make notes on a piece of paper then you can journal. However if you really can’t sit and put pen to paper then I’d rather you typed than wrote nothing at all.
Try different times of day
I prefer to journal first thing in the morning as it helps me to set my intentions for the day, decide what I want to focus on, I sort out my thoughts and clear the way for the day. But you might not have time in the morning or maybe you prefer to journal as part of your evening routine. Do what works for you and if a certain time of day doesn’t work, then change it.
One way that my clients have enjoyed journaling in sobriety is by making a nice ritual out of the process. If you can, try and make the act of journaling a bit special. This makes it something nice to look forward to and making anything we associate with sobriety nice is very powerful. Also it shows you that what you are doing is important, and therefore you are important and worth dedicating this time and space to. Now ritualising something doesn’t have to mean fancy. Simply lighting a candle, sitting in a particular space or even just setting the intention about what you are doing brings you right there into the moment and helps you to give yourself fully over to it – even if it is just for five minutes.
Be honest. Be gentle
There is no point in hiding from yourself in your journal. Remember it’s not writing so don’t worry about spelling and grammar and it’s for your eyes only. I know it can be incredibly hard to open up and admit certain things about ourselves or look at those parts of ourselves that we are scared of. But in order to move through whatever challenge we are facing it is necessary. Being honest doesn’t mean being unkind or beating ourselves up either so be gentle. Show yourself kindness and compassion. This is not a space to judge, this is a space to explore ad reflect. If you need a break, then stop. If you are worried that it will be found then you can burn or shred your pages after writing them or be creative and find an excellent hiding place.
Still not sure where to start?
If you struggle with getting started and with what to write then download your free journaling for sobriety guide which includes a selection of the most powerful journal prompts from my book which also feature in the workbooks I use with my one to one clients.
Even if you only do the exercises in the download, you will start to notice a huge shift in how you feel and how your day unfolds.
I’d love to know your experiences of journaling in sobriety. Leave a comment below and let me know.