Writing as Catharsis in Addiction Recovery

Benefits of Writing in Addiction Recovery
Most people have no problem accepting the claim that talking about problems can be a great help. This is reflected in the much loved quote, a problem shared is a problem halved. What is less widely appreciated is the idea that writing about things can also be highly therapeutic. There is no need for people to be good at spelling and grammar in order to gain the cathartic benefits of this practice. Even if they never show their writing to another being, it can still have a tremendous impact in their life. This type of practice can be particularly beneficial for people who are recovering from an addiction.

Catharsis Defined
Catharsis is a ancient Greek work that can be translated as meaning purging or cleansing. It is most often associated with a type of mental housekeeping where people attempt to cleanse their emotions. In psychotherapy it is believed that people can achieve cathartic results when they dig deep to find the causes of their emotional problems. They achieve this through talk therapy. Writing is another way that people can experience therapeutic cleansing.

Benefits of Writing
When people write about their life it provides much more than just a record of their thoughts and ideas. These are some of the benefits of writing:

* Writing provides an outlet where people can vent their concerns and frustrations. When the individual just keeps everything internalized it can begin to feel overpowering. Even if people never show their writing to another human being they can still experience a lightening of their load.
* One of the most beneficial aspects of writing is that it can allow people to have more contact with their subconscious mind. This is particularly true with stream of conscious writing. When the individual reads back on what they have written they may be amazed at what they find there.
* People will often become stressed about things even though they are not clear about the situation. This is because things can be blown out of all proportions when they are allowed to just rattle around in the brain. Thinking becomes panicked, and this means that the individual is unable to see things clearly. By writing everything down on paper it puts the problem into perspective. It encourages people to think more objectively and critically.
* If people keep a journal, they can read back on this at a later date. This means that they can chart their progress in life. It also allows them to see how time heals most wounds. Those problems that felt like the end of the world in the past become forgotten about. When people are dealing with a great deal of hardship in life, they can read back on their journal entries and gain hope.
* Writing can alleviate the symptoms of depression. It works as a type of self-therapy because people are able to release some of their negative thoughts.
* Writing things down tends to increase accountability. By documenting a goal or aspiration the individual is likely to feel more committed to it. If people in addiction recovery are struggling they can look back on their journals to see their hopes and dreams for the future. This can reinvigorate their determination to stay sober.

Step 4 as Cathartic Writing
Those people in recovery who are following the 12 Steps will be expected to do some writing. Step 4 suggests that the member make a searching and fearless moral inventory. Some people doing this will use lists to create their moral inventory while others will write an actual life story – sometimes hundreds of pages long. When people write about their past like this it can be form of purging – it becomes cathartic.

Step 10 can also involve writing as it requires that members continue to take personal inventory. The way that some Alcoholics Anonymous members manage this is by keeping a diary that they write up at the end of every day.

Journaling in Recovery
Journaling in Recovery can be beneficial for people who are trying to escape addiction. There are actually different types of journals that people can use including:

* Diary journal. This is the type of journal that will be familiar to most people. It involves adding daily updates about what is occurring in the individual’s life.
* Gratitude journal. With this type of writing the purpose is to increase positive thinking and gratitude. If people are grateful they are far less likely to relapse. The individual records all the positive things that are happening in their life. The gratitude journal can be an invaluable resource when people are feeling low or full of negativity. When people focus on the good things in life it tends to make them much happier with their lot.
* Spiritual journal. This is where people document their spiritual journey in recovery. It usually includes personal thoughts as well as inspirational ideas provided by other people.
* Health and Exercise Journal. This is where people document their attempts to get back in physical shape. When people write down goals and progress it tends to motivate them to put in more effort.
* Stream of consciousness journal .This is a special type of writing where people just put down on paper whatever thoughts appear in their minds. There is no attempt to edit. This type of journaling can provide amazing glimpses of the unconscious mind. People can begin to understand their problems in deeper way than ever before. This can be the most cathartic of all forms of writing. A common method of stream of consciousness journaling is to decide on a time limit and to just keep writing until the allotted time is over.

How to Develop a Writing Practice in Recovery
In order for people to benefit from a writing practice it needs to be something that they do regular. Here are some suggestions for how they can get started:

* If people want to write with paper and pen it is worth investing in a nice journal. This might seem like an unnecessary expense but people tend to be more committed when they pay money for an attractive journal.
* One of the things that people worry about when they begin keeping a journal is that other people might read it. This can be prevented by keeping the journal securely locked away. If people have a safe in their home they will be able to keep it there. Those who use a computerized journal will be able to protect it with a password.
* A common complaint that people have when they first start writing is that they do not know how to begin. A good way to get around this is stream of consciousness writing. Here the individual will just write down whatever comes into their minds no matter how silly it is.
* People worry if their writing looks messy or they have lots of spelling and grammar mistakes. Even professional writers have these problems when they write a first draft. Those who are writing for themselves do not have to concern themselves with the niceties of the craft; so long as they understand what is written then this is all that matters.
* A common excuse for not keeping a journal is the claim that there is just not enough time. This is hardly ever true. People can write their journal while sitting on the toilet if they are really stuck for time.
* Some people just do not enjoy writing and they won’t even consider it. Such individuals can still benefit from the practice if they keep an audio or video diary.
* It is best to set aside a specific time during the day for journaling. It then becomes a habit and people will not have to always be trying to squeeze it in. Most people seem to find evening time to be best for journaling. This is when they can reflect on what has happened during the rest of the day.
* People will tend to have days when they really do not want to write. This can be the time when it is most beneficial.
* Writing their life story can be beneficial for people in recovery. This project can take many months, but when it is finished the individual will understand themselves much better. It will also give them a real sense of closure on issues from the past that once troubled them. It is also suggested that having a better understanding about the past it makes it easier to choose a direction in the future.

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