Human beings are continually thinking, evaluating, and judging everything around them. The power to think about what is going on around you and make decisions, to express and feel feelings is a central part of what makes life worth living. We all have a narrator playing in our heads thinking about what we experience and adding it to our stories.
However, if we are not careful, this natural and healthy trait can overtake and overwhelm us. If left unexamined, it’s easy to allow our thoughts to stay stuck in our head, creating fear, anger, or sadness that debilitates us and distorts reality. Thus, it is essential that this voice be controlled, one way or another. A lot of people with a voice overwhelming them with unwanted thoughts or hard feelings turn to drugs, alcohol, or other addictive habits and substances to numb the pain.
However, a much better way is to hear these messages, and learn how to cope with and respond to them. An important part of recovery from addiction is learning to find new ways of understanding your own brain and learning how to evaluate your thoughts with wisdom and self-compassion. For a number of reasons, many people find expressive writing to be a very helpful tool in allowing them to accomplish this important goal.
Writing can take many forms, whether poetry, narrative, or simply keeping a journal of your thoughts and experiences. The important thing is that the exercise creates space for us to encounter our true selves. These non-judgmental projects are certainly exclusively not for professional writers or those with a lot of education or a strong writing background.
The point is not to create “great literature,” in fact, you may not even share your writings with anyone at all. Writing things done is mostly valuable as a tool for understanding inner dialogue.
In an Expressive Writing exercise, you learn to write down what you are thinking and feeling, as a way of hearing and working through what your inner dialogue is really telling you. A trained facilitator can offer non-judgmental guidance through a series of questions and prompts, or you can simply experiment with writing down your thoughts to yourself, sharing with a support group or counselor as you feel ready.
It is not mindlessly keeping a diary and then forgetting about it, rather you take the time to really listen to your inner voice, and discover the truth about yourself. While simply writing freely and creatively can be fun and helpful, expressive writing goes a step further and starts with self-reflection. Before you know what you want to write, you look deep within yourself and write only what is coming from your own thoughts.
While you usually go through life with your thoughts coming and going, taking the time to write things down slows you down, forcing you to really “listen” to yourself thinking, and further examine where your thoughts may be coming from.
In recovery, this tool can be especially useful in helping you determine the toxic behavior and thought patterns that led to your abuse. What are you feeling that leads you to substance abuse, and what are you hoping they will accomplish? In writing it down, you bring these truths about yourself up to the surface and into your awareness, where they can be confronted. In this way, you can learn how to develop better ways of coping.
This writing is all in the service of gaining greater self-awareness. Writing in this way will cultivate the ability to look at yourself honestly, and know what you need to do to best be kind to yourself, control your thoughts, and nourish your flourishing in the moment. That is one of the most important things you can do to work on your recovery.