By: Marilyn L. Davis
Whatever You’re Feeling – They Will Come Out
Think about all those bottled up and numbed feelings that you ignored in your use. Guess what? They didn’t go away. They’ve just been waiting until you stopped using to pop back up. And now, you don’t know what to do with them.
My feelings in early recovery were often not appropriate to the situation. I remember going to a Christmas meeting where we had a meeting every two hours with an hour break in-between. Most of the friends I’d made played UNO in the basement and stayed most of the night.
I asked if I could play, and one friend said, “Do you know how to play? I said I wasn’t familiar with the game but was willing to learn. She smiled and said, “No, I mean do you know how to play; you always seem so sad and serious.”
I burst into tears. Not because of what she said, but because I’d bottled up all the hurt, pain, and sadness for so long, they just needed an excuse to come out.
Embarrassed By My Feelings
I was ashamed of my tears. My friend jumped up from the floor where she was playing, took me to another room, and told me to sit down. She went and got some tissues and handed them to me, and said, “You sure do have a lot of feelings coming up. What do you normally do with them?”
I told her that I tried to identify them and why I had them at that time. She asked if that worked, and I had to be honest and tell her, “No, it doesn’t work, but I” m supposed to feel all this shit now, aren’t I?”
She laughed and said, “Yeah, you need to feel them, but you don’t have to go crazy with them, either.”
When I asked her how she dealt with hers, she told me, “I write them down, every night in my journals, and then I can look at them objectively.” She had about seven years in the program at that time, coming in when she was 19. I always admired that she stuck around and was willing to sponsor, support, and make us laugh.
Shopping For The Journal
When she suggested that I get a journal, I went the day after Christmas and found what I wanted. Lined paper, space for the date, and a full page. Now, I was ready to put those feelings on paper, get them out, and maybe not cry or laugh at inappropriate times. I kept that journal until it was complete and then bought another, and another, and another.
I’m mad, sad, glad, feel bad, and scared because…
With a large journal, I could list all of the primary feelings and what was going on with me, so I’d start with, I’m mad about, and then write about the situation or person.
I didn’t edit, deciding that something was dumb; I just wrote out the feelings. Then I noticed that there were patterns to some feelings or people.
So, my journal evolved into several types all in one.
Journaling Gives Us Insight
I started noticing that my guilt got worse if I focused my writing on how badly I felt. But I also knew I didn’t want to stuff it, not just with a relapse, but by distracting myself. So, I felt it; then I looked to see if there were ways that I’d either improved or changed myself so I wouldn’t create new guilt.
At that time, I realized that guilt was a non-productive emotion if I wasn’t going to change the behaviors that prompted my guilt. So, I quit doing some of the things that produced guilt.
I also knew that I would have an opportunity to make amends for the behaviors that prompted my past guilt in one of the steps, so I got patient with myself and took the steps in order.
1. Gratitude Journal
“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it.”— Oprah Winfrey
My guilt increased if I focused on it, so did my gratitude when I listed all of the things, I was grateful for on any given day. But I also discovered that I couldn’t force a gratitude list if I weren’t feeling grateful. It read false.
So, I made a gratitude list on a day when I genuinely felt gratitude, and if I wasn’t feeling it that day, I turned to that page and discovered that all the things I’d written down were happening on that miserable day, too.
2. Resentment Journal
Many people come into the program with a long list of resentments. People harm others, and some people I’ve known have been hurt, starting with family and a seemingly long list of strangers that abused them.
I didn’t have that many that I resented, but I heard that I would feel better if I prayed for them. So, I wrote down their names and then said a prayer. I also made a God Box and put their name in it, along with this prayer, “God, please help and heal them.”
Why? Because I knew that most people who hurt others had been hurt themselves, it seemed like a logical way to move forward in my recovery.
Days and sometimes, weeks later, I didn’t need to list a particular person, so something worked.
3. Encouraging Journal
“Don’t waste your time being envious of what you don’t have or who you want to be. Instead, focus on what you do have and who you can become.”― April Mae Monterrosa
There were days that I envied my co-workers who had loving families, or nicer clothes, or together hairdos. I know, it’s strange what we covet.
But I discovered that if I asked them where they got their clothes or how they kept their hair in place all day, they told me what to do. Then all I had to do was follow through. Which meant that if I followed through, I could encourage myself by saying, “Well, it worked to ask questions, now ask them at a meeting about your recovery.”
And that worked, too. I’d ask a question, and usually, two or three people would give me suggestions or directions, and when I followed through…well, you know the outcome. I felt encouraged and proud.
4. Goal Journal
Some of the suggestions were things I couldn’t do right away, like making amends. But I made it a goal to get to the step where I made them. Each step brought me closer to the goal of making amends.
I started using my journal for short-term goals, too. Since I was mandated to two meetings a day, I wanted to be more active in the groups. I settled on a homegroup and found out the requirements for service work, so I knew I had to have 90 days clean to chair a meeting – goal. I had to have six months to be a discussion leader – goal. I had to have a year to hold a trusted servant position – goal.
But even before I met these goals, I went early and put literature out, made coffee, set up chairs, and greeted a newcomer. These sub-goals got me closer to my ultimate goal – long-term recovery.
5. Long-term Recovery Journal
“Focusing is the great secret of power. If you want to use your full amount of focus, you must close down all other thoughts and direct your power of generating mental steam toward one outcome.”― Stephen Richards, The Ultimate Focus Builder
Every night, I’d list the things that moved me closer to my goal of long-term recovery.
- I didn’t use today.
- I made two meetings today.
- Read my meditation book and practiced the intent.
- Said prayers.
- I called my sponsor.
- Worked on Steps
- Put some principles into practice.
The list was the same many nights, but it’s the daily recovery routines that give us long-term recovery.
Fast Forward 33 years
One day at a time, I got 33 years on September 30, 2021, and I still journal. I know that journaling helped me process my feelings, look objectively at my day, figure out my negativity about a situation or person, and sleep better. But I wasn’t entirely sure why it worked, just that it did.
Laura Lewis Mantell, M. D. explains that “Writing lets us process our internal experiences before we share them with others, and if we write about our feelings and thoughts, we can begin to make meaning and sense of what’s happening to and around us.”
My journaling started because I didn’t know how to play. Why will your journaling start?
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.
For editing services, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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