I’ve been journaling for going on sixty years, off and on. During that time I’ve filled up ledgers, spiral notebooks, diaries, the back pages of pilot logbooks, and several megabytes of disk space. My current drug of choice is the pocket-sized Moleskine notebook with the graph paper pages, or a similar one sold by Target for about half the price. Over the past few years I’ve started putting everything in it: shopping lists, notes to self, jotted addresses and phone numbers, the better to create a true daily record.
I say “drug of choice” because journaling has become an ingrained habit with me, if not actually an addiction. (Writing, on the other hand, qualifies fully, including withdrawal symptoms.) I’ve lost most of the journals I kept in my youth and through the years of my addiction; a shame, really, since if I had those I could actually write a book, although I can’t help thinking that the embarrassment factor might be seriously off-putting. Anyway, that doesn’t matter.
I do have my jottings for virtually all of the years I’ve been in recovery, and it has been highly instructive to go back and check out the cringe factor in those. When I read something and find it makes me squirm, I become aware of one more way that I’ve changed — or not changed — and it shows me a lot about my successes and also the areas where I need more work.
I consider my journals an integral and essential part of my recovery. For a couple of years I tried keyboarding, and it just wasn’t the same. I have to put pen to paper and actually write things down. My-wife-the-shrink informs me that physically writing things engages different parts of the brain, and the inability to make changes easily causes us to think more deeply and carefully about what we’re recording. I agree with that. I find that my handwritten musings have far more gut-level effect when I re-read them, so I have to assume that I’m digging deeper to begin with.
I require those I sponsor to journal, as well — those who know how to read and write. (The others go to literacy classes.) I give them each a notebook, so they’ll have no excuse for procrastinating. I don’t demand to read them, but when we meet I expect them to show me that they have been writing. Those who have remained sober and in contact often mention that they have continued to do so, and remark how much they get out of looking back at who they were early on. Some have remarked how much it helped them when they got serious about a 4th Step.
Try it. You may not like it, but you’ll benefit. The rules are simple: use the same book, use ink (no erasing), and write something every day — even if it’s just the date. No one but you will be reading it, so you have nothing to fear but fear itself.