Journaling In Recovery – 5 ideas for using a journal for healing

I have always loved journaling as a way to write out and get in touch with thoughts and feelings. It is a much better way to cope with uncomfortable feelings than to keep them bottled up. Writing out your thoughts can be very therapeutic and it is a great way to be able to see change happening in your life. Often changes are subtle and we don’t recognize that we are growing, but if you reread old journal entries you can see that progress is being made.

I always encourage my clients to use a journal to sort out thoughts and ideas, write out goals’ and track success. It can be used to record daily mood, or even as a food tracker. The ways to use a journal are really as endless as your creativity and imagination. I am going to give you a few ideas on how to use a journal that I feel are especially useful for people in recovery.

One thing to keep in mind when using a journal to write out thoughts during your recovery is that there is a reason you were using substances or engaging in behaviors in a compulsive way. Often it was to avoid something. Journaling can bring that something to the surface.  Getting in touch with some of the uncomfortable feelings can create stress. What is the biggest relapse trigger? Stress. If you haven’t read about tapping, please check it out. It’s important to have a way to self soothe if things become heavy, tapping is great for that. If it gets to be too much, put the journal down and go do something nice for yourself. Please remember to have lots of self compassion, you are on a path of change. Remember that you are looking towards the future, not beating yourself up over the past.

A Reflection Journal

Often when someone is in a place of transition they feel overwhelmed and it is difficult to actually articulate what they are thinking, what they want, what the next steps are, and on and on. So a great use for a journal is to just sit and write and see what comes out. You can absolutely just free flow, or write out bullet points. I am a fan of long hand, actually putting pen to paper, but I know a few people that really would rather do it on their phone or in a word document on their computer. Do whatever works for you so you will do it.

The idea with a reflection journal is just to see what comes out as you start writing. If you are having trouble starting, you can also put a heading at the top of the page such as;

What do I want?

How Do I feel about _________?

Where do I want to be in 30 days?

And sit with it for awhile and then just see what comes out.

Gratitude Journal

This is certainly not a new idea but a valuable one to revisit. A great way to do a gratitude journal is to write out 3 things that you are grateful for first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Every day add 3 new things, easy right, well what you will find is that you need to start to get a little creative about 2 weeks in. This is where you start to look at things like I am grateful for my thumbs, or I am grateful for pumpkin spice lattes.

There are so many things that we take for granted and as the pages of your gratitude journal start to fill up you begin to realize that maybe things aren’t so bad (or at the very least that they could be worse). It’s a good idea to sit and read your lists from time to time not just write them out but really sit with all that you have to be grateful for. It’s hard to sit in a place of self-pity when you have 20 pages of things to be grateful for sitting in front of you.

The Three Things Journal

Going through recovery it’s easy to focus on all the things that you have done that you are not happy about. Regrets, guilt, sadness, and loss to name a few, these seem to be emotions that are at the surface often. The self-esteem takes a real hit. So at the end of the day taking the time to reflect over the events of the day and writing out 3 things that went well is a great way to start to build yourself back up again. They can be big things like, I got a raise, I had a really strong urge today and used some of my tools instead of giving into it, or just simple things like a doing  a random act of kindness.

What you will notice about a week to 10 days in is that you are more aware of the good things because your brain is on the lookout for good stuff to write in your journal at the end of the day. And as with the gratitude journal, once the pages start to add up and you look back over the pages and pages of good things happening in your life, you may just start to be more of a glass is half full sort of person.

Daily Goals/Tasks Journal

I got this idea from a T Harv Eker 90 day program where you had a set of daily tasks to complete. I think it is a great idea to have a daily checklist of things that are an important part of your recovery program. For Example, you can include things like:

Daily Affirmations – either have a list you read daily or write out one of your favorite ones 20 times

Daily Tapping Exercises – tap on triggers, hurt feelings, have a list and tap daily for 5 minutes

Read Recovery Literature – maybe have a time allotted for reading

Meditation/Mindfulness Practice

Self Care Today – (Write out several things you did for yourself today, could be went to the gym, went to a meeting, got an extra 30 minutes of sleep)

Journal Entry – Reasons to stay on my path of recovery or why I am grateful for today

Having a daily Recovery To Do list is and checking things off is a way to stay focused. Maybe once a week reflect on next steps or revisit my reasons to stay the course, it’s also a great way to get back on track quickly if you slip. You can even use your journal time to analyze and come up with a plan to do something different next time.


There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. These are just a few ideas to get you started, I usually have a few journals going at the same time. I have one on hopes and dreams, I have the daily goals’ journal and then I have a process journal. Pick out a journal that you find attractive, maybe get a new pen, set aside 20 to 30 minutes where you won’t be interrupted and see how it feels to start putting thoughts on paper.

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