Keeping a Recovery Journal

A recovery journal is a useful way to manage your emotions and figure out what is working best for you in recovery. You might not think of yourself as a journal kind of person but many people who had never considered keeping a journal have been surprised how much it helped. If you aren’t used to keeping a journal, it’s best to start by just writing at the same time every day, even if it’s only one sentence, e.g., “I felt good today.” You don’t have to make a conscious effort to write more; it just happens naturally over time.

There is no right or wrong way to keep a recovery journal. If it helps you, it’s right. If it doesn’t help, try doing it differently. Here are some approaches to consider when keeping a recovery journal.

Write about difficult situations you encountered during the day. In particular, write down what you were thinking and feeling. Writing down these experiences gives us a sense of control over them and makes them feel less stressful. It is also a good way to analyze our emotional responses. Why did a situation make you angry? What were you thinking about? Is there a different way you could think about it? This exercise works even better if you are specific about your emotions. Instead of feeling “mad” about an argument, maybe you felt “frustrated because my opinions were being ignored.”

Write about what went well and why. This is a chance to focus on the positives. Maybe you experienced fewer cravings than yesterday. Think about what might have contributed to that outcome. Was there something you did specifically that seemed to have an effect?

Write about what you’re grateful for. Studies show this is one of the best ways to feel better and increases your inclination to help others. It only has to be two or three things. Try to find something different every day. Recent studies suggest an even more powerful tool: write down what you did for someone else. It seems giving is an even better predictor of long-term happiness than even gratitude.

Record your diet and exercise. You might want to keep a separate journal for diet and exercise for easier reference. This can be as cursory or as detailed as you want. You can record calories and other nutritional information, or you can just write down what you ate. Likewise, for exercise, you can just write down what you did that day or you can go into details. With both diet and exercise, if you just consistently write down what you do, you tend to improve both because you are more aware of what you are actually doing instead of just what you think you’re doing.