We are at the end of another year with 2018 around the corner. What better time than now to consider the value of keeping a journal and tracking your daily life balance from an emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical levels.
There are various types of journaling that you can do and is based on your personal preference. Journaling may include a “drawing journal” for those who prefer not to write, and a picture is worth a thousand words. After all, storytelling predates writing, with the earliest forms of storytelling being oral or combined with gestures and expressions. Cave drawings told stories of hunting and survival. In psychology, storytelling is an integral part of making sense of our lives (McFeature, 2009).
How Journaling Helps Balance & Recovery
We achieve the acknowledgment of our identity and self-concept when writing a narrative configuration in autobiographical style as we search for the authentic self. Other types of journaling include; diary journal (daily events), stream of consciousness journal (off the top of your head), dream journal (record dreams first thing every morning), gratitude journal (focus on positive things you are thankful for), spiritual journal (spiritual growth), health journal (record daily exercise, stretches, nutrition, etc.), and relationship journal (focus on relational issues).
It is good to begin at the beginning by writing an autobiographical narrative to reflect on all the life experiences which have had an impact on your life both joyful and challenging events. Everyone has a story to tell, and when we take time to write it down, we can begin to understand some of the triggers and patterns that resulted in substance abuse or relapse during recovery. These triggers and patterns of behavior are many times responsible for temptation building to use drugs and alcohol for coping. As you write your autobiographical narrative, you will see how your memories and life events make up how you perceive yourself and the world around you. The narrative process of journaling as in the “telling of your story” is cathartic.
When writing your autobiographical narrative, you should go back as far as you feel necessary to capture a true reflection of your lived experiences which you perceive as important to you and others in your life. With the use of the autobiographical narrative, you have an opportunity to review your life history from all angles. With the assistance of a mental health therapist or life coach, they can help you formulate a thematic analysis. The thematic analysis is a process of capturing the phenomenon within the “telling of the story.”
The patterns and themes will help the clinician to understand:
- How to help the patient find a way to make sense of, discover, and disclose details inferred, but not written.
- Provides a means to get at the notion of the phenomena considered with the patient;
- Reveals how to describe the content and a reduction of the notion.
The thematic analysis will address the “lived experience” of reported life events which are personal and will naturally produce ideas for interventions for both assessment and treatment. Daily functionality is the goal for the domains listed below which purpose a balanced life.
- The physical domain refers to the physical body and everything that is defined by a presenting physical problem or barrier to your life. Are you dealing with a physical illness or withdrawals which is impacting the way you see your day-to-day life and functionality?
- The mental domain refers to the psychological factors that pertain to the way you process your thoughts and images (many times a traumatic life event is reported like a silent movie is repeatedly played in the mind). Is there a history of trauma which has caused continued fragmented mental processing, which has impacted your ability to cope with the average day-to-day stressors and functionality?
- The emotional domain is the emotional pain or elation that results from each person’s personal life story, family history, and environmental/cultural factors. Has the impact drug addiction caused the ongoing fight-or-flight and frozen responses? Are you suffering from ongoing anxiety and depression?
- The spiritual domain is explored in the patient’s verbal expression of being grateful for life. Or you may not believe in God or higher universal being because you are angry for all the things that happened in your life that you felt were unfair. Or you just don’t understand how a loving being would let you become addicted to drugs. The spiritual domain in many cases is connected to religion or at times a belief in a philosophy of a higher universal being. Many individual’s narratives reflect themes from the spiritual domain which are a strong connecting point to perceive a personal sense of purpose in life, meaningfulness, and many times demonstrate ongoing faith and resolution (McFeature, 2009).
The gathering of patterns and triggers will come alive with the use of thematic analysis. A treatment provider will use phenomenological reduction which allows the clinician to see what Merleau-Ponty (1962) calls the spontaneous surge of the life-world; to come to an understanding of the essential structure of the lived experience. Phenomenology derives life themes from the phenomenon of consciousness and identifies the total coherence of an individual’s lived experience. The narrative themes or patterns can bring to consciousness the meaning or essence of the life story. van Manen (1990) stated that all phenomenological human science research is an explanation of the structures of the human life-world, e.g., lived experiences in day-to-day situations and relations. The structured meaning of an individual’s lived experience reflects the identified themes that can be described and interpreted within the textual data.
Once you have established a list of your personal identified themes from your autobiographical narrative, you will have a list of triggers to be aware of. These triggers and patterns are part of the subconscious material stored and wired in our brains which in the past have caused you to use drugs and alcohol as a mechanism of false rewards. In other words, habits will convince you that it is okay to use drugs because you always feel better after. Self-awareness is always the key to “heading off drug use at the pass.” Journaling helps to speed up recovery because it increases self-knowledge and helps you to get in touch with your emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Journaling daily will help to uncover any underlying issues. Also, writing down plans for the future involves rewiring your subconscious reminding us of our progress to overcome challenges so that our dreams become a reality. Journaling also helps us to get in touch with our intuition which “draws the curtains” of our mind to see the connection to our heart center. The “desires of our heart” keep hope alive and reveal those “a-ha” moments that were once hidden behind the deception of substance abuse. Recovery is about keeping a balance in life as we are in touch with our emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
Kick off the new year with Recovery & Balance and keep a journal.
Cinthia McFeature, Ph.D.