Keeping a journal lets you find the needle in the haystack. You probably don’t recall what you had for breakfast three days ago, so really, there is no way you would recall every thought or every circumstance that made you feel like using. Keeping a journal lets you go on a fact-finding mission that would otherwise be lost to you. The benefits are huge. Obviously, there are, and always will be, triggers that are so in your face; we don’t need to mention those. We are not speaking of these blatant reminders. Instead, for example, you might find out that a particular person causes cravings. Or maybe there is a certain circumstance that turns on the urge. Subtleties manifest cravings just as strongly as do the blatant occurrences.
A journal can identify experiences from past entries that take on real meaning. A thread of sameness can show up after several weeks of journaling that would have been missed without this documentation.
You do not have to write volumes. Just get into the habit of writing something every night before bedtime. At the end of this chapter, I will suggest a format for the journal that may well turn out to be a bonanza of clues for your consideration.
Aside from journaling feelings and circumstances, you can get a real feel for times of the day when you might be susceptible, or perhaps it might even be lack of sleep or not finding time to eat or any number of other situations and things that can trigger urges. Seemingly simple things can cause stress, and not managing stress is the number one reason for relapse.
I never had a recovery coaching client who didn’t find their journaling a wealth of helpful insights. Very often, journal entries are the first thing we go over at the start of every coaching session.
When you are in a high-risk situation and you have journaled about how you successfully maneuvered yourself to a safe place, it is empowering to remind yourself of these wins. Reading about past successes reinforces future behavior. If you see how you have won once, for sure you can win again.
No journal entry is to be dismissed as not important enough. You can only learn reading backward into the journal, not by deciding that any particular circumstance doesn’t matter enough to be included. This is you simply reporting the news. We are not looking for an editorial.
This battle you are in is against a strong opponent, but it is a sneaky opponent as well. Give lots of respect to an opponent that never goes away.
Sure, you can manage this opponent, arrest this opponent, but let’s be clear: this opponent is just lying in wait.
Look upon your journal as a book of clues. With the right amount of clues, any mystery can be solved. A well-thought-out journal is teeming with clues, and you are your best detective. Everyone’s story is different. Everyone’s journal is different. What is the same, however, is that all journals are a view into the recent past, which at times, without writing it down, can get murky with the passing of time. Your journal needn’t be fancy; just a notebook will do fine. The following suggestions have worked well as a format. You may use a different format, and that is OK, just as long as you keep a decent record.
To begin, make a line across the middle of the page from side to side. Then make five columns starting at the top but only going down to that middle line in the center of the page. The first four columns should be very slim.
Label those four as:
(2) location, AM or PM
(3) whom you were with
(4) craving, y/ n,
Then the fifth column, which is really wide, should be labeled why. The why column should state why you feel the way you do, good and bad. Maybe you feel great because the whom column was time spent with a favorite person. Leave lots of space at the bottom of the page to add whatever you need to document. One page per day at the minimum is a requirement. Make sure you are answering the why, who, when, and where about the craving or the lack of a craving. A pattern will emerge with time. This is valuable information. Along with whatever you write in the bottom half space, make it a promise to include in that bottom section a great reason for staying in recovery. Do not fail to do this. It matters. You matter!
Some people even write how and what they were thinking in the space at the bottom of the page. You can be as elaborate as you wish. Or keep it simple . . . just keep it.