Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper can accelerate your journey from addiction to recovery. Journaling is a powerful tool that can help you process your emotions, so you can realize a life-altering transformation. Check out these five tips to effective journaling.
1. Let it Flow: Stream of consciousness writing can be empowering. Ask yourself a compelling question such as “What brings me joy?” Close your eyes, relax your body and jot down whatever comes to mind. Don’t feel compelled to polish up or refine your writing. Write without filters. There’s no need for formalities. Let your hand flow freely over the page and jot down your thoughts and feelings. You can opt for nifty notebooks with lots of bling or use a simple notebook. Write for five minutes or until you feel like you’ve exhausted your response. You may very well gain a new perspective on the concept of joy or whatever question you pose. Save your work, so you can refer back to it at a later date.
2. Come to Your Senses: Take a deep breath and still your mind. Become aware of your surroundings as you scan your senses. How are you feeling? Is there a familiar scent in the background? What do you hear? You can also respond with a drawing or picture. You’re in the driver’s seat. Noting the answers to how you feel at any given moment helps put you in touch with your authentic self. So, savor the now.
3. Attitude of Gratitude: There are things to be grateful for on even the most challenging days. So, count your blessings via a gratitude list. Write down three to five things for which you are grateful. You can accompany your words with sketches or pictures. Express gratitude for the flowers blooming in your garden or for your best friend. You can choose something simple or elaborate – whatever floats your boat. As you jog your memory for all the gifts in your life, you might be surprised to find that you have more than five items on the list.
4. Give Yourself a Hand: Allow your non-dominant hand to respond to a question written with your dominant hand. It could be anything from “my most cherished memory” to “what makes me laugh.” Doing so may very well tap into the unconscious thoughts of your inner child.
5. Take a Step: Writing out your step work in a designated journal is a great way to keep track of your progress. You can refer back to your notes to review the steps you’ve already completed and to remind yourself of how far you’ve come on your recovery journey. Keep the names and numbers of “program” people in the back of your journal, so you’re not scrambling to find important numbers in an emergency.
6. So, take that first step! Write on!
To learn more about The Meadows, visit us here or call (800) 244-4949.
Sophia Krell, LMSW
By the time we’re adults, we’ve already created a potpourri of ideas about ourselves and about our environment. Our ideas most likely originated in childhood and may have been impacted by early trauma. We may have had parents who were shaming and, as a result, the beliefs we acquired over the years are not reality based.
We may feel we’re not good enough, that we’re inadequate and unworthy - and that the whole world is unsafe. These ideas may still ring true for us today. The reality is that we are good enough, we are adequate and worthy - and the whole world is not unsafe. Our negative thoughts keep us from embracing what truly is.
What we tell ourselves has a huge impact in how our life unfolds. That’s why it’s so important to retrain our brain if it’s bombarded with negative messages. Although the first crucial step is figuring out the origins of these self-destructive messages, the next step is learning to retrain our brain. One way to do this is through affirmations.
The more we repeat our affirmations, the quicker our brain will begin to build new neuropathways. We suggest repeating your affirmations anywhere from 300 to 400 times per day (and say it like you mean it!) Affirmations work best when they are used daily; stated in the present tense; said with emotion; and contain positive as opposed to negative words. Instead of affirming “I don’t want to be fat,” you may want to say, “I am becoming healthy and svelte.”
Your heart will know which affirmations are right for you. If you’ve done your work and know where your struggles lie, you’ll have no trouble figuring out what works best. If you’re a perfectionist, you may want to choose affirmations that speak to this issue. “I am enough,” comes to mind. Or, “I am perfectly imperfect.” If you struggle with feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem, you might want to go with, “I am lovable.” Building these new neuropathways is a gradual process, so that’s why consistency is so important. The more we use our affirmations, the greater the rewards. In addition to stating your affirmations out loud, it’s also a good idea to write them down or even say them while exercising. There is a powerful connection between movement and the brain, which is the idea behind bilateral stimulation. So, break out your running shoes and state your affirmations on the jogging trail.
Before you know it, negative thoughts will no longer be second nature. Such self-talk will slip away and will be replaced by positive and empowering thoughts. You’re not doomed to repeat the past, so here’s wishing you a bright and shining future. It’s well worth the effort. I can do this! Now, say that 400 times…
The Meadows is an industry leader and the most trusted name in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. The Meadows helps change lives through the Meadows Model, 12-step practices, and the holistic healing of mind, body, and spirit.
To learn more about The Meadows, visit us here or call (800) 244-4949.
Shelley's Corner: A Series on Emotional Trauma, Addiction, and Healing
Dr. Shelley Uram is a Harvard trained, triple board-certified psychiatrist and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. As a Meadows' Senior Fellow, Dr. Uram conducts patient lectures and provides ongoing training and consultation to the treatment staff at The Meadows.
I was having lunch with some friends the other day, and one of them asked why we can be so clear about knowing what’s important to us, yet have a very hard time carrying it out in real life. The examples she was talking about revolved around her wanting to be less reactive and more loving towards her husband, and to have greater ease and kindness with the people who “drive me crazy” in everyday life. She described knowing full well that her life would be so much easier and more pleasant if she was more accepting and loving of others, but this is much easier said than done.
There is SO MUCH I can say about this!!!
First, let’s go back to our earliest beginnings…when we were just three months old.
Up to that point, as infants, we were living and aware on a moment-to-moment basis. We had no real judgments. If we were cold or hungry or wet, we would react to the discomfort, but once we felt better, all was fine again. We pretty much flowed with whatever was happening.
At about three months of age, something very dramatic shifts. A part of our brain has now grown and matured enough that we have this dawning awareness that there is a “me!” Until that time, as we were flowing with whoever and whatever was around us, we did not understand that a separate “me” exists.
One of the reasons this presents such a huge shift in our world is that our survival brain now starts to work like crazy now, and wants to keep this new-found little person safe. We begin to have much more frequent fight/flight/freeze responses to the people and situations around us.
Unfortunately, these very powerful fight/flight/responses become attached to multiple situations and people, and remain locked into our brains for many years to come. These survival responses work by “firing” or “triggering” whenever we are reminded of the original situation. This all happens outside of our conscious awareness, so we don’t have much control over it.
The net effect of this over the years is that by the time we are adults, we can experience a large gulf between how we WANT to be, with how we actually ARE. That is, the very essence of us values being a certain kind of person, but our habits and ingrained patterns, usually derived from early life conditioning, behave entirely differently.
The deepest root of these ingrained patterns is usually from these early life fight/flight/freeze responses that became attached to how we adapted to our early stresses and strains.
Thanks for sharing this time with me,
© Shelley Uram 2014
Written by Claudia Black, Ph.D., Senior Fellow of The Meadows
“It is true that as long as we live we may keep repeating the patterns established in childhood. It is true that the present is powerfully shaped by the past. But it is also true that insight at any age keeps us from singing the same sad songs again.”
To be able to put the past behind and not repeat those same sad songs, one needs to take four primary steps.
The purpose in exploring the past is not to assign blame but to acknowledge reality and grieve one’s pain. In other words, people have to admit to themselves the truth of what happened, rather than hide or keep secret the hurt and wounds that occurred. There is no doubt denial became a skill that served one well as a child in a survival mode. Unfortunately denial, which begins as a defense, becomes a skill that interferes with how people live their life today. When someone lets go of denial and acknowledges the past, grieves the pain that is associated with the losses, it is an opportunity to put the past into perspective.
As people move from the process of breaking their denial and grieving their pain, they need to move into the next step. (Yes, C comes before B ☺)
Connect the past to the present means asking “How does this past pain and loss influence who I am today?” “How does the past affect who I am as a parent, in the workplace, in a relationship, how I feel about myself?” The cause and effect connections discovered between past losses and present day life offers a focus for recovery. It allows one to become more centered in the here and now. This clarity will identify the areas for further healing.
Challenging internalized beliefs means asking, “What beliefs have I internalized from my growing up years? Are they helpful or hurtful to me today? What beliefs would support me in living a healthier life?” So often people internalize beliefs such as, “It is not okay to say No,” or “Other people’s needs are more important than my own,” or “The world owes me and I am entitled.” “People will take advantage of you every chance they can.” If these beliefs are getting in the way of how someone wants to live their life, they need to take responsibility for them. They need to not only be willing to recognize how that belief is sabotaging their healing, but to create new beliefs in their place.
Learning new skills means asking, “What did I not learn that would help me today?” E.g., How to set limits, how to perceive options, to ask for help. Some of the skills learned during childhood were often skills and behaviors that were developmentally premature and/or learned from a basis of fear or shame. When the latter occurs there is a tendency to feel like an imposter. Developing skills is what ultimately gives people greater choices in their lives, and it is in addressing the feelings and beliefs associated with any skill that enhances greater confidence in their behavioral change.
These four steps are not always linear, but they all need to be incorporated into whatever the specific issue is that is being addressed. If someone only does the affective work, the healing has the potential to become a blaming process. If someone only does the cognitive work, the person has the potential to continue to present a false sense of self. If someone only does the behavioral work, one can demonstrate great skill in a contained setting but not demonstrate the ability to follow through on that skill in the real world. Hence the need for the ABCs, or shall I say the ACBs.
Specializing in trauma treatment, The Meadows works with clients from a bottom-up, top-down perspective. Trauma therapies such as SE, SP, EMDR, and mindful practices are integrated throughout the program. Cognitive behavioral therapy is integrated throughout the clinical work.
By Michelle Rogerson, M.S., CPT (Certified Personal Trainer), Challenge Course Level II & Course Manager, Wellness Coordinator at The Meadows
(Name has been changed for anonymity)
Suspended 25 feet above ground, Becky looks down and tells me she can’t climb any higher. Becky is wearing a bright blue harness around her waist and legs that compliments her blue eyes and brown hair. The harness is connected to the belay rope to keep her safe as she climbs a giant ladder dangling from a log suspended 35 feet up. She’s only 5’3” tall, so each rung of Giant Ladder seems like an almost inconceivable long reach. While the motto at the Challenge Course is, “Challenge by choice,” I can tell that it isn’t heights or a fear of falling that is holding Becky back, it’s her own crushing self-doubt. I sincerely ask Becky if she would be willing to let me help her climb up to the next ladder rung.
She cautiously agrees, and on the count of 3, I drop to my knees, pulling the belay rope down as Becky pulls her self up. It’s a success! However, I see the excitement in Becky’s eyes quickly fill with self-doubt once again as she sees that there’s still one more rung to go. I challenge Becky to keep going. She doubts her abilities, but I assure her that we can work as a team again to make it to the top. On the count of 3, I pull down as she pulls up. Another victory! Becky triumphantly stands and as a signal of her accomplishment, touches the final green log overhead with both hands from 35 feet up.
Soon after, I lower Becky back to the solid ground, unhook the rope from her harness, and congratulate her on her success! She is thrilled and excited, yet at the same time she also feels like she was a burden. That’s when I genuinely thank her for letting me help her. With tears in her eyes, Becky wraps her arms around me in a warm hug and thanks me for helping her climb all the way to the top. It is out here at the Challenge Course that Becky has been able to experience for herself that she is a strong and capable woman in many ways. She is also able to witness the joy that others feel when allowed the opportunity to help others.
Every week I get to witness our patients participate in meaningful experiences on the Challenge Course. Patients are able to learn healthy risk taking, trust, boundaries, and even to have fun in recovery. They can face their fears by climbing a 35 foot pole to a wavering rope bridge, or jump out into midair for a trapeze bar suspended 20 feet above ground. Sometimes it’s something as simple, yet as complex, as asking for help that will make all the difference in their success. I have the opportunity to help reinforce the skills and tools that they’re learning in treatment and hopefully add a little bit of excitement and adrenaline at the same time.
Not every experience out on the course is tearful and overwhelmingly emotional. For most people, climbing 40 feet up in the air and then standing on the edge of the zip line platform becomes quite unnerving. But as you take the first step off, that butterfly-rush hits your stomach (and a scream may even leave your lips); but after that, it’s all smiles. It’s definitely a unique experience at the Challenge Course each day. Who knows, you just might learn something about yourself.