I’ll never forget the words my first sponsor said to me during our initial meeting: I can see that you’re really disconnected between your head and your heart, she said. With my best puzzled face I said, hmm…how do I do that—how do I reconnect myself?! This was one of the first paradoxes of recovery: to be sober and not try to figure out how to reconnect myself.

To be sober, I had to form a practice. One of my first practices was writing—journaling to be specific. I recall when it was suggested to me that I journal as part of my morning ritual. I was flummoxed. I didn’t know what to write. The past five years I had spent legal writing for my day job, but ask me to write about my feelings, and I was clueless. I felt so emotionally numb at that point in my recovery. The only emotions and feelings I could identify were anger and depression.

My sponsor suggested my morning practice begin with reading a morning meditation. Then I pick up the pen and begin by writing my plan for the day. I could move on to anything that arises in my mind—any new discoveries, uncomfortable feelings, how I slept, any cravings. I decided to incorporate three things I was grateful for too. Before I knew it, I had written a week’s worth of entries.

Encouraged by my commitment, and how good it felt, I continued to write.

I then incorporated an evening entry. At the end of each day, I would write about what I did that day—any discoveries, what I had learned, anything I had heard in a meeting that was useful. Perhaps the most useful activity in my practice has been recording a list of what I had done right that day. This has been the most self-esteem building activity of my recovery—aside from getting sober—and I cannot recommend it enough.

Too often, I feel we focus on defective thinking and behavior and not enough on what we are doing right. For example, staying sober is a miracle; attending a meeting, eating well, getting 8 hours sleep, are all self-care activities that we didn’t prioritize in active addiction (I neglected most altogether). What about spending time talking to other sober people? Building connection, providing mutual support, and developing relationships—do we give ourselves credit for that? We should. And making a record of these ‘credits’, helped me to realize that even when I felt I was having a terrible day, and had no idea why I was sober, I could see that I was making progress and developing a healthy life. It helped me continue in recovery; it helped me to see it was worth it.

So much of my life I have spent mute. I hadn’t spoken up because it didn’t feel safe to without being rebuked, shunned, or shamed. My voice had become so small, that I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts.

All of my resentments are borne out of an inability to express myself. Instead of telling someone they had hurt or upset me, I would keep that feeling in so tightly that resentments would form. Those resentments bubbled away for years—they provided the fuel for my progression into addiction.

Journaling, therefore, was the beginning of me finding a voice. Initially a whisper, but, before long, I couldn’t put my pen down. I filled a stack of journals in my first year. Journaling in the morning, afternoon, and evening—I even took my journal out with me, to keep a recording of anything useful. It became a stream of consciousness. It became an outlet—something I so desperately sought my entire life without even knowing it.

I don’t understand what happens in the transference of thoughts to paper, but it carries such power that I credit it to a fundamental aspect of my staying sober the past five years. It has:

  • Helped me to marshal my thoughts.
  • Provided an outlet to channel my frustration in a safe environment.
  • Created a space to share my darkest secrets.
  • Helped me realize my hopes and dreams.
  • Allowed me to discover my strengths and champion them.
  • Uncovered my talent for writing.
  • Gave me the courage to open my mouth.

In gaining courage to slowly step outside my comfort zone and learn to express myself, I gained the confidence to do that on a much wider scale—I became a blogger. Around two years sober, as I was getting help with the physical aspect of my recovery—the 150 pounds of excess weight I carried—I decided that I wanted to share my journey. I founded my blog, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen.

Before I knew it, people on the other side of the world—that I’d never met—started telling me how much they enjoyed my writing. The more I wrote, the more I gained confidence to express myself. I started to believe that it was okay to speak up, and my thoughts, feelings, opinions, hopes and dreams, are all valid. I matter.

It is still a practice I continue today.

Writing set me free. It helped me to connect my head and my heart. It is my go-to recovery tool at times of stress. I pick up my pen, or tap away at my laptop and something magical happens: the words just flow out until I feel like stopping. It allows me to breathe and creates distance between my thoughts and state of being. It is so cathartic, so healing, and so loving. It is my means to live consciously, rather than floating on by, mute

Olivia Pennelle
By – Olivia Pennelle
Writer and wellness advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. She passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Read more
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