Journaling Your Recovery: An Exercise for First Responders

Journaling Your Recovery: An Exercise for First Responders

Published on July 11, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Have you ever thought back to a particular moment in time in hopes of remembering what you were thinking or how you were feeling? It’s a common thought experiment — longing to recapture the past often reflects an innate desire to understand ourselves. But this can be difficult for first responders, who encounter far more trauma than the average person and may not want to recall memories from the past.

This often changes in recovery, when the urge to remember the past often derives from our own questioning of the growth we have made. Despite investing time and energy into the path towards recovery, the nature of our consciousness will likely search for tangible, objective evidence of this development.

An ideal way to catch a glimpse of our own past comes in the form of journaling. Keeping a log of feelings, thoughts, and daily activities preserves one’s mindset for future reference. For first responders recovering from alcohol and/or substance use, recording daily notes of their ongoing relationship with addiction provides a valuable snapshot of the constantly-changing perspective with which we view life.

First responders face more than their fair share of trauma, and it’s easy to get caught up in those stressful or sad memories. Journaling about the progress made in your addiction can help replace those memories with hope and accomplishment.

The benefits of regular journaling differ amongst those who put pen to paper, but diary-keepers attest to numerous mood and cognitive improvements. The nature of journaling functions to encourage open-ended communication with oneself. Still, getting started may feel awkward, or even daunting — after all, first responders are trained to help others ahead of themselves. Here are some of the many benefits associated with journaling, and how to connect your writing practice with your recovery.

Improving Mood and Mindset

First responders endure a lot, and writing can be one of the healthiest ways to express your emotions. Tapping into vulnerability through a daily writing practice offers an outlet for any pent-up thoughts that may be eating away at you after a particularly bad shift. Bringing the anxieties, stressors, and depressive doubts of our interior monologue onto a physical page helps us realize the way we process these emotions.

One of the biggest questions we get to answer in life is, what do we do with these emotions we feel? It may be easy to answer this question for feelings like happiness and love. We understand the joy of allowing these feelings to wash over us, embracing the present moment openly. However, more complicated feelings of anger and grief often push us to search for a means of escape — from both these feelings and the present moment. Experiencing these difficult emotions as they pass over us is necessary to heal from the painful injuries we have incurred, and especially critical for first responders who witness so many tragedies.

Writing opens up a space for us to sit in and cope with negative feelings. Talking about anxieties with others can prove helpful, particularly with those trained and educated in counseling. Yet not all those who are close to us are equipped to provide the emotional availability we require, especially as they deal with their own emotional tug-of-war about our addiction.

Meanwhile, a pen and notepad are portable. If you have a wave of emotion building up yet feel a disconnect with how to express it, directing that swell of anxiety into a journal entry can help to prioritize the mounting stress. Learning to write when these feelings begin helps you develop the awareness necessary for recognizing triggers.

Tips for Maintaining a Journal

The best way to start writing is simply that — pick up a pen and start writing. Set aside some time that allows you to honor this step you are taking towards recovery. It doesn’t need to be an essay every time. You can sit down and get the journaling ball rolling with just five or ten free minutes in your day. Keep it open-ended, and remember that committing to keeping a record of your present truth will be a helpful reflection as you move forward.

Journaling is a space that you can open up to be whatever you want. If you are having questions about why you lost a patient or how you will get through a particularly tragic event, write those down. If one day your thoughts take the form of a drawing, illustrate those pages. So few opportunities exist for us to creatively express feelings as adults. When it is important for us to have that outlet, we really need to carve out that time and space for ourselves.

Additionally, you can learn to become your own ally through journal entries. No one has to know about journaling but you, allowing you to connect with thoughts and feelings you may otherwise be too self-conscious to share with your colleagues or any third party. Confiding in yourself fortifies self-trust and the confidence to advocate for your own well-being.

Recovery isn’t always pretty, and there are days where each moment feels like a cage. Sometimes the path forward is found by first looking inward. Trying to put your current state of feelings into words has a way of pulling deep-seated truths out and into the open. These realizations and epiphanies might not happen in a week — or even in a year — but the practice reveals a lot about each writer’s tendencies and personality. We can only hope to recover ourselves by getting to know the person we are looking to save.

The goal of occupational therapy services at True Recovery is to best prepare our clients to lead meaningful, independent lives by addressing each person’s individual needs. For first responders who work non-traditional hours in a high-pressure environment, there are many unique challenges. We teach you how to rebuild your personal and professional relationships, so you can be excited about life again, or perhaps for the first time. You will also learn how to deal with past and future trauma, physical and emotional pain, and other life obstacles without resorting to alcohol or other substances. If you are ready to begin living a new life, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at (888) 743-0490.