In early Twelve Step recovery, people are encouraged to tell their story as a way to openly and honestly acknowledge their powerlessness over their addiction. As they work the Steps, this story unfolds further when they take stock of themselves and their behavior. A journal can be a valuable tool in this reflective and introspective process because it helps you acknowledge and accept these truths, without judgment. Recording your history in a journal better prepares you to interact honestly with others in peer recovery groups, and with your family and friends.
Keeping a journal makes particular sense for those who participate in Twelve Step recovery programs. Letting go, “turning over” what you cannot change, changing what you can, acknowledging your weaknesses, and celebrating your strengths are all important aspects of Twelve Step recovery. A journal is a safe place where you can record those changes, let go of your fears, and express confusion, anger, doubt, remorse, and joy. A journal is a constant friend that accepts your negative and positive feelings unconditionally. It is also a place where you can describe and track your emotional and spiritual progress. When you look back, you will be able to see patterns in the way you react to life’s challenges.
What follows is a five-day introduction to recovery and writing about it. Each day presents ways you can make your living environment safe so that you can focus on working the Twelve Steps of recovery.
Day 1 – Create a Safe Space
Your first recovery action step is to “trash your stash”: clear your living environment of every last bit of alcohol or other drugs. Get rid of any materials (posters, music, shot glasses, phone numbers of using friends) that remind you of drinking or using. Don’t do this alone. Ask your spouse, partner, sober friend, or supportive family member for help.
You might be tempted to save part of your stash. Realize that this thinking will set you up for certain failure. Get rid of all your stash, and trust that you can let go of the need to control your life by using substances.
Write down the name of a sober person you can trust. Contact this person and schedule a time within the next twenty-four hours to meet to get rid of your stash. It’s hard, but you can do it.
Day 2 – Find a Local Twelve Step Meeting
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Twelve Step meetings offer a fellowship where recovering people share their experience, strength, and hope. Going to Twelve Step meetings is especially important during the first year of recovery. You, like many others, may feel isolated and lonely, as though you don’t belong anywhere. Using alcohol or other drugs probably made that alienation even worse. What is the best cure for loneliness? Friendship. When you make a connection with others in Twelve Step groups, your feeling of loneliness will fall away. If you have a problem, question, or experience you don’t understand, you can turn to a fellow group member for help.
Use the Internet or your local phone book to find a Twelve Step meeting in your area. Make a commitment to go to a meeting during the next twenty-four hours, and plan to go at least once a week. Write down the address of the meeting and the day and time you will attend.
Describe any fears or doubts you have about how the Twelve Step program can help you. Even if you are doubtful, make a commitment to go to a meeting this week with an open mind. When will you attend a meeting this week?
Day 3 – Find a Sponsor
Twelve Step recovery is based on the idea that healing begins when you become willing to share your story with another person. In early recovery, the first person you share with is called a sponsor. When you find a sponsor, you will have a special person who can listen to your story with attentive ears and an understanding heart.
Your sponsor will support, challenge, and help you in times of crisis. He or she will guide you through your Twelve Step work. It is not a sponsor’s job to keep you sober or take the place of a trained counselor; it is your sponsor’s job to hold you accountable and assist you in building a healthy lifestyle.
When you attend your first Twelve Step meeting, make sure you don’t leave without finding a temporary sponsor that is your same gender. A few people in your meeting will likely offer to be your temporary sponsor, but make sure you ask for help if you need it.
Your temporary sponsor will help guide you through the first few weeks or months of recovery. After you get to know people in your meeting better, you may choose a different sponsor who fits your needs better. But right now, make sure you find a temporary sponsor.
Write the name and phone number of that person here. Program his or her phone number into your cell phone or keep it in your wallet. Describe how you feel about having someone to help you with recovery.
Day 4 – Understand the Science of Addiction
Research has shown that addiction is not a matter of an individual’s strength, moral character, willpower, or weakness. It has to do with brain chemistry and the way your brain is wired. When you use alcohol or other drugs, your bloodstream quickly carries powerful, feel-good chemicals called neurotransmitters to your brain, causing you to feel high. This feeling was so pleasurable that you wanted to repeat it again and again.
Eventually your body got used to the drug and needed more in order to feel high. Eventually your brain stopped producing feel-good neurotransmitters on its own. Ordinary things like good food, a sunny day, or making a friend laugh no longer made you happy. Your body had become a hostage to the drug, and you could not feel happy–or even normal–without it.
Your body was chemically out of balance, and your need to use was more powerful than your best intentions to quit. Because you couldn’t quit, your drug use became progressively worse.
Can you relate to this description of how addiction progresses? Take a few minutes to reflect on your first use of alcohol or other drugs. How did your drug use progress? When did you notice that you needed the drug just to feel normal?
Day 5 – Plan Your Day
In early recovery, you cannot be around any mood-altering substances. To stay safe, you will need to plan your day to avoid all people, places, and things that could cause you to use alcohol or other drugs. It’s extremely important for you to stay away from bars or other places that remind you of using.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can drink or use like your nonaddicted friends. You can’t. Your brain is wired differently. Walking into a bar or meeting your using friends at a park is a “slippery slope” that will lead right back to drug use. Nonaddicts can have one drink and go home. For addicts, one drink can easily turn into ten.
Think about the slippery places where you previously used alcohol or other drugs. Did you use when you were home alone? With friends? First thing after waking up in the morning? At concerts? Before or during a date? After payday?
List these slippery places and make a commitment to avoid them at all costs. Instead of going to a bar or over to a using friend’s house, write out a plan to go to a Twelve Step meeting, connect with a sober friend, or go to a coffee shop or a bookstore.