Why Journaling Is My Therapy 

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Words by Madeleine Englis

Photos by Libby Smith

Considering I oftentimes find myself trapped within the confines of my own interwoven jumbled yet persistent thoughts —  I have undeniably struggled throughout my life to be in the here and now. To combat this angst, propelled by unrelenting internal diatribes that seem to only speak to me in repetitive circular patterns, I have tried virtually any activity that has even the slightest possibility of calming the central nervous system. 

And while meditation, yoga, running, therapy, Al-Anon, and reiki certainly seem to alleviate the anxiety and negative thought patterns I blame my traumatic childhood for — they only offer me temporary relief. 

It has always been writing that has healed me from the inside. For me, writing is the vehicle by which I untangle the otherwise previously tangled thoughts. When I write without the preconceived notion that anyone would ever read what I am writing, I feel a sense of freedom to express myself in the way that I want and need — no longer concerned with the opinions of others. 

One of my literary idols, Cheryl Strayed, once said: “You think you know your story but you don’t… not really, not until you write it down.” These words have since fastened themselves onto my belief system — aiding me on my journey towards recovery, healing the dull residual aches from past abuse. 

As painful memories surface, I now have a habit of writing them down. Similarly, when I am confronted with an unpleasant present issue that incites me to jump back into a worst case scenario outcome — I pause, take a breath and write out those jagged thoughts that would be too personal for me to share aloud with anyone other than myself… and maybe a select few friends.  

It’s funny how once the fear and pain is articulated… splattered onto the page, it can lose its power — no longer hidden from you within the crevices of your mind, no longer tucked away or repressed from even you. 

And more often than not, it is through journaling that I always arrive at the same conclusion. I am fine. I am okay. I am grateful. I am alive! 

 Everything always has a funny way of working out — if you just let it be, while acting in alignment with your values, living your truth. 

If you are new to writing or not at all sure what the hell I am talking about, when I say things like “journaling as a means to recovery and inner peace” — I have outlined a few prompts here that can help. Not a writer? It doesn’t matter. Remember: no one is reading this, but you. This is for you, no one else. You’ll see that once you start writing for yourself, the words will have a way of emptying themselves out of your head and onto the page, just like that. And maybe just maybe, your words will offer you a much needed cathartic release. That is my hope for you. Just remember to at minimum, not judge yourself or the writing. 

Journal Prompt 1 — Fear

  • What do you fear most? Write it down, without judgement.

  • Is there a particular issue or person causing you stress? What is the worst case scenario outcome of this conflict? What do you fear the most?

  • What is it that you desire most right now? What are the fears holding you back from going after what you desire? What are you afraid of?

  • Can you find humor in your fear? Try! The humor is there. I promise.

Hopefully, once you confront the “worst case scenario” — you will see that even then, you will be fine. You will survive. You will continue on and be okay.

Journal Prompt 2 — Joy  

  • What are the things right now that fill you with joy?

  • When was the last time you felt joyful? What were you doing? Who were you with? What was joyful about it? How did it make you feel?

  • Make a list of people that bring you joy.

  • Make a list of things or activities that bring you joy.

  • Make a list of places that bring you joy.

  • Remember what brings you joy… and don’t forget to return to those people, places and things weekly — if not daily, to find happiness.

Journal Prompt 3 — Control

  • What are you holding onto tightly… for dear life right now?

  • What are you trying to control? Are you trying to control a particular outcome? What is it? Are you trying to control a person? Who?

  • What would happen if you let go of trying to control the outcome?

  • What would it feel like to stop trying to control… and just let things unfold, without any preconceived ideas of what should happen?

Journaling has enabled me to be freed of the silent monologues that prevent us from realizing our true selves and knowing that we are enough — we are loved. We are okay. You no longer need to look towards others for the answer. The answer is within — it always has been. You may just need to write it out, to know that it’s always been there… at least that’s how it happened for me. You have the answers, no one else. You know what is best for you, always. 

Madeleine Englis