Power In The Word: How Reading and Writing Can Contribute to Addiction Recovery

In residential addiction treatment programs, reading and writing components can help people reach and express thoughts and emotions that would otherwise have been inaccessible to them. This process, sometimes known as bibliotherapy, often includes reading recovery narratives, chronicling their own story, and using creative writing as a method of self-expression.

Michael nervously clicked the pen in his hands. Closed and open. Open and closed. The paper in front of him seemed monstrous, a mountain too high to climb. He brought the tip of the pen to the page once, twice, three times, all without recording a single syllable. After a deep breath and an encouraging nod from the therapist in the corner, Michael began, slowly but surely, to write. After a line or two, the words flooded from the pen. He wrote four pages, front and back, barely pausing to draw breath. His relief was tangible. Now, finally, we were getting somewhere.

The written word can make a world of difference for people seeking treatment in residential addiction programs. When words are hard to find and speaking the truth aloud seems unbearable, you might find it easier to write, or to talk about a character’s thought processes instead. Engaging in reading and writing can aid in the healing process by offering a new medium in which to process the things that underlie addiction, and that’s why it’s so important to find an individualized treatment program that lets you integrate the components that matter most to you.

Reading Into Recovery

Using books, literature, and other texts as part of a treatment program is known as bibliotherapy, and it’s a popular intervention for both substance abuse and depression. You may have experienced a moment where you identified with the main character in a novel and empathetically experienced their joy when they conquered their obstacles. Or maybe you read a poem and thought to yourself that you could have written the words yourself—that’s how much they meant to you.

When struggling with addiction, it can also be helpful to read the stories of those who’ve already embarked on their recovery journeys. Following their path into sobriety can be cathartic, and can bring a newfound sense of hope about the future. Narratives told by peers can be especially helpful here, because they show that recovery is possible, and for many, that’s the first step in imagining what their own recovery might look like.

Alcoholics Anonymous pioneered this kind of recovery-centered reading with the Big Book, which includes stories from 42 recovering alcoholics. For those who struggle with alcohol abuse, reading them can even act as a catalyst, one that helps them find the motivation they need to seek help for their own addiction.

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Enhance Your Addiction Treatment With Reflective Writing

Some therapists will also ask people working through an addiction to do some writing of their own.They might ask a client to write down the happiest moment of their day, do a written emotional check-in, or keep a gratitude journal. In trauma recovery, some people write their story down so that they can burn the pages—a way of acknowledging and letting go of their past.

Journaling and other reflective writing exercises can also serve as a “scrapbook” of sorts to look back on in the future. When someone lives with depression as well as addiction, it can be a struggle to remember what happiness feels like. Having a written record of the positives (or negatives) can put things in perspective when that kind of tunnel vision sets in, and help people see how far they’ve already come in their recovery.

Expressive Writing as a Step Toward Healing

Writing can be used as an expressive tool as well—a creative practice that can help people tap into even deeper emotions. Crafting a letter, poem, narrative, or other creative writing piece can create power and personal agency, and because writing types are all so diverse and varied, it’s a process that’s bound to have something for everyone.

Poetry in particular can be a powerful weapon against shame and guilt. Whether you’ve written a book of poems already or have never created a couplet, therapeutic poetry is accessible to everyone. Research has also shown that letter-writing can be helpful in treating addictive behaviors. We tend to approach a difficult conversation more easily when we’ve written down what we intend to say, and writing letters taps into this part of the brain. Experiment with writing a letter to yourself (past, present, or future), to a therapist, to loved ones, or even to your addiction. You could even write a letter to a feeling or thought process you’d like to let go. Letter writing gives a bird’s eye view of the situation and allows us to handle difficult emotions at a safe distance.

Allow The Written Word to Help You Achieve Recovery

The written word is a powerful thing. Stories from our past linger, bringing emotion and memory to the present. We find clarity when we record our thoughts and feelings. We are relieved when we write inexpressible truths down in a letter—even if it might never be sent. A book can easily and immediately change our lives.

No matter what, it’s important to speak your truth. It’s difficult, and maybe even painful, but recognizing your past can truly help you move forward. Shame and guilt have no place here. Speaking aloud (or on paper) can help you take that first step toward a life free from addiction. Read the stories of others—and then tell your own.

At Alta Mira, we strive to heal the entire person when someone comes to us with an addiction. We incorporate a number of holistic, psychological, and alternative therapies into our treatment programs, and are dedicated to finding a combination that works well for you. If you have questions about Alta Mira or addiction recovery (for yourself or for a loved one), please reach out to us today.