After Addiction, How Writing Restored Me to Me

Filed in Writing to Heal by on September 20, 2017 0 Comments • views: 937

by Carl Towns

Thoughtful man laptop

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates,
Getting laid, or making friends.
In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work,
And enriching your own life, as well.
It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over.
Getting happy, okay? Getting happy
.

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Getting happy, because the phrase pretty much sums it up, was the reason I started writing.

I’ll be honest—it wasn’t my idea. Joseph, one of the guys going through detox in rehab at the same time as me, first suggested it: “You always make me laugh, man. Different strokes, and you come up with different jokes. You should start writing some of this stuff down.”

Those were his words, except “stuff.” He used a different word. I’m just trying to be polite.

Some people don’t get through life without it all come crashing down one day. Something happens, something they can’t avoid, and that’s that. Others like me, well, it creeps up on them. I thought I was happy, I thought I was coping, and I considered this to be normal. What I was doing was running and hiding.

Running and hiding, all day and night long. What I know now is that it’s how you react to that day when you feel like there’s nowhere left to run to, nowhere to hide anymore. Your reaction is the important thing. Get busy living and all that.

Writing has given me much more than just keeping myself occupied in a non-destructive way—it has kept me sober and sane. Which came first? The alcohol or the depression? Like the chicken and the egg, I really don’t care much now. Does it matter?

So, sober or sane? That one’s easy. Getting sober, then getting sane, then getting happy. In that order.

How Can We Tell if We’re Mentally Healthy?

How can we tell if we’re mentally well and healthy? There’s no clinical result like having your blood pressure taken, like 130 over 75. Oh, you’re quite content over a touch troubled…. No, gauging your own state of well-being is seriously subjective in nature.

I spent many, many years, as young as I am, believing I was happy, just like everyone else I knew.

There was no gauge, no piece of medical equipment to test the pressure. So I drank and did drugs, too. My depression, if that’s what it was then, quickly made friends with the alcohol, the dope, and the party pills. Soon enough, they became inseparable.

Rehab saved my life, for what it was worth then. Getting detoxed, getting therapy and group counseling, getting sober, and then getting sane made me realize for the first time ever that is was a life worth saving, full of untold promise and potential, if only I allowed myself to believe it was possible.

Writing Helped Me Stay Sober and Sane

Writing, after Joseph’s inspirational and kind words, became my personal avenue to staying sober and sane. One day in rehab, I picked up a pen and stared at a blank piece of paper. I simply wrote about what I felt at that particular time. It wasn’t for anyone else—a therapist, family member or friend. It was just for me. My daily journal, recommended also by the rehab center, was born.

I still have those pages. No one has ever read them and no one ever will. No one will ever read my journal either.

Writing about my feelings did so much more, at that time, for my state of mental health than all the previous untold years of alcohol and drug abuse, of running and hiding. For once, I felt like I had a story to tell, even if it was only for me.

Research studies have looked at links between expressive writing (which was, unbeknown to me then, exactly what I was doing that first time) and possible medical benefits, with clear and favorable results. Putting it all down on paper can be a cornerstone of being well (in my case, sober and sane).

Writing in this way was, and still is, the writing that has been the most helpful to me. It gives me a place to go and think of my past, a place to reflect.

Writing Helped Me Return to Moments of Achievement and Pride

For me, being sober and sane was already a good few yards down the road to getting physically healthy, too.

I started to write more, and be more expressive (no particular kind of reader in mind at all, just writing for me). What stuff did I write about? Stories of personal memories mostly, back from when I was a child.

I was pretty athletic at school, quick at running, whatever distance it was. So I wrote about races I’d run, how they panned out, even the girls who cheered me on. Maybe, in my writing, I was simply returning to moments of achievement and pride in my life.

Then I started to write about times when stuff didn’t pan out so well, particularly occasions when I felt I had no control over anything, like my father’s illness, getting bullied at school, stuff like that. It was very personal, and I never wanted to share it with anyone else.

As all this writing began to make me realize a few things I’d struggled with in the past, things that I couldn’t cope with, I began to feel the need to push my body as well as my mind, to try and be a little athletic again. In doing so, I hoped I could release this tension both physically as well as mentally.

It did the trick and then some. Before long, I had a regular exercise routine to go alongside my new writing one.

I may well be in a better state of well-being than I ever was. I sure am in better physical shape, that’s for sure. And, another bonus, when I’m out running, those creative ideas come fast and furious. Oh, fast and furious? No, that’s been done.

Writing Gives a Voice to What Would Otherwise Go Unheard

“Cognitive processing” is described, in a psychologist’s terms, as “the performance of some composite cognitive activity; an operation that affects mental contents; the process of thinking, the cognitive operation of remembering.”

I consider it as the act of remembering and thinking about those memories. And putting it all down on paper, as I do so.

Writing is a proven technique for assisting those with depression to deal with what has gone before, all that stuff (still being polite here) that we cannot change. The root of depression is an exceptionally personal part of us – writing gives a voice to what would otherwise go possibly unheard, even to ourselves.

Predominantly, my writing has been centered on my journal, my daily diary of my daily emotions. However, not wishing to appear a one-trick pony, even to myself, I have also produced a series of poems that (I can only hope) one day will be published.

My “Cognitively Processed Poems,” they could be called. What a title..!

Anyway, who knows? I’m not actively seeking publishers. Maybe one day when releasing my inner stuff to the outside world doesn’t seem so final.

Work that has been published (albeit, online and limited) includes articles like this, which I’m highly motivated to write as my life now involves giving back to a community I am still part of, and always will be, one in recovery.

Writing Gave Me My Sense of Me

As part of my ongoing recovery, I still attend regular therapist-run counselling sessions. In fact, the therapist often says that my progress is not, in any way, down to her, that it has come from the desire within me to write about my experiences, and the emotions (often painful) that doing so triggers. She encourages me to continue to write as much as I can as part of a healthy daily routine. She’s never been given access to my journal and she kind of likes that approach.

Since I got sober, got sane and started writing, I have yet to be fired from any job I’ve done. I’ve left a couple as they weren’t quite my thing, and of my own choice, but with many goodwill messages to accompany me on my way.

That’s the thing about writing. It’s grounded me and made me a better person to be around. In my previous life, as it were, I was confrontational and antagonistic toward others, with not a care about the consequences. Now, people seem sad to see me go.

Writing is simply my routine and my therapy. It is the battleground I chose on which to fight my demons. I regularly take up my position, facing the enemy, armed only with a cheap pen and a journal open to the next blank page. For me, it is enough.

I’m getting the better of these unseen foes and making ground every time we do battle. Writing has given me that opportunity, that sense of release. It’s given me, more importantly, my sense of me, of being me, and of living how I want to live. For that, I’m so grateful.

* * *

Carl TownsCarl Towns is a 28-year-old wanna-be writer who is also a recovering addict in the path of self-discovery.

His goal is to “learn as many things as possible and to seize every single moment I live, pretty much trying to make up for all that I missed on the years I was lost in drugs and alcohol (among other things).”

He’s in love with tech, cars and pretty much anything that can be found online.


Sources
“Depression and Addiction—Are They Linked?” NorthPoint Recovery, June 26, 2015, https://www.northpointrecovery.com/blog/depression-and-addiction-are-they-linked/.

Karen A. Baikie & Kay Wilhelm, “Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing,” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, Vol. 11, 338–346, 2015, http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/aptrcpsych/11/5/338.full.pdf.

Ben Allen, “Why Depression is Not a Good Thing for Writers”, Writing And Wellness, May 23, 2016, http://www.writingandwellness.com/2016/05/23/why-depression-is-not-a-good-thing-for-writers/.

John F. Evans, “Expressive Writing: What’s On Your Mind and In Your Heart?” Psychology Today, August 15, 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/write-yourself-well/201208/expressive-writing.

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