Journaling

By Thomas B. 

Most of my life I have been an inveterate journalist, recording the ups and downs, the various vicissitudes, of my often unpredictable and at times haphazard life. I started journaling in earnest during the summer of 1966, after flunking out of my first graduate school, a consequence of excessive drinking. It was just before I entered the US Army as a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) 2nd Lieutenant, commissioned upon graduating from college the year before. Ever since I’ve experienced journaling to be a most useful tool to explore some of what my life’s journey has been about.

typewriter1 I still have the small 4” X 5” spiral notebook in which I first journaled. I carried it throughout Basic Officer’s training and during my first active duty assignment in Vietnam. It’s accompanied on a shelf in my office by 26 other handwritten journals of varying sizes and types, along with a stack of extensive 4th & 10th Step inventories written on notebook paper. These journals and inventories, both general 4th Step inventories, as well as those dealing specifically with troubling areas I’ve experienced in recovery — resentments or relationships or jealousies or melancholia or despair or rage or what have you — are most useful to review from time to time.

I’ve only lost one of these journals, one written between late 2000 and early 2002. This notebook recorded one of the most difficult periods of my sobriety. It related the 12-month period when a 22-year relationship painfully came to a crashing end. Then, my third wife and I sold our faux-Victorian cottage in a picturesque hamlet on the south shore of Long Island. Afterwards, I took my half of the proceeds and bought an upscale RV with all the trimmings and traveled alone for six months throughout the US and Canada with Chutney, a trusted dog companion. During this two-year period, my father died, and I also spent the first three weeks after 911 in downtown Manhattan as a Red Cross Mental Health Volunteer for First Responders. This journal was stolen out of the front seat of an unlocked car, while I was attending an AA meeting. Though minimal compared to the total loss of houses and possessions through natural disasters or fire, such as Tick Hall, the Stanford White-designed beach house in Montauk, NY, which burned to the ground, destroying 30 years of possessions belonging to celebrities Dick Caveat and Carrie Nye, the loss of this journal was another grave loss in a long season of devastating losses.

I nearly lost another of these handwritten journals, one detailing the following two years between 2003 and 2004. For most of this time period, I was on an assignment working for peace in Sri Lanka. I was there on December 26, 2004, when the devastating tsunami destroyed much of that country’s shoreline. Fortunately, I went on a bike ride inland to visit a 2,000-year-old temple complex shortly before the gigantic wave struck, destroying the guest house compound where I had been staying on a Christmas holiday. When I returned to see the destroyed building where I had left my backpack, computer, and journal, I was devastated again. However, I found the journal, water-soaked and sand-gritted, lying in a puddle about 30 feet down the driveway of the compound.

In addition to these handwritten journals, I have on my computer some 1,500 pages of journals digitally composed, since I became computer-literate in the mid-1990s. These include additional inventories, journals, and various musings, including a 164-page — hmm, now that’s a rather significant number for us alcoholics, isn’t it — “Missive to Peter,” my sponsor for 33 years who died in August 2006. In the mystery of the Cosmos, I believe somehow he perceives my musings to him; likewise, I also believe he still conveys to me his deep wisdom. Further, I have written some 430 poems, three unpublished plays, and three online blogs authored by myself. I have also contributed to three other blogs, including fifteen articles written for AA Agnostica and six articles for AA Beyond Belief. Writing is obviously one of the chief tools I use for self-examination and self-reflection.

In my experience writing, whether putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, has been an essential component of my on-going recovery process. It continues to this very day. It prevents me from falling prey to the oft-heard statement around the rooms, “We alcoholics are as sick as we are secret.” I might add that this includes especially being honest, authentic, and open with ourselves by delving into our psyches for hidden agendas and spurious rationales. Continuously taking inventory of myself through writing as suggested in our Step 10 has from early on in the recovery process been an essential tool for not only staying sober, but for continuing to lead a productive and useful life in recovery as well.

Itshoes strikes me that historically writing has always been one of AA’s primary tools for staying sober a day at a time. It’s an inferred crucial process of three of the AA Twelve Steps: Step 4, Step 8 and Step 10.

Certainly, Bill Wilson is a primary model for this behavior in sobriety. Not only was he the primary author of AA’s seminal literature, but he wrote numerous articles for the Grapevine and carried on extensive correspondence with AA members around the world.

I’m certainly no Bill Wilson, but I am privileged and most grateful that I can emulate his positive example by copiously writing to help me clarify to myself and others how I maintain the gift of sobriety a day at a time. It is one of the primary tools I use to give away what I have, so that I continue to experience the daily reprieve.

Getting the often jumbled thoughts which cascade haphazardly in different directions organized in some semblance of order, whether on paper or computer screen, helps me sort out the cacophony of sometimes conflicting feelings and misperceptions that I experience even in long-term recovery. When I attempt to communicate what I am thinking/feeling/experiencing to myself, it helps me to discern or clarify what actions I need to take to gain relief from my sometimes confused state of dis-ease and discord.

From time to time, I look back through my journals to get a sense of how I’m doing compared with other times in recovery. For example, during the week before each New Year, l look back at entries made at the turn of each year to get a sense of what issues I’ve dealt with in the past. This is often a source of great gratitude for how gifted I am in the present!

I am most grateful for the practical tool of journaling. It is a gift that has not only been essential at times for staying sober, but through journaling I get to evolve into a better, more aware, more enlightened human being than if I were not to utilize it. Journaling helps keep me grounded, here and now, to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and to have the wisdom to know the difference.

I get not only to experience sobriety, I get to experience evolving serenity, even during times of distress and discord. It just don’t get any better than that!


About the Author, Thomas B.

Sober from his primary drug of addiction, Colt .45 — preferably by the Case — since October 14, 1972, Thomas is grateful for the full life he has experienced in recovery for over 44 years. He’s been active at the group level throughout his recovery, and for two years served as GSR for Portland, Oregon’s Beyond Belief secular AA group, which he and his wife, Jill, founded in 2014.

Currently he and Jill live in Wenona, IL. with their dog Kiera, and two cats, Savannah and Elsa. They occasionally attend Quad-A secular AA meetings in Chicago,  and they regularly attend the secular “Live and Let Live”  group in Bloomington, IL Thomas has been a regular contributor to AA Beyond Belief and AA Agnostica.


Photography

The photography used for this article was created by Jan A.


Audio Story

The audio story was narrated and recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his area. If you would like to join him, you may reach him by email at lenr.secularsobriety@gmail.com.

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steve bJan A. From Bandon Freethinkers GroupBob K.Jeb Blife-j Recent comment authors

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steve b
steve b

I never journal anything except that once in while I will write down my running times and record weightlifting achievements, but nothing more than the date, the time or the amount of the weight. At my age, almost 74 now, there isn’t much to write about, since I’m getting slower and weaker. But if I succeed in deadlifting 300 lbs, which is a little more than twice my body weight (I’m pretty close to being able to do it), I’ll probably record it. Once I kept a list of the names of former girlfriends, but I threw it away. And… Read more »

Jan A. From Bandon Freethinkers Group
Jan A. From Bandon Freethinkers Group

Thanks for yet another intelligent and thought-provoking piece, Thomas. You underscore the importance of living the examined life. One more example of how to “think it through” — one of the best tools of this sober journey. We miss you out here in Oregon.

Bob K.
Bob K.

There are some penalties resulting from cynicism. In my case, an aversion to the very term “journaling” (overtones of the even more horrific “scrapbooking”) kept me from a practice with undeniable benefits. As a late-in-life aspiring writer, how fabulous it would be to have recorded incidents, lessons, and stories, so many lost to the memory of an aging brain. My writing ambitions make jealousy rear its ugly head, almost always when reading anything penned by Thomas B. What a delightful, lilting style, as words go dancing across the page, the tale unfolding, ever with such clarity of expression. Keep it up, my friend,… Read more »

Jeb B

Thanks for another excellent piece, Thomas. The process of writing thoughts, emotions and experiences down in black and white has been an essential part of my recovery journey also. I am so grateful that Bill Wilson suggested it as a part of the recovery process. Writing things down not only helps me in processing my experiences and organizing my thoughts, it also frees up my mind to pay better attention to the moment and to follow a plan for the day. For me, it is an essential solution to my “built-in forgetter.” LOL

life-j
life-j

Thomas, thank you. Can’t say I journal much per se, meaning as a more or less regular, focused exercise, but I do write quite a bit, and publish here from time to time, and well, I just realized, my responses to other people here is a sort of journaling, since Ioften express what I’m feeling that day which the piece I’m reading has triggered, or just whatever is at the surface and needs to come out. Went with a friend to a memorial service yesterday for a friend in AA. She was somewhere close to 46 years sober, and of… Read more »