Writing has been one of the transformative and supportive tools I’ve used in my recovery. It wasn’t easy to start — in fact I had no idea how to begin — but as soon as I did, I haven’t stopped. Had you said to me back then that I’d be a full-time writer in my future, I wouldn’t have believed you. Back then a journal entry was a challenge. But today, I now write for a living — often about some very challenging topics. But, I feel honored to have a job that gives me so much pleasure.
Knowing that my words have the ability to challenge dogmatic and stagnant perspectives motivates me to get out of bed every day. Through my writing I have the means to show others that they can shape a recovery pathway that is entirely individual to them. I talk about the difficult topics — the myths in AA, alternative ways to recover, medication-assisted recovery — to pave the way for less stigmatized points of view. It’s my goal that through my writing I decrease stigma and increase acceptance of everyone’s journey. After all, we’re all headed to the same destination of an improved life, so it shouldn’t matter how we get there.
I began writing after my first sponsor suggested to me that I begin by writing a plan for the day — a simple list will do, she said. She advised that I plan which meeting I was to go to, who I’d have coffee with afterwards, to list recovery work I had to do. At the end of each day I was to record how my day went, anything I’d learned about my new journey in recovery, and anything I wanted to follow up on. It was that straightforward.
The practice of sitting down each morning, with a cup of tea, and setting my intention for the day was really powerful. In early recovery, even for at least the first year, our brains can feel like it’s wrapped in cotton wool — thinking feels fuzzy. We’re slow to respond. And we feel mentally exhausted from being un-anaesthetized — so the practice of planning and setting some goals for my day was invaluable. It didn’t always work out exactly as I’d expected, but once I used it as a rough framework for the day I felt more grounded. My anxiety reduced, and I felt less indecisiveness.
At the end of each day, even though I was tired, I seemed to write forever. As my consciousness increased, so did my revelations about who I am as a woman and a person in recovery. My likes, dislikes, and values took shape. I started to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I had so many moments of clarity to record — like learning boundaries or waking up to the fact I have a narcissist for a parent. I wrote my way to realizing that I was the keeper of my life, no one else was going to save me.
Over the six and a half years I have been writing, I have filled about 20 journals. I still sit on my meditation cushion, or at a desk, and write each morning — not as religiously, sometimes I miss a day or two. But the point is that it is still a staple for my day. It still grounds me. Perhaps it’s more valuable today than it was back then, or maybe the purpose has changed.
Today, as a full-time writer, I can live in my mind — the exact opposite of who I was back then. So, I use it as a means of emptying my brain of racing thoughts. I record my biggest fears and I work through them. I sit and listen to my intuition and make a note of what came to me. Writing today is self-therapy. It is spending quality time with myself and honoring who I am. It’s the greatest gift I can give to me.
I so was numb in those first few months of recovery, and writing served as a means of opening the door to my mind, to my soul, and to my instincts. Writing introduced me to me. Even though I no longer attend AA, I’ll be forever grateful to my first sponsor who led me back home.
“Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including The Fix, STAT News, Recovery.org, Workit Health, and Ravishly. Liv was recently featured in VICE.