Rewriting Stories: Using Creative Writing in Recovery
In recovery, building skills is encouraged—parenting and household managing skills; budgeting and life skills; or useful work skills like computer knowledge or a trade.
But what about skills that may not earn a lot of money or may not seem applicable to everyday life? Do skills such as writing a poem or a short story also have value?
How can creative writings skills be useful in recovery?
Writing stories helps process emotions and the past.
Although not a substitute for therapy, writing a memoir, poems, or fiction based on real life can help individuals work through the past. The physical act of writing on paper or typing on a computer encourages contemplative processing. This is why many recovery groups encourage journaling and writing.
A holistic approach to recovery is taken at Victory Addiction Recovery Center, where the treatment includes group therapy. The professionals at Victory know that sharing one’s life story with a group helps in recovery. The same applies to sharing through writing. There is power in writing down our lives. By seeing the past for what it truly is, we can let the past lose its hold.
For example, imagine a woman in recovery who grew up with a mom who also struggled with addiction. In a notebook, the woman chronicles the story of her family and her relationship with her mom. She writes about feelings of anger against her mother, shame from her own past, and fear that she will pass down addiction to her children. By writing about her family history, she better understands the forces that led her down the road of addiction and is more emotionally prepared to face the future.
Here are some memoir and poetry writing prompts about addiction:
- Write about a time you knew you needed help with an addiction. Did something specific happen that made you come to this realization? Focus on the senses: How did your body feel during this moment? What did you see, hear, smell, and sense around you?
- What advice you would give your child or friend about drugs or alcohol? What advice did you receive from your parents or mentors?
- Pick a place in the world you feel safe (your childhood home, a beach, a friend’s kitchen). Describe this place with as much detail as you can. Next, pick a place that you don’t feel safe and also describe it. Now reflect and write about why you felt safe in one place and not the other.
- Write a letter to a loved one explaining what recovery is like.
Writing memoir and poetry helps process real life, and writing fiction helps reimagine the past and look to the future. The same woman from the above example can also write fiction to imagine what her life would be like if circumstances were different. She can imagine the future and dream about what she wants her life to become. Through fiction, she can be in control in a world where so many aspects of life feel out of control.
Here are some fiction writing prompts:
Write your life story as a fairy tale character. (Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Cinderella, etc.)
Make up a character. Write five things about their physique, five things about their family, five things about their personality, and five things about their daily routine. Next, put this character in a place that you are very familiar with. (A park in your neighborhood, your middle school, your living room.) What happens?
Putting words on the page gives a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Creating art gives a sense of ownership. Especially if a piece of writing is published, it can give a person a great sense of satisfaction to see their words in print and to know that someone recognizes their talent. Plus, they can show their accomplishment to their loved ones. OpenMinds Quarterly publishes stories about mental illness.
As humans, we feel a sense of pride when we successfully complete something challenging. Although not all poetry needs to rhyme or follow a format, some people in recovery like having rules in writing because it gives a way to measure if their writing is successful.
Sometimes in recovery, the world can seem so chaotic that structured formats and rhyme schemes can be comforting. I have a friend who told me that in her first year of recovery, she wrote only sestinas, which is a complicated and repetitive poem form that has a fixed pattern.
Here are some poetry writing prompts:
- Write an ode, or a poem to an object, person, or event that you feel is worthy of praise.
- Pick an object in the room and write a poem about that object. Communicate emotion without ever saying how you feel—instead show your feelings with descriptions.
Visit here for a more complete list of form poetry.
It takes bravery to write true stories. And even more bravery to share them.
The above discusses how writing can help individuals in recovery, but why should those in recovery share their writing with others? Because stories of hardship, the devastating effects of addiction, and perseverance through recovery are encouraging to others in recovery and inspiring to those who don’t struggle with addiction. Brave writing spurs others to be brave with their actions and words.
To learn more about creative writing in recovery, check out Words Without Walls at Chatham University and the Words Without Walls anthology.
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