The Power of Writing as a Means of Recovery Processing

This article is by Olivia Pennelle and published by


Being able to express myself freely through the written word is the greatest gift borne out of my recovery.

If you had told me seven years ago that I’d be a full-time freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, I would have said you were crazy. Back then I was circling my rock bottom, feeling like the world was about to end. I had nothing to live for and zero hope for the future.

Three months later when I got sober, my life invariably got a whole lot better—mostly because I’d stopped slowly killing myself by drinking four bottles of wine and smoking two packs of cigarettes every day. It wasn’t easy, though. I remember feeling so completely lost. I felt this out-of-body experience: Who am I? Why am I here? What is this place?

The Writing Advice I Received Inspired My Recovery

Not knowing which direction my life was going and feeling alienated from my body and who I was, my first sponsor suggested I pick up my pen and begin journaling. I had no clue what to write or where to start. She gave me a few prompts:

  • Start by writing your plan for the day.
  • List some feelings.
  • Review your day each evening.
  • List 3 things you’re grateful for.
  • Write 5 things you’ve done right.

The last suggestion had me flummoxed. “What have I done right?” I asked. At the time, “doing something right” was a strange concept to me. But my therapist was trying to help me begin a practice of developing self-esteem. I started by acknowledging simple facts: I’d cared for myself that day by showing up, had fed myself, and kept myself from drinking. And those all meant that I had performed great acts of self-love. I was beginning to see that I was doing something right each day.

How Daily Writing Changed My Outlook on Recovery

Perhaps most profoundly, though, writing was the catalyst to connect my physical body and my mind. Before I started writing, I felt like I was drowning in an ocean of emotions I’d tried desperately to numb. Through writing, I opened up. I took a good look inside, and I was able to start unpacking what made me tick.

Before long, my daily entries were pages long. I couldn’t stop writing. It was as if someone had opened up the well of feelings and traumatic experiences I’d been repressing. Through writing, I started processing the things that pained me and woke me up at night. I also became aware of my inquisitive and creative nature and began exploring what interested me.

I started to look forward to the ritual of writing each day. I’d make a cup of tea and sit at my desk in the early hours with a pen and paper, connecting to my innermost thoughts. Its gifts were endless, but the one I’ve enjoyed the most is the sense of peace that comes over me when I write. Even if I feel my words come out in a flurry, before long I feel grounded and in the present moment—even if just for a few minutes.

Writing has been my most powerful tool in maintaining my recovery.

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