Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
Do you remember your first journal, or diary? Some of you may still have yours. Unfortunately, I don’t have mine. I remember growing up when several of my girlfriends at school were talking about having diaries. Of course, I wanted to get on the bandwagon so I asked “Santa” to bring me one. To my pleasant surprise at Christmas that year, “Santa” answered that request.
I knew a diary was for expressing one’s deepest thoughts and feelings that was intended to be private. My diary had a key that I kept hidden separately from the diary, which I also kept hidden. I recorded everything, from my dreams of the future to the daily struggles I experienced then, including disagreements and issues I had with my family.
On one occasion I remember going to the drawer where I kept my diary hidden. The diary wasn’t there! I searched everywhere. At first, if memory serves me correctly, I thought my brother had taken the diary. After talking to him, I learned that he too was missing a deck of cards he had hidden in one of his drawers (Playing cards was a “no-no” in our family!). Obviously, Mom had been on one of her searches of our rooms. When I confronted her asking her what she did with my diary, she said she had thrown my diary away and that I should be ashamed for everything I wrote in it. Angry, I went to the trash can to retrieve multiple diaries I kept in the drawer but found them destroyed and unsalvageable. After that experience, I gave up on trying to keep any diaries until I was an adult out on my own.
My first therapist who was helping me through depression and anxiety in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s re-introduced me to “keeping a diary”, which in this article I use synonymously with “journaling”. Knowing I had an undergraduate degree in journalism and how well I loved to write, early on in treatment my therapist gave me the homework assignment of keeping a journal. Additionally, he encouraged me to buy a large binder to use to start a “recovery notebook”. The notebook was to include my journal writing, any educational materials he gave me in treatment, and anything else I wanted to add. This notebook would help me keep track of my progress in treatment, he said. Whether I shared the contents of the journal with him was my ultimate decision; although, sharing my writings with him would help him move me faster through the recovery process, he said. He was right on both accounts.
What are benefits to keeping a journal? Briefly, here are five positive reasons why one might want to keep a journal or diary:
- to release and sort out pent-up emotions, especially anger and pain
- to promote healing from past injustices
- to keep a history of one’s life to be used later in writing an autobiography, biography, or memoirs
- to improve writing and communication skills
- to help set goals and make plans for the future.
Furthermore, I want to point out the importance of everyone having a “safe place” to be able to share and vent openly and honestly to not let stress build up inside and result in chronic emotional, psychological or physical health problems over time. As long as a “safe place” is available, whether that “safe place” is having an individual; support group; or utilizing paper and pen to unload does not matter. Of course, for best results consider having multiple “safe places”. For example, a person in recovery from past trauma really needs to be in treatment with a professional counselor, psychologist, or social worker, in addition to being a part of one of the various 12-step support groups, depending on the individual issues. Additionally, he or she should keep a recovery notebook.
A word to parents: Unless you suspect your child is involved in something illegal or immoral, please don’t overstep your children’s boundaries by invading their privacy to break into personal journals or diaries. If you want to read their personal writings, I recommend asking them first, especially if your interest in their writing is only out of curiosity. To do so negatively affects any trust the child might have in you. However, suppose you find drugs in your child’s possession and think the diary may have names of those supplying drugs to your child, then by all means don’t ask, confiscate any diaries your child has, and if deemed appropriate give them to the authorities.
With today’s modern technology, another way to keep a journal is online, password protecting the document. Just make sure you don’t forget the password!!! I did that once. You also might want to keep a backup of your journal document on a thumb drive or other separate storage device. That’s in case your computer crashes and you lose everything. Better safe than sorry!
Are you keeping a journal/diary now? If not, I encourage you to do so. Some may say, “I can’t write well.” That’s okay! I recommend that a person not worry about grammar when writing in a diary or journal. When writing focus on getting your honest feelings and thoughts down on paper. If desired, you can go back later to edit the document. The more you write, the better your writing will get. As the old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.”