Strengthening healthy self through diary-writing
My diary has always been a confidante, but it was not always the friend I thought it was. Sometimes it was a confidante for my eating disorder, recording the illness thoughts instead of my “true thoughts.” At such times, it became a place where rules were made to try and get through each day, and a repository for secrets due to high levels of shame, stigma, anxiety and terror. Recovery required not only a securing and reconnecting of trust within my self and with others, but also within the diary.
During recovery, as I became more aware of the illness thoughts and behaviours, I was able to observe and reflect on how the diary could help to diffuse and avoid the debilitating effects of those illness-driven thoughts and behaviours, for instance, of secret making and self-stigma. This cultivation of self-awareness techniques helped me to see how far I had come in recovery, and to see the illness more in context of my life rather than being my life.
A place to grieve for “life lost” and to explore new thoughts
Importantly, the diary can “grow” with the writer, not only during the early stages of recovery, but also, for example, in the final stages of eating disorder recovery, when grieving becomes an important part of the growth-into-a-hopeful-future process.
My diary reveals grieving for the “life lost” during the illness, and grief in facing the loss of the relationship with the illness itself. The process of recovery involves more than behavioural observations, symptoms reduction, and clinical data and calculations. Recovery is also about emotions and feelings, including grief for the impact of the illness on relationships, and education and career opportunities, and exploration of long-held self-beliefs and emerging new beliefs essential for coping in mainstream. The insight into the effect of grief illustrates the benefits of diary-keeping over time, for the diary can become a resource for self-help and therapeutic reflection.
Even when aware that clinging to a daily regime of weights, calories and exercise routines is playing the eating disorder’s game, severing these behaviours can be scary. There is more healing to do, but when self-reintegration and “true thoughts” become a little stronger than those of the eating disorder, decisions in favour of self and health, and healthy self and body, become easier. I began to use my diary to help accept the illness as part of my life story, and to focus simultaneously on living fully in the “now,” rather than being bogged down in the losses.
Clues in the pages
Through reflection, I slowly learned to recognize how decisions, sometimes in the name of staying “in control” and being “good,” were maintaining my illness. To be free, I had to develop a new approach. Over time, my private diary helped me to recognize the need to seek help when niggling, disruptive, illness-related thoughts began – quickly, for a slip, as simple as eating a chocolate to suppress feeling rejected, could snowball into a relapse. Besides providing a method of communication with my therapist, and remaining a place in which to emote and to confide, my diary became a medium for practicing and exploring new thoughts, and reaching out.
Gradually, I was able to observe the illness experience was of me, but was not “me;” forgiveness became possible, and I could consciously choose to not allow the illness to define me.
How can diary writing disarm a “trigger?”
When a negative thought urges you to engage in self-harm behaviours, grab your diary (whatever form it is – pen and paper or digital) and write. Don’t hesitate. Just write. Write anything. Just write.
The process of picking up your diary and writing, and letting galloping thoughts and feelings flow on and on until they peter out, can help you rationalize your thoughts and see the reality of a situation. In this way, writing can assist in neutralizing and deflecting any pressing eating disorder thought that is pushing you to self-harm.
The benefits of diary-writing as a tool to distinguish your healthy self from negative, self-harming intrusions in your thoughts, can be built on through sharing or reflecting on your writing with trusted others. Taylor, a diarist participant in The Diary Healer, explains:
“Sometimes it would simply be a matter of writing down what ED [the eating disorder] was saying so I could take this to my treatment team, so they could help me challenge the thoughts. Sometimes it would be a matter of reflecting on something that came up in therapy and realizing how certain ED messages and behaviours were based in inaccurate self-perceptions. Mostly, journaling has been a way to help me and my own voice, more than learning to identify ED’s voice. I needed to find my own voice to achieve and maintain recovery. Journaling through recovery has helped me learn to recognize when something I am mentally hearing or thinking is incongruent with my own voice, values, and way of being in the world.”