The need for me was primal.
My mind was overfull of questioning and virulent thoughts. At first, I tried to hold them in, but their toxic and tenacious nature burned further holes into my heart. They weren’t meant for public consumption, yet I knew I had to find some way to purge them from my mind and from my body.
The first journal entry was ugly. The hateful and hurting words screamed so loudly through the pen that they pierced several pages and imprinted through a dozen more. The pages were further marred by the endless tears that smeared the ink as soon as it was laid down. The resulting effect was as brutish and incomprehensible as the end of my marriage.
Finally spent, I allowed the pen to drop to the floor as I reassumed the familiar fetal position in the corner of my bed. In some ways, I felt a little better. It reminded me of the hole drilled into my childhood fingernail, crushed by a falling piece of lumber, to allow the pressure from the trapped fluid to release.
But much like that passage through the nail was only one part of the healing process, simply unleashing the ugly thoughts onto the paper was only part of the divorce recovery exercise.
If I was going to make it through, I was going to have to try something different.
Here are six unique and innovative ways that you can use journaling as part of your divorce recovery process.
I promise none of them require the use of a drill:)
1) The Three-Part Journal
For this journal, begin by locating a three-part spiral notebook or create a file on your technology that has three distinct sections. You can write as often as you like for as long as you like. There is only one guideline – whenever you write, start in the first section and finish in the third.
The first section is all about the past. This is where you purge the pain, letting it all out on the page without censorship or judgment. Don’t think too much about what you’re writing, simply let it flow.
The middle portion is about the present. Use this space to explore the issues that are currently troubling you. Unlike the first section, which is all emotion, this is a time to try to bring some rational thought and problem solving into the practice. This portion easily lends itself to lists and bullet points. Along with breaking down issues, you can also use this area to express gratitude for what you are currently thankful for in your life.
The final subdivision is about the future, your hopes, and dreams. This part is driven by statements that begin with, “I want…” or, “I wish…” Don’t worry if they are not yet feasible or even practical; this is simply about starting to think about what you want. You can also use this space to collect images and quotes that resonate with you.
By moving through these sections in order, you are helping to train your brain how to process the negative emotions. Furthermore, ending on a hopeful note keeps the journaling process from becoming one big sob session and helps to prime the brain towards optimism.
2) The Revise and Edit Journal
This journaling strategy is especially effective if you’re stuck in a negative personal narrative, as it helps you to more carefully choose words and supportive statements to express what you want. Additionally, by rereading your words, you help to remove some of the power that they hold over you.
In this type of journal, you begin by simply writing anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages. It can be a free-writing exercise, from whatever is on your mind, or it can be in response to a writing prompt. The initial writing should be more instinctual, without concern for word choice or clarity.
Then, read what you have written, paying special attention to how certain words or phrases make you feel. Revise the sentences to make them less emotional and/or more empowering. For example, the sentence, “I’m so depressed” can be instead written as, “I’m feeling sad right now.” They have a very similar meaning, but the latter feels less heavy and less permanent.
You can also rewrite your sentences to take them out of the first person and into the third person, replacing every “I” with either the appropriate pronouns or your name. It doesn’t change the circumstances, but it can help you find a little more space within the pain.
3) The 60-Second Journal
This journal option is great if you feel like you would benefit from the practice, but you just can’t seem to make yourself do it. The low barrier-to-entry makes this a perfect choice if your motivation or energy is low.
The key to this journal is consistency. You have to commit to writing every day. But only for sixty seconds. Decide on a time and place that you will associate with writing. Set reminders. And then just write for one minute. When the sixty seconds are over, you can stop or you can elect to continue.
Some days you will likely struggle to complete the minimum. Other days, the words may continue to flow. Regardless, you are establishing a habit and giving thoughts an opportunity to be explored.
4) The Fiction From Fact Journal
Are you feeling stuck? If so, this strategy may be a good fit for you. Begin by jotting down a few facts about your current situation. Mine could have been, “Abandoned. Betrayed. Family court sucks. Scared about money.”
Then, get creative. Pretend that this is an assignment in a writing class and you’ve been tasked with creating a story out of these facts. Begin by deciding on a genre. Do you want to spin this into a comedy? Or maybe embrace the drama and go for a soap opera?
Deciding on the conflict in the story will probably be the easy part. Now, think about the resolution. Does your ex-husband get hit by a chicken truck and now has feathers permanently embedded in his skin? Or maybe the ex-wife entered Survivor and the producers forgot to remove her from the remote island. At the same time, maybe you invent some nifty gadget that reduces commute times and retire rich and early.
This journal can help you be silly and find the humor in your current situation. It’s also a reminder that you never know what is coming up in the next chapter.
5) The Gratitude Journal
This is the most straightforward and probably best known of the strategies, yet it can also be one of the more difficult to implement during divorce. Because, let’s face it, it’s hard to find things to be thankful about when you’re in the middle of divorce.
The premise here is simple – write what you are thankful for and only what you are thankful for. To be most effective, make at least one entry every day, no matter how small and inconsequential. You slept through the night? Awesome! You found an extra bag of coffee in the pantry after you thought you had run out? Time to celebrate!
There are several gratitude journal apps available. This is a great option because you not only have the reminder to write, but you also have an easy-to-access register of all that is beautiful in your life.
6) The Letter Writing Journal
The strategies here are perhaps the most difficult to implement, both because of the needed suspension of disbelief and the intense emotions that can arise. However, the effects can be extremely powerful, especially if you feel as though you have not been able to find closure or understanding with your former spouse.
In this journal, every entry takes the form of a letter (or email), left unsent. Write to your ex, expressing your pain and disappointment and anger. Write to your children, sharing your fears and your dreams. Write to your younger self, giving advice and motivation.
And then turn the tables. Write the letter you want to receive from your ex. Think about what sentiments would bring you some peace and then pen them yourself. I know, it sounds strange and forced and awkward. But go with it. The power in this letter lies more in the reading of it than in its creation. Sometimes simply receiving the message we need is more important than worrying about where the message comes from.
No matter the form your journaling takes, the act of putting pen to paper gives a sense of power and potential in your life. It’s your story; you can choose to write your happy ending.
And if you’re still unsure about journaling, here are twelve reasons that it’s awesome post-divorce.
And…here’s a peek into my post-divorce journal. It’s raw. And it’s real.