Journaling For Awareness

Journaling: A Writing Tool for Self-Awareness
By Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN

Writing, in whatever form it takes, is an expression of who we are and what we need to say. The process of writing may serve to soothe, comfort, create, distract, exhilarate and often diminish pain, while bringing focus and awareness to our inner thoughts,feelings and behaviors. Writing is a canvas for the thoughts and feelings we may not be ready to express verbally and for clarifying those thoughts and feeling which are vague or not yet tangible. It is a window to our soul, our inner core and our self-truths. Writing allows time for reflection and offers a precious opportunity for us to be with ourselves ina medium that is unaffected by what others may think or feel. It is an open forum for us to come in touch with ourselves and begin the process of awareness essential for any successful change to occur. Both professionals and patients can use the process of writing as an opportunity for self-observation and awareness.

Although all forms of writing are healing and wonderful tools for self-discovery and self- realization, journal writing is a particularly effective and critical tool in discovering the purpose and presence of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are an expression of all that may be too painful or too frightening to put into words. They are a creative adaptation, consciously or subconsciously, designed to help the sufferer survive emotional or physical trauma. In healing and recovering from an eating disorder, you must become aware of the purpose the eating disorder serves. Through awareness you learn how the eating disorder helps you function, get through the day or night, endure work, prevent intimacy, depress fear, fill a void, punish yourself or other, create structure or feel safe.

Journaling can be an important multi-purpose tool for fostering growth and support recovery. Keep a journal of everything that goes on during the day. The goal is to observe yourself as if you were on-the spot-reporter, keeping track of everything that happens. Your job is to observe and record what you notice, what’s happening to and around you, both the facts and the feelings. Observe, do not evaluate or judge. It is important that this be a discovery process, not a beat up, blaming, bashing or shaming event. This is an exploration, an investigation to unearth more about yourself and the purpose of the eating disorder. The journal is a way of focusing in, listening to your behaviors and your inner dialogue. Writing it down makes it clearer and often more visible. It helps you to see your actions with greater precision and enables you to make the correlation between your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviors. It often assists in bringing subconscious thoughts to a more conscious level and helps you connect your thoughts and feelings to your eating disordered behaviors.

Observe yourself from the time you wake up in the morning until the time you go to sleep at night. On one side of the page write all the objective data, the facts (including thetime, food, events, symptoms, exercise, fluids, bowel function), and on the other side write the subjective data (the thoughts and feelings).

Remembering that an eating disorder is a creative adaptation for survival, continually ask yourself: How do I need this eating disorder? When do I use it? Where does it work for me? How do I benefit from it? Who else benefits from it? What would happen if I didn’t have it?

Progressively you will be able to connect your thoughts and feelings to your behaviors or actions. You will be able to identify the eating disorder symptoms that have developedto cope with different situations. You’ll notice the need to eat, restrict or binge as a result

of feeling lonely or bored, angry or rejected, tired or deprived. You’ll make a connection between being in certain places or social circumstances or with certain people and your eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. You’ll notice that when you don’t say what you need to say that you may use your eating disorder as a life preserver. You will see the exacerbation of your eating disorder symptoms when you are under stress or in crisis and gradually will learn to anticipate and protect yourself from this.

The picture of how and when your eating disorder and other behaviors work for you will become clearer and clearer. Eventually, it will also become more apparent how the eating disorder may be getting in the way of you moving forward in your life and how the symptoms keep you stuck. You will uncover not only the benefits of the eating disorder but the ways in which it has come to thwart your growth and keep you unsatisfied, unhappy and deprived. Ultimately, you will become aware of what your fears of getting better are and what risks need to be taken to move beyond those fears.

Awareness, such as that which develops through the nonjudgmental observation done in journaling, is the first step toward this movement. It is not possible to heal and change what you are unaware of. Journaling brings continued awareness and continued opportunity to challenge old beliefs and behaviors therefore enabling you to developyour potential and maximize your worth and abilities.

In addition to the journal being a tool for observation, which leads to self-growth, the journal writing process ideally serves many purposes. It becomes a vehicle for expression, a mechanism for soothing, a means of release and a form of creative discipline, all of which provide momentum to the recovery process by lessening the need for the eating disorder. The recovery process as a whole is a lesson in self-care andself-acceptance. Journal writing is an extension of self-care. It is often a crucial step in the journey. It is a discipline that expresses a commitment to self-exploration and self- discovery. As with all disciplines it will not always feel good or be immediately gratifying but rather yields long-term satisfaction with investment over time.

Each writer must find the ways and means of journaling that are rewarding. Not all tools will benefit everyone in the same way or to the same degree, but this is one tool that will move you miles if you are willing to commit to taking the trip. Often old thoughts about writing can get in the way of you being able to make that commitment. You may remember a time when, you were on some diet plan and had to report your foods, onlyto feel judged or controlled. You may feel that you don’t have the time or that journaling feels like yet one more job to do. Resistance to journal writing is a resistance to self- care. The questions to ask are: How can I get beyond those barriers that get in the way of me taking care of myself and how can I give this gift to myself? Those who persist and push past these barriers ultimately learn that journaling can be a conduit for self- discovery, self-empathy, engagement and enrichment throughout their lives.

Remember that the first step toward change is awareness. Journaling as well as other forms of writing can offer a private and affordable way for you to begin this process. As with all tools, it will require persistence and patience to be able to tap into its benefitsand become skillful at using it. Go slow, be patient and be compassionate with yourself.

Sondra Kronberg is President of the Eating Disorder Council of Long Island, Co-Founder and Nutritional Director of Eating Disorder Associates Treatment and Referral Centers, serves on the AABA Board of Trustees and is a graduate professor at New York Institute of Technology

Article originally appeared in the American Anorexia/Bulimia Newsletter (AABA) Winter- Spring-2000.

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