How Creative Writing + Memoir Can Work As Therapy For Your Sobriety

Hello, I firmly believe that writing, especially a daily writing practice which delves into all the reasons why you drank and all the reasons why you need to stop or have stopped, can be a very powerful tool in sobriety. With creative writing therapy can be done at home or out and about, by you and at any time. What’s not to love?

It certainly has been for me. I started scribbling things into notebooks as soon as I (accidentally) stopped drinking permanently…. finally.

I began by describing how I was feeling and what I was reading and soon moved on to scribbling down the bare bones of events which I wanted to get off my chest. These were events that had happened in childhood and that I had always planned to write about. I just had to wait until both my parents had died.

It was sobriety that got me started writing it all out of my head and my heart. And that writing is part of why I am still joyfully free of alcohol almost five years later.

Here follows a lot of thinking and explaining and enquiring into why sobriety and writing can be a mutual love affair. Writing as therapy, writing for mental clarity and for mental health. This is something I am passionate about and I hope you’ll join me in this adventure.

creative writing therapy image of man's hand writing in notebook

What is creative writing?

Creative writing goes beyond the totally factual, but it doesn’t have to be completely make up and fictional.

Creative writing is any writing that goes outside the bounds of normal professionaljournalisticacademic, or technical forms of literature, typically identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes or with various traditions of poetry and poetics.

Wikipedia

What is memoir?

Memoir is personal writing, based on the writing’s own life experiences and usually exploring one specific area of life or time of life. The writing tends to be very, very personal and I believe that is what makes it so attractive to readers. Memoir is a deep dive into a specific part or period of life.

The story of a whole person’s life is autobiography when written by the subject of the writing, and biography when written by someone else. An autobiography starts with family, birth and childhood and then tells of the whole life story, and can be a fairly shallow look at a person’s life overall, sometimes with specific periods described in more depth.

What is creative non-fiction?

Memoir can also be described as creative nonfiction, which is a literary genre in which a real, true story is told using the best elements of literary style, such as plot, characterisation, detailed descriptions and settings. There is much discussion about how much must be true, and whether telling truth using the devices of fiction can actually deepen the truths told.

I’ve ordered this book, sure it will give me the research for all the benefits that I know writing has brought to me

Processing Trauma Through Writing

A certain kind of guided, detailed writing can not only help us process what we’ve been through and assist us as we envision a path forward; it can lower our blood pressure, strengthen our immune systems, and increase our general well-being. Expressive writing can result in a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression; improve our sleep and performance; and bring us greater focus and clarity.

Deborah Siegel-Acevedo in The Harvard Business Review

There have been many unversity studies which show that a regular writing routine can improve mental health and help people deal with past trauma. There have also been studies where participants wrote about positive experiences or future hopes and these too showed meantal health benefits

The most healing writing, according to researchers, must follow a set of creative parameters. And most importantly, it can be just for you. It must contain concrete, authentic, explicit detail. The writer must link feelings to events — on the page. Such writing allows a person to tell a complete, complex, coherent story, with a beginning, middle, and end. In the telling, such writing transforms the writer from a victim into something more powerful: a narrator with the power to observe. In short, when we write to express and make sense, we reclaim some measure of agency.

Deborah Siegel-Acevedo in The Harvard Business Review

Books About Writing As A Healing Tool

Louise DeSalvo Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives

Pennebaker, James W. Opening Up by Writing It Down 3/e: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain

Sandra Marinella The Story You Need to Tell

Lily Dunn, Memoirist on Writing For Insight and Healing

“Writing a memoir can be a time for real growth. When you dig into the past, you begin to see your own story from multiple perspectives, and over time it becomes something separate from you.” .

Lily Dunn, memoirist

Lily Dunn’s memoir, The Sins of My Father: A Daughter, a Cult, a Wild Unravelling, came out in 2022. In it Lily describes her charismatic, adulterous, father who left the family when Lily was six. He joined the Rajneesh cult, setting up his own commune in Italy.

Lily felt there was an absence of children in the reporting of cults in general, they were kept separate and she also wanted to understand her father, who had been so succesful and who collapsed into alcoholism and poverty very suddenly.

Lily’s memoir started as essays, then she got divorced and as she described to fellow memoirist Leah McLaren in an interview:

‘….the whole story started to knit together, the changes that were happening in my life and the connection I was making… the transformative nature of memoir, your life evolves, the writing evolves alongside your life and your writing informs the life and the life informs the writing.’

One her website, Lily writes:

‘I am most interested in the personal narrative when it acts as a springboard for insight…… I have a PhD in creative writing, and my thesis explored questions around the healing potential of literary hybrid memoir, and how it can act as a kind of literary self-help for our times; transformative and generative for the writer and reader, specifically when a narrative has been disrupted by trauma or illness in some way.’

Lily Dunn

Lily Dunn website: https://lilydunn.co.uk

Lily mentors at London Lit Lab.

Creative Writing Therapy

I have certainly found the process of writing and writing and writing about past trauma to be very helpful. I had memories which were very real, detailed and still painful. After getting them onto the page, and then ordering and rewriting and editing, and selecting which bits to take out and which bits to leave it, I feel very different about the past.

I am the author of my own story now, and I have created a beginning, a middle and an end to my drinking story. This is a powerful way to heal and move on. Read about my memoir ‘Going Under’ here.

Websites to Explore

https://www.writersforrecovery.org/what-we-do

Looking for a great book about sobriety and alcohol free reading?

Click here to read my favourite book list for 2024.

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