Many abuse survivors struggle with depression, addictions, unhealthy relationships, even suicide thoughts. One of the reasons it's happening is that abuse robs you of your identity, so once it's over - you feel lost and unsure of who you are anymore, and try to fill your life with unhealthy distractions. Another reason is that abuse causes a lot of conflicting feelings: pain, anger, fear, frustration, love, confusion, self-blame, hope. Talking of these feelings is hard, and even the most supportive friends can't listen 24/7. Journaling resolves both of these problems. It allows you to express your thoughts, feelings, desires, plans, hopes - free of judgment or limitations. To re-discover who you are and what you want to do with your life. This page lists a few of the most common approaches to journaling - pick the one that seems most inviting, or experiment with them all.
Some people are able to journal naturally, writing whatever comes to mind. If you're unsure how to start - try writing letters to an imaginary person, a friend who cares but hasn't heard from you lately. The best way to make sense of something is to try to explain it to someone else, so explain your life to your diary. Who are you, what are your joys and struggles, what was the best thing that happened to you today, the worst thing that happened to you today, what do you hope would happen tomorrow, what do you wish happened yesterday, etc. Freewriting provides emotional release, and re-reading what you've wrote can be pretty insightful, as it highlights the topics that are most important to you (if you're focusing on repeatedly).
Cahiers de Doleances
The Cahiers de Doléances were invented by King Louis XVI in 1789, to invite the people of France to express their grievances in a more constructive manner, by listing what specifically they were unhappy about and what they wanted done about it. Keeping a special book just for complaints is more productive than it might sound. First, it forces you to separate what matters from what doesn't, i.e. if something bothered you enough to write it down in your cahier - it's worth addressing. Second, it urges you to clearly define the problem, which is the first step of solving it. The trick is to not use your cahier as a vents dumpster, i.e. not dedicate more than one entry to the same problem.
Books of gratitude
Abuse is bad, and life after abuse isn't all rainbows and butterflies either. It's easy to lose your sanity, drown in depression, addictions, or suicidal thoughts, if you don't counterbalance all this negativity somehow. Cliche, but happiness is inside you; people used to find positives in every situation imaginable, including Nazi death camps. The habit of finding something positive every day (and writing it down in your book of gratitude) gives perspective, and makes for an interesting/inspirational read later on too. For example, today I'm grateful for good weather, a cool song I just found on YouTube, and the friend who taught me how to cook pasta in pink sauce. It might not sound like much, but acknowledging good things in life makes you more pleasant to be around.
"All about me" workbooks
These are available in the self-help section of your bookstore, and in specialty journal stores. Every page asks you a question about yourself and provides space to fill out the answer. This format might be a good starting point if you struggle thinking of what to write or discovering who you are, because it provides structure, gives you questions to ponder, things to think about, to learn, to discover. Those questions often prompt you to think outside the box, explore things that you normally might ignore, which is what makes this format especially therapeutic and enlightening.
Some things (like the trauma of abuse) can be hard to talk about, so art is a good alternative. You don't have to be an artist to keep an art journal. What matters is just expressing yourself, letting the emotions flow. Some people doodle geometric designs or mandalas, others do abstract paintings with colors expressing their emotions, yet others draw cartoons of what their day was like or what they wish they could do to their mean coworkers. Whatever your preferred form of expression is, having a journal available and handy makes it a lot more likely that you would actually use it. It's a good to preserve your doodles/artwork too, makes it interesting to look through later on.
You can combine all of the above methods if you get a binder and keep adding pages to it: a journal entry, a drawing, a menu of a restaurant you went to, a todo list, a photo of your friend, etc. You can add these things as they come, in chronological order, or you can use tab dividers to create sections in your binder. For example, journal, calendar, art, etc. It's particularly helpful if you have DID (so that each alter can have their own space), or if you're trying to combat clutter at home (so that everything you wish to keep goes into this one binder and stays there neatly).
Any of the above formats can be applied online. You can keep your blog private (visible only to you), limited to your friends only, or public (visible to everyone). There's a risk of privacy breaches and data loss - but handwritten journals can also be lost or stolen. Online blogs are easier to share and to keep (as you can update them from any device with internet access), and can include a lot more info than paper ones, e.g. links, photos, polls, etc. They are also free, fun to decorate, and don't clutter your home.
It's not technically journaling, but there are many great apps to keep track of your life: mood trackers, todo lists, schedules, checklists, etc. Those are easier to fill out (because they require a lot less typing) so you're more likely to use them consistently, and their data is a lot easier to analyze later. For example, you can see the list of the tasks you completed (or didn't complete) in the past half a year, how much you exercised in the past week, or how your mood has been fluctuating over the past month, at a glance, on a colorful graph.
~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld
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