By: Errin Withersppon
Those who know me and have valiantly supported me as I undergo treatment for binge eating disorder might tell you that learning to journal has had a very big impact on my journey.
When I decided to pursue recovery, almost a year ago, I expected that my therapist would give me a list of tasks that I would need to complete. I thought once I’d checked off all the things on this imaginary list, I’d be “cured” and I would be able to move forward through my life without all of the negative thoughts that came with my disorder.
That’s not how it went. At All.
Recovery from an eating disorder is hard work. It’s painful work. As I meandered through the first few weeks of treatment, I remember thinking that it just wasn’t working. I had no “proof” that I had achieved anything at all that would lead me to better mental health and free me from the clutches of my disordered mind. The thoughts weren’t going away.
Somehow, as I began to understand what was happening in my mind, and how my eating disorder manipulated my thoughts, the frequency and severity of the disordered thoughts seemed to heighten. The fact that I now knew what was happening made it more frustrating that I couldn’t stop it. There were many, many days that I wished I could go back in time and un-learn what I had come to understand about my illness. In those moments, going back to my life the way it had been when the eating disorder was in complete control seemed safe and familiar. It was as if by choosing recovery, I was being made to live in a strange, unknown place because my home had been condemned or erased.
Everyone’s recovery from an eating disorder is unique. Some of us find ourselves face to face with some very frightening ideas in the darkest times. And somehow, I was able to convince myself that so long as those thoughts were kept in my mind – never spoken or expressed in the real world – they didn’t count, or weren’t “real”.
Among my struggles, though, there emerged a new realization. The act of reflecting on events in my life shed a light on how my life plays out in every moment. In the midst of my panic over the uncertainty of recovery and therapy I began to see things more clearly, little by little. Even though I mostly felt like my life was completely out of my control, when I was able to get the scariest of my thoughts out of my mind and allow them to be “real”, I could take small steps to change them.
Naturally, when I was unable to verbalize some of my most troubling thoughts, my therapist suggested I try journaling to help me get these stubborn ideas out in the open. I didn’t actually think it would help at all. I had tried journaling many times over the years and it was something that I had never been able to keep up with on a regular basis.
But the stars seemed to align for me, and at that same point in my recovery journey, I was introduced to a group of women in recovery just like me. We had all enrolled in the same recovery focused program through True Warriors. One component of the program was getting in touch with creativity, and this proved to be huge for me.
As I worked through the exercises in the program, I began to recognize a passion for drawing. When I felt sad but couldn’t face the thoughts that were making me sad, I could draw. When I felt angry but didn’t feel I could express that anger to anyone, I could draw. When I felt frightened but it didn’t feel safe to verbalize my fears, I could draw.
Before long, I had started drawing in my journal and was able to sit down with it nearly every day. It felt freeing to approach my journaling habit with a more open mind. Once I opened up my mind and realized that a journal isn’t something that I had to write in, I began to look forward to spending time with it.
My therapist gave me a few exercises to do daily in my journal, and over time those activities revealed great value to me. They helped me to understand the importance of being mindful and of cultivating self-compassion.
The habit had begun to form and I started searching for a journal geared specifically towards people like me who practice gratitude, intention setting and accomplishment recognition every day. I wanted one that also had some journaling lines in it and some blank space to draw too.
It didn’t exist. Anywhere.
So now I’m proud to say that my recovery journey has led me not only to a new love for creativity, but also to a new passion for helping other people use creative journaling to help them heal. I believe there is a reason that the journal I searched for didn’t exist. I believe that I was always supposed to be the one to create it.
And now I want to share what I’ve created with you. The Reflections Journal is in the process of being published right now! But I want you to be able to benefit from it the way that I have, so I’ve put together a free one month creative journaling support program that is available right now. The Field Guide to Creative Journaling can be downloaded from my website.
The download contains a workbook with some of the original illustrations from my book The Reflections Journal, along with one month of journaling support to your inbox. You’ll get daily journaling and creativity prompts, and weekly encouragement and tips from me to help you develop your journaling practice into a habit.
I’d love for you to give it a try and let me know what you think of it.
I’m living proof that if you are willing to try, you can open up doors where there was never even a window before.
Start the Field Guide to Creative Journaling Program for free here!
Errin Witherspoon refers to herself as an artist by accident. She fell into her love of art when she embarked on her journey of recovery from Binge Eating Disorder in 2018. She has been described as driven, passionate, creative and thoughtful and has learned in treatment, with the help of her recovery team, how to use those attributes to begin to heal. She has always been the kind of person who figures out how to get things done, even when it appears that her lack of experience may impede her. She enjoys the company of others like herself, with a passion for learning new skills. With her newly re-sparked passion for art and all things healing/self-love, she is focused on using her experiences to help others like herself who suffer from mental illness.