National Eating Disorders Association

Writing Can Feel Lonely (But Could Be a Best Friend in Recovery)

Carolyn Jennings

Is writing one more burden on your to-do list of recovery tasks?  Just you and a blank page staring at you?  Does this image leave you feeling alone and on your own, drained and deflated?

Writing is a solo journey.  And it is a relationship. For me, writing has become a confidant and a readily available friend in any tight spot or dull moment.  Like any worthwhile relationship of love, respect and care (in this case, self-love, self-respect and self-care), it's good to devote even a bit of time regularly.  Currently I journal an hour every Monday and Friday, first thing in the morning.  I mark these dates on my calendar.

On the page, I explore ideas or reveal secrets that I'm not ready to say to anyone else.  Writing connects me with a part of myself--my deepest, wisest, truest self, a part easily left out of days busy with activities, people, the temptations of technology.  This is the part of me that sustains my recovery.  This is the part of you that will sustain your recovery.

Knowing and staying in touch with this deepest, truest you enables and expands fulfilling relationships with others and shrinks loneliness whether you're alone or not.  Writing about the importance of solitude, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, expresses, “Making good use of my solitude for reflection, I connect deeply to myself, thereby strengthening my capacity to connect with others.”

Character Sketches and Dialogues are two techniques from Kay Adams' Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth.  They invite the deepest, truest, most creative and intuitive you in lively conversation.

7 – 12 minutes; with FEEDBACK WRITE, 12 - 17 minutes total   

Author J. Ruth Gendler describes loneliness in The Book of Qualities:

Loneliness loves to run, but he is afraid to swim.  He wears his isolation around him like a grey sweatshirt thrown back across the shoulders.  It started when he was a little boy listening to the adults upstairs screaming at each other as he hid under the covers.  At age seven he vowed never to need anyone.  It was as if he sealed himself inside his skin, separate from everyone.       

Her writing transforms loneliness into a person.  This is a Character Sketch, which is simply a written description of another person or of some aspect of yourself.  The writing opens your intuition and insight to develop a new relationship with the character in your writing.

Character Sketches have revealed that my anger is a sulky teenage boy with a skateboard for quick escapes, my grief looks like Cher and can slip under any closed door to reach me, and my resistance dresses like a cat burglar, hangs out with disease and fear, is a cousin of distraction and whispers stories in my ear, imitating my own voice.  Recovery is wildly in love with me, wants only the best for me and knows in her brilliance the wisest action any time.  But she is quiet.  I must remember to seek her out, to enlist her help.

Play with writing Character Sketches of:

  •  Loneliness as You See Him or Her

    Does loneliness have any friends or relatives?
    What would loneliness look like as a person, shriveled up and hunched over or big and looming?
    What blocks loneliness from connecting?

  • Any Emotion
    If joy were a woman, would she ride horses and climb mountains and sit in hot springs? How would she move through life?
    If panic were a man, how would he move through his days?  How would he  sleep at night?  How would he relate to others?
    Would excitement wear orange socks or red tennis shoes?  Who would his/her friends and relatives be?  How would he/she celebrate birthdays?
  •  Your Deepest, Truest, Best Self
    What would she like to wear and do and laugh about?  How does he love you?
    Does he or she prefer to drink tea with you or take a walk with you?
  •  A Friend
    What qualities do you admire about this person?
    What doors does this person open in your life?
  •  Recovery
    What would recovery look like as a person?  How would recovery dress?  What strengths would he or she possess?  What does he or she believe?  How do others feel when they're in a room with recovery?

For a Feedback Write, read your completed Character Sketch.  Tune into what you notice or feel as you read it.  Write a few sentences beginning with the prompt, “Reading this...”

Allow at least 20 minutes +5 minutes for a FEEDBACK WRITE

A Dialogue is a conversation back and forth between you and your chosen Dialogue partner.  Whatever you say will be heard and whatever you ask will be answered honestly.

“You may get answers and insights that seem to come from nowhere,” Adams describes the process in   Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth.  “The place they are coming from is most likely your subconscious, unconscious or superconscious mind.  The Dialogue technique is a way to bring this information to consciousness...Trust the process.”

A Dialogue is written just like a script:
    ME: Loneliness, how come you've been hanging around so much lately?
    LONELINESS: Because I don't know what else to do and because you let me sit in your lap.

Give yourself plenty of time to explore and a pleasant spot in which to write.  It's natural to feel a bit awkward as you begin or to draw a blank while writing.  If a pause comes, close your eyes and take a breath or read what you've already written or ask, “What else am I to say or to ask?”.  Have fun, be open—your Dialogue Partner may surprise you.  I once wrote a Dialogue with my marriage; my marriage turned out to be a large, flamboyantly dressed Jamaican woman full of love, laughter and wisdom!

Dialogues work particularly well if you've done a Character Sketch of your Dialogue partner first so you can see and sense him or her.

Try a Dialogue with loneliness—explore your relationship with loneliness.  Write a Dialogue with your deepest, truest, best self—learn more about him or her.  Write a Dialogue with a good friend who's not available right now or who's troubling you.  Write a Dialogue with recovery.  What do you want to ask recovery?  What do you need to hear from recovery?

Be sure to do a Feedback Write to complete the experience.  Feedback Writes are described above at the end of Character Sketches.  Reading and reflecting on the write helps identify and integrate insights and ah-ha's. 


Of course, if you can find a journal-writing group (maybe on Meetup) or one friend who's willing to meet you for regular writing dates, give it a try.  Be sure to discuss that confidentiality will be honored: what's said in the group stays in the group.  It will likely require courage to show up and speak up, but make sure you feel safe within this group, that it's about honoring the writers and what's written--no critique and no advice. Writing in community can be a great joy—discovering how much you have in common and how it's possible to be vulnerable and still be OK, coming to listen and be heard, to support and be supported, and to comfort and be comforted, all at the same time.

My experience, both solo and in groups, is that writing is the opposite of loneliness.  It fills an emptiness that I sometimes experience alone or with others.  It satiates my non-physical hungers with  nourishing sustenance.