Dru Jaeger is one of the co-founders of Club Soda, a movement that helps people drink more mindfully and live well. Finn talked to them in March as part of our month of talking about how external factors can affect our mental health. You can catch their IGTV on journaling and mindful drinking here.
In this guest blog, Dru goes deeper into the subject of their journey into journaling, and how how it helps them find clarity and direction and could also help you make a change towards more mindful drinking.
I came to journaling in fits and starts.
Looking back, I notice all the times in my life when I'd tried and failed to keep a journal. I kept running into the same problem over and over. I'd encounter a painful truth about myself and my past, pour out my troubles on the page, and then my journal would stop dead. Over the first four decades of my life, I lost count of the number of notebooks that ended in precisely the same way: A profound realisation of the pain I was carrying and then the aching silence of blank pages as I couldn't go on.
It wasn't until my early 40s that I began to realise the problem. And it wasn't with the act of writing in a journal. After all, I'd written throughout my career, and I knew I could string a compelling sentence together.
The problem was my life.
Untangling a complicated life
My life had become complicated, as many lives do. I was a divorced dad to a teenage son, stuck in a job I disliked, with a long commute I hated, money worries piling up, in and out of relationships, unsure of myself, sometimes isolated from others, unable to cope with my feelings of anxiety and depression. And I never felt safe enough to acknowledge the trauma that shaped me. Like too many people, I relied on drinking and drugs to help me cope with life, sometimes doing my best to escape it entirely.
I tried and failed to reinvent myself. But my options were so limited. Deep down, I knew I was only tinkering at the edges. I needed to tackle the issue honestly and bravely. I was running out of road on the life I was living.
My life didn't work for me any more.
Around this time, my son was heading off to university. His departure presented the chance of a fresh start. All at once, the fixed points in my life loosened. And so I grasped the opportunity for change. I determined that I would take my life apart and start again from scratch. Over about six months, I left my job and gave away almost everything I owned. I reduced my outgoings to the bare minimum to stretch out my limited savings as long as possible.
And finally, I gave back the keys to my rented flat and set out to wander in the world.
Journaling the journey
I wanted to give myself wholly to this experiment: If I was standing naked on the earth, what would I need to live well?
It turns out that I needed less than I imagined. But the one thing I needed more than anything else was my journal. I was deliberately putting myself through a process of radical change, and everything was up for grabs. I needed a safe space to talk to myself about what was going on.
And as time went on, I realised the value of remembering. So much was transformed in those three years. I often lost track of where I was, what I was doing and who I was becoming.
Those three questions are still important to me. If ever I find myself stuck for words, I can bring myself back to their simplicity:
- “Where am I going?”
- “What am I doing?”
- “Who am I becoming?”
I ask these three questions as I orient myself to the day ahead. And the questions take on metaphysical and metaphorical significance as I put my life back together. I use them to check in with my direction, my purpose and my soul.
Over time, those three questions have become constant companions on my journey. They bring me back again and again to what is most important to me. They are a compass for the path I make by walking.
The practicalities of journaling
My journal is kept in a hardback Moleskine notebook with unruled pages. Buying a Moleskine journal is a privileged luxury, I know, but it’s also a choice driven by practicality. I take my journal on walks with me, and a solid cover means I can write wherever I am with my notebook balanced on my knees.
And I write with a pencil. I love making a mark, hearing and feeling the trail of graphite across the paper. It reminds me that journaling is an embodied practice. And it connects my journaling with the earth herself and the processes of deep time.
One of the things I do periodically is re-read my journals and transcribe them onto my computer. It's laborious and time-consuming to type up my hand-written scribblings, but it is always such a rich experience. As I re-walk the paths I recorded in the pages of my journals, I begin to make sense of my experiences.
I feel the emotions that shaped my past. I see what is hidden in plain sight in the present. I hear the whispers of ideas that are shaping my future.
In my journal, I begin to understand that my life is an unfolding story that I tell myself. It is a story in which I am both the author and the protagonist. And I realise that it is an adventure of extraordinary ordinariness. Wild, rich and exciting.
Journaling to change your drinking
One of the things I’m proudest of now is my work with Club Soda. Club Soda is a global community of people who are drinking more mindfully and living well. We help people discover the best low and no alcohol drinks, create the connections that help people grow, and support people who want to change their drinking by cutting down, taking a break or stopping altogether.
Helping people change is the focus of my work for Club Soda. I write courses for people who want to stop drinking and for those who wish to drink mindfully. I run workshops, webinars and discussion groups. I teach mindfulness and write articles. The personal reflections in my journal are a treasure trove of ideas that I draw on frequently.
And I encourage others to journal too. One of the simplest gifts that journaling offers on the journey is the opportunity to pay attention. Journaling can be a mindfulness practice. Journaling can root you in the day-to-day of your experience and help you notice what is happening. You might see too when you stop journaling and start again with the question of what you have been avoiding.
Paying attention can be helpful when you are changing, especially if you are re-evaluating your relationship with an addictive substance like alcohol. Very often, when you are struggling, you may find that your focus turns inwards. You end up feeling miserable, and your journal can become an echo chamber of your sadness.
But you can shift your focus externally to notice what is happening in the situations when you drink more than you want to. Journaling can open up the potential of making small changes that make a big difference. And it begins simply with noticing things and writing them down.
Journaling through change
I realise now how so many of my life experiences were perfect preparation for this work. Every day, I encounter people who - like me - are stuck in lives that no longer work for them. They are simultaneously looking for a way out and trying to cope with what feels inescapable. But they know they need to change. I am privileged to walk alongside them as they begin their journey.
I know for myself that the journey of profound life-change isn’t easy. Sometimes, it feels like navigating across shifting sands as the tide rushes in and reshapes the ground you walk on.
I can’t walk anyone else’s path for them. I can only share some of my own experiences of the places I have got stuck, the sunrises I have watched and the tools that have kept me on track.
I love Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”. In it, she describes knowing that she had to begin, walking out into the night, the stormy sky clearing to reveal the burning stars, and finally starting to hear a voice that she recognises as her own.
Journaling is how my voice keeps my company as I stride deeper and deeper into the world. This, for me, is the deep magic of journaling. I journal because I am determined to do the only thing I can do - because I am determined to save the only life I can save.
Want to know how to journal when you're changing your drinking?
- Uncover the relationship between journaling, mindfulness and change
- Use your journal as a way to pay attention and shift your focus with gratitude
- Create a safe space to deal with difficult feelings and experiences
- And unleash the power of your imagination to create a better future.
- Seven in-depth lessons exploring journaling, mindfulness and change
- Journaling exercises and prompts
- Daily motivational nudges by email
- Bonus videos
- Connection with other Club Soda members
- And invitations for Club Soda's weekly mindfulness meditation and discussion group.