A study from Japanese researchers, relatively small in scope, is garnering attention among clinical professionals, as well as in the media. A synopsis:

Write down your thoughts and shred them to relieve anger, researchers say

Writing negative reactions on paper and shredding it or scrunching and throwing in the bin eliminates angry feelings, study finds

This interested me, because I first encountered something much like it in the context of 12 Step meetings held at the detox facility where I worked. One evening, the speaker mentioned several “tricks” he’d learned that helped him (and later, others he sponsored) to avoid relapsing to alcohol.

One of those tricks involved keeping a pad of Post-It Notes in his pocket, so that when a bothersome thought or feeling came up during the course of the day, he could jot down a brief note about whatever had upset him. Then he would toss it in the nearest receptacle.

It was the writing and tossing that made the difference, he claimed. “After I had written it out and thrown it away,” he told the group, “I was somehow able to let it go. To move on.”

Later on a colleague told me about another AA speaker who did something similar. He spent most of his day by himself, in his truck, driving from job to job, and had learned to keep a notepad in the seat beside him. When a negative thought entered his mind, he’d pull over to the side of the road, jot it down on paper, then tear off the sheet and stow it in the glove compartment. Every so often he’d empty the glove compartment, to make room for more notes.

At one point it occurred to him that was using the glove compartment as a sort of Higher Power.

Those familiar with the Twelve Steps immediately recognize the reference to Step Three, which reads: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”

It’s the ‘turning over’ part that drew my interest. Another AA member explained it this way: “The stuff you turn over is the stuff that in the past  you would have used to justify a slip.  Instead, you makr a conscious decision to do this other thing.”

“And that works?” I asked, mystified. To me, it seemed entirely too simple.

“It’s the simple stuff that makes all the difference, amigo,” he assured me.

I saw his point. Recovery isn’t just about big, life-changing decisions. It’s mostly in the myriad little choices we all make, every single day. Those add up.

I recognized that the mind of someone new to sobriety is likely to be jammed with what a psychologist might call ‘stressors’. Not just anger, but all the things  that people worry about, obsess over, cannot seem to let go of. They make fertile ground for craving. And the return to substance use that usually follows.

A brain littered with stuff we can’t change and can’t manage to accept. Yep, that’s trouble waiting.

So if the ‘writing and ripping’ method works for you? I say: go for it. Science has your back.