The Power of the Unsent Letter for Those in Recovery

Posted on

Throughout the ages, people have used unsent letters for healing and renewal. Therapists tell us to write to our deceased parents, pour out our hearts and burn the letter. Friends tell us to “write off” unhealthy relationships. Even businesses “write off” bad debt.

To write an unsent letter for personal wellness, simply address a sheet of paper or a page in your journal to the intended receiver. Then take 15 to 20 minutes to really let go and explore your feelings and thoughts. In your writing, you might tie your emotions to various situations or experiences. How has your relationship with this person affected who you would like to become, who you have been in the past, or who you are now? Is there any unfinished business? Are there questions that have been left unanswered? What are the most significant positive experiences with this person? How will you as the writer of the letter change as a result? The point is to be completely honest with yourself. Remember that the entire purpose of the writing is for you and you only. When you are finished, you may choose to reread the letter, or not. It’s your choice. Either way, simply fold up the paper. Burn it. Tear it. Shred it. Flush it. Toss the pieces into the ocean or let the wind take them away. Just do not mail the letter.

The power of the pen, and especially the unsent letter, is especially meaningful for people in recovery from substance abuse. Be it alcoholism, drug addiction, food addiction or gambling trouble, expressive writing can assist in one’s recovery journey.

For this article, I have outlined the 12 steps from Alcoholics Anonymous and juxtaposed the writing opportunities in each step – several of which include the Unsent Letter.

Step Number

Step Description

Writing Opportunity


We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Write out your drinking/drugging biography since the beginning. It could take the form of a letter to your former “drinking self,” or to a bottle or drug.


Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

Write a letter in gratitude to your Higher Power.


Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Again, writing to God – this time writing the Third Step prayer.


Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Step 4 is one of the steps that has the most writing involved. Writing in this instance is in the form of lists and explanatory sentences.


Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

While the actual step work is usually face to face, write in your journal about your feelings and emotions after taking this step.


Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The writing here is listing making of character defects.


Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Again, letter writing to God is an acceptable way of completing this step.


Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Writing the list here helps in personal willingness and faith.


Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

The unsent letter is a powerful means of making amends in many cases. If someone is deceased, an unsent letter is a positive way of expressing remorse and asking forgiveness. If a direct amends would injure someone, an unsent letter describing the incident in question is a perfect way of making amends.


Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Developing a regular journaling practice is a positive, healthy way of tracking personal inventory. Further, journaling entries can provide valuable insight into recurring themes and growth.


Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Writing your own prayers, poems and even songs is a wonderful way to explore meditation and one’s relationship with a Higher Power.


Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Visit and the Write to Recover workshop for ways to explore the Recovery principles and practices in our lives through the written word.

In almost every step, recovery work involves expressive writing, and most certainly the Unsent Letter. Write on, everyone!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *