When I was first introduced to recovery in February 2011, I was scared, overwhelmed and completely skeptical. Like many individuals who are facing the monumental crossroad between continuing the downward spiral of addiction and choosing a new way of life, I had one foot in recovery and one foot out. I was interested in learning how to live without alcohol and drugs, but I was ready to run back into the arms of my addiction at a moment’s notice.
I wish I could tell others that recovery is effortless, but I would be lying. It takes continuous work to enjoy a life free of substances. What I do tell others is that I would not have continued this lifestyle if it wasn’t incredibly rewarding, remarkably life-changing, and ridiculously fun. Sure, I’ve had my share of challenges and I still think about how a drink or drug would anesthetize the pain. But those thoughts are fleeting when I remain vigilant and willing to do the work.
Below are five tools I have either used in the past, learned from my peers in recovery, or acquired from my own clients as a certified recovery coach. I hope they will help you as you navigate this beautiful life we call RECOVERY.
1) First Thought Wrong
I was introduced to this phrase a few years back when I attended a performance by recovery comedian Mark Lundholm. Lundholm’s signature saying, first thought wrong, is a great reminder that recovery is not the absence of distorted thinking, but the ability to recognize disease thinking versus a recovery mindset. Says Lundholm, “Recovery has taught me that first thought wrong, properly filtered, becomes the next right thing.” Similar to the distress tolerance skills taught in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), identifying your initial thought as impulsive, potentially destructive and unhealthy, gives you time to pause, to discuss with another person or professional, and to respond rather than react.
2) Prayer Journal
Studies have shown that journaling is effective in recovery. And most of us know that. But when we take our journaling practice one step further by writing out our prayers – the good, the bad, and even the ugly – something powerful happens. I started doing this regularly (and reluctantly) in 2016 after my 12-Step sponsor continuously urged me to do so. In the New York Times bestselling novel, “The Help,” written by Kathryn Stockett, Aibileen Clark, one of the book’s main characters, wrote down her prayers in a notebook every evening. Neighbors would ask Aibileen for prayers because they knew she got answers. Minny Jackson, Aibileen’s best friend, said, “Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety.”
Prayer writing really works. Something magical takes place when we move from one form of nonverbal communication (thoughts) to another (writing). We give ourselves permission to reflect, process and release. Our requests are set into motion. Most important, we surrender the idea that we have all the answers.
3) Music + Movement + Meeting = Relief
Anger is an intense emotion that often covers deeper, more vulnerable emotions like pain, hurt or fear. If left untreated, anger can brew into a good old-fashioned resentment. Page 64 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) states, “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” Simply put, recovering alcoholics/addicts don’t have the luxury to hold onto anger for lengthy periods of time—at least not if we want to keep our sobriety.
I was in my seventh year of recovery when I found this gem of a “cocktail” for anger. While many clinicians, mental health professionals and even treatment modalities encourage individuals in recovery to use opposite-action techniques when we are highly activated or triggered, I discovered that blasting ‘angry’ music helped me to get more in touch with my anger. I followed it with a high-intensity workout at the gym, and then took my angry self to a recovery meeting. By the time I had done all three, I felt surprisingly calm, refreshed and relaxed. I am a firm believer that anger must be expressed in some form or fashion. Loud music, coupled with a sweat sesh and connection with others, was just what I needed to let out steam and then cool off. The best part? I didn’t drink over it, nor did I simmer in resentment later on. #WIN
4) Visit Your Local Nursery
I recently worked with a client who was in recovery from trauma and panic disorder. Whenever she became triggered or experienced a panic attack, she would practice grounding techniques to remain in the present moment. She had always enjoyed gardening as a child and spending time in nature. Because my client lived in a booming metropolis where greenspace was scarce, she did not have the convenience of a backyard to feel connected to the earth. Rather than complain about the lack of vegetation and natural elements, she would drive to the closest plant nursery on days when she needed that connection. She left all electronic devices in the car, then slowly walked down every aisle to admire the surrounding foliage. She would touch every plant, shrub and flower, then take the time to appreciate their fragrance. As her recovery coach, it was the loveliest grounding technique I had ever come across.
5) Power Off
Anxiety can lead to cravings, and cravings can cause anxiety. If we’re not careful, this vicious cycle can result in chronic relapse. When working with individuals who are new in recovery, I strongly encourage them to spend time alone, without their electronic devices, on a regular basis. I am usually met with resistance and a look of sheer horror. The thought of being alone with one’s thoughts while sober – especially when an individual has been consumed with using drugs and/or drinking in isolation for quite some time – is scary. But it’s OK to start small (i.e., 5 minutes, then 10, then 20, and so on) and gradually build from there.*
We are a society that suffers from busyness. We have become entirely too dependent on technology. Whether time alone means taking a scenic route with the car windows rolled down and the radio turned off; sitting on a park bench and listening to the birds sing; or lying on our favorite couch at home for some much-needed quiet time, learning to enjoy solitude in sobriety is truly an art form. Even if uncomfortable feelings arise, that’s OK. Be curious about them. Lean into them. Befriend them. Let them be.
Give yourself permission to unplug—we are all worthy of rest.
*There is a stark difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is an inner yearning for time alone. Isolation is a form of avoidance or protection from the outside world.
About Alison Broderick
Alison Broderick is a Nationally Certified Recovery Coach-Level II (NCRC-II), a Georgia Certified Peer Specialist – Addictive Diseases (CPS-AD), and the founder/owner of The Recovery Coach, LLC. She is professionally trained in working with individuals who are actively seeking recovery from substance use disorder, eating disorders, anxiety and/or depression. To schedule a free phone consultation, please visit www.therecoverycoachatl.com or call (678) 851-3314. In-person and virtual sessions are available, as well as a limited sliding scale for those who qualify.