The life saving tools of sobriety - fill your recovery toolbox.
When I was about 6 months sober and still navigating the minefield of interacting with my teenaged daughter who was learning to trust this new version of her mother, we got into an argument about household chores. The disagreement escalated, and as teenagers are inclined to do when they’re on the downhill side of a power struggle, she began hurling some heavy duty insults my way – the kind designed to tear the flesh and expose the raw, jangly nerves below.
The pink cloud of early sobriety was still hanging in the sky of our home, and I was doing my best to grow into a new relationship with my daughter while practicing love, patience, and tolerance for both of us and this new duo we had become, so the outburst felt like being hosed down with frigid water. The blows landed in their intended manner. I felt devastated and overwhelmed by a situation that was out of my control at that moment, so I left. I got in my car, drove down my street, and cried hot angry tears. Feelings of profound sadness and rage boiled in my chest and the only lucid thought I could identify as my car, as if on autopilot, raced toward the liquor store, was that this feeling is just too much – it’s too painful, and I just want it to go away.
Then a curious thing happened. I drove straight at the traffic light instead of making a left turn in the direction of relief. I ended up in a CVS parking lot just trying to get my breathing under control. I called a friend from my regular AA meeting who listened as I choked out my barely coherent story of woe, and she offered to leave work to just come sit with me if that would help me stay sober until the feelings changed. I declined, but that simple act of kindness allowed me to sit still with these unkind and unwelcome emotions for another minute or two before calling my husband, relaying an abbreviated version of the situation, and sobbing “My. *sniff* Tools. *cough* Aren’t. *sniff* Working.” I could hear the smile on his face as he said a few simple words that I’ll never forget: “Yes they are. You’re in a CVS parking lot and not in your closet with a bottle of vodka. I’d say they’re working perfectly.”
Just by taking that first tenuous step and entering rehab or a 12-step program, you’re given, free of charge, a few of the basic tools you need in your recovery toolbox to help you stay sober. The beauty of a life of sobriety is that you have the opportunity to add more to your arsenal every time you listen to and take direction from a fellow addict and read program literature. But as I’m reminded every time I open a drawer jam packed with workout clothing (I have a hate/hate relationship with the gym), that having the equipment is much different than using it. Here are some tools that will help you avoid a jam if you utilize them consistently:
Get and use a sponsor: A sponsor is someone that you’ll most likely meet in a 12-step meeting who has more experience with sobriety than you do. Their job is to help you through the 12 steps, but they are so much more than that. Every single person in recovery needs at least one person with whom they can be completely honest and share all the thoughts and concerns that crop up in sobriety. Remember that your best thinking got you into recovery, so it is imperative that you have a sounding board off whom to bounce your feelings, decisions, life situations, and urges to drink/use who understands addiction and can help guide you. Your sponsor is a vital part of your recovery toolbox.
Call people. That little computer that you carry everywhere with you is your lifeline to sobriety. Text if you must but use your phone. Call your sponsor, call that person in a meeting who said something that resonated with you, call every name on the phone list provided at your meetings if necessary, just call. Staying in touch with other addicts/alcoholics helps them as much as it helps you, so when you’re feeling sketchy, pick up the phone.
Get to a meeting: Nothing ensures long-term sobriety as much as staying plugged in. Everywhere in the world, addicts gather for 12-step meetings at all times of the day and night. There are even midnight meetings! Try a variety of meetings – step, speaker, big book, discussion, topic, beginner – find one to call your home group and make an effort to get to know people and get involved. Which brings us to…
Do service: Opportunities for service work abound in recovery! Arrive early to help set up the room for a meeting, sign up to make coffee or buy supplies, bring snacks, offer to read one of your group’s traditional readings at the top of the meeting (preamble, service card, how it works, etc.), chair a meeting, get your hand up and share, tell your story at a speaker meeting, and stay late to help clean up. Every group has service positions – Secretary, Treasurer, Intergroup Rep, General Service Representative (GSR), and General Chair. Some groups also have auxiliary positions for things like literature and coins. Service opportunities exist in your community as well – sign up to take a meeting to a local rehab or prison. Oftentimes staff and resources are limited and delivering sobriety to those in need is a worthwhile and heartwarming adventure.
Find your tribe: It’s a fact that pack animals have honed their instinct for sticking together over the millennia for a reason – the weakest on the outskirts are the first to be picked off by predators. Think of addiction as your predator and position yourself well inside the safety of the pack. You will change and grow in sobriety, and if you’re fortunate, so will your circle of friends. There is no one who understands an addict like another addict, so find a few with healthy habits that you’re drawn to and cultivate those relationships. Read more about finding your tribe here.
Read the literature: Addiction literature is as prolific as mosquitoes at a steamy summer barbecue, but everything you need when you’re feeling stuck can be found between the covers of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions (and NA versions of these publications). Even a vaguely worded Google search will point you to passages and chapters that can help you through nearly any tight spot. Familiarize yourself with the more popular and useful excerpts and refer to them time and again. Here’s the beginning of one of my favorites from page 417 of the Big Book: “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment…” Go ahead, look it up and read the rest.
Get out of your head: Sometimes we just get stuck. There may be times when your squirrely brain is feeding you questionable advice and none of the above suggestions are available to you at that moment. Maybe there is no 10:30pm meeting on a Tuesday night when your sponsor is asleep, your Big Book was damaged in a flash flood, and your friends are on a tech-free retreat. OK, it happens. That’s when it’s time to get creative. Take out a piece of paper and write down all the things you can do to redirect your thoughts when an obsession hits, you’ve received bad news, or when it’s a beautiful summer day and a few drinks down by the river feels like a most excellent idea. Your list will be different than mine, but here’s a start: Get some exercise, journal, meditate, watch a movie, nap, fix something, do laundry, build something, draw, paint, or color something, take the dog for a walk, etc. You get the picture. Unless the activity is a trigger, it goes on the list. Scan it when you’re in a pinch and commit to doing something on it – even if it’s only for five minutes. Feelings, both the kind that give us butterflies and a case of the giggles and the ones we so desperately wish to avoid, change, so be gentle enough with yourself to allow the process to happen.
Fill your recovery toolbox with all the items that will take you further from the next drink, and closer to a fulfilling life of recovery.