Trinkets and Treasures

This week’s safe coping strategy:

Inspire yourself. Carry something positive.

I carry around two things from my time in rehab that are symbols of my sobriety.

The first is my 30-day AA chip. It is red and made of some lightweight metal. It is nothing overly special. But it reminds me of a time when I only had 30 days under my belt, and how scary and empowering that felt, all at the same time. It also reminds me of my relapse, and how I gave the chip to my husband and told him to give it back to me when I “earned it.” And I did. And now I have 160 days and it’s amazing to look back and see the progress I’ve made.

I also carry a small, smooth, light green rock. Towards the end of my first stay in rehab, a counselor put a pile of pretty little stones on the table, in all colors, shapes and sizes. She told us to choose one to represent our time there, and to carry it with us wherever we went. And that’s what I do. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of all the times I smiled in rehab, and all the positive things we did there. I’m reminded of the bonding I did with the other woman who stayed there at the time. We remain friends.

I carry both with me in my wallet, and see them nearly every day. And each time I see them, I am filled with positive thoughts and feelings, about me, my choice to attend rehab, my recovery, my future.

Choose something for yourself, something small you can carry with you to remind you of your recovery. Why you’re doing it, who you’re doing it for. It can be anything as long as it means something to you. A poem, a ticket stub, a pebble, a ring or necklace, a button.

Sometimes it takes something physical and visceral to remind us of what’s important. Something we can reach out and touch, rather than the abstract “recovery” or “sobriety”, or our feelings. This little trinket will serve this purpose for you. And it will also help you stay positive and focused. Positivity is extremely important in recovery, so why not take all the help you can get?

Do you already have a special memento you carry? Or do you have one in mind you’d like to use?

Fight For Your Sobriety

I remember in recovery being told many a time to “avoid triggers.” Which seems like an easy thing to do. Trouble is, there are triggers everywhere and I run into them quite often. Today’s safe coping strategy:

Fight the trigger. Take an active approach to protect yourself.

Just because triggers are coming at you left and right doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about them.

Some of them can be avoided. Don’t go into that corner market where you used to buy your wine. Don’t hang out with friends you used to party with. Ask your spouse not to keep alcohol in the house.

But some you can’t avoid. Like seeing a billboard advertising beer, or watching a show and suddenly someone is pouring themselves a glass of wine. Or the beer and the yogurt are in the same aisle at the grocery store for some reason. Or just having a bad, stressful day. Those kinds of things are going to happen to you.

But, what you have to do is identify the situation as a trigger. Tell yourself, this is a trigger. And then work against it. It wants to bring you down. It wants to burrow into your subconscious and pull you right off track. You need to fight it. See it for what it really is. Remind yourself of the consequences of drinking/using.

A trigger can happen without you even knowing about it. It’s really about getting that itch. Having that feeling that gee, a cold pint of beer would be awfully good right about now. The fleeting thought that you want something you used to have, but can’t have anymore. And maybe that’s all it is: a fleeting thought. But if you don’t hone in on that thought, and label it as a trigger, and an urge or a craving, then it can eat away at you until you cave in.

It’s unfortunate, but as an addict, you always need to be on your toes. You need to watch out for things like this. See the warning signs. Learn your individual triggers and avoid them whenever you can. Having an anxious day and maybe you want to take the edge off? Don’t go down that aisle at the store, no matter how bad you wanted the yogurt. In fact, avoid the store altogether. It can wait, nothing is more important than your sobriety.

Fighting the trigger means fighting for yourself. Fighting for you sobriety, your sanity, your safety. Nothing comes before that.

Do Something Fun

Through all of the important and difficult work you are doing toward your recovery, it’s important to always be aware of how you’re feeling about all of it. If you begin to feel bogged down or overwhelmed, you need to take time out for yourself. This week’s safe coping strategy:

Self-nurture. Do something that you enjoy (take a walk, see a movie, etc.)

The road to recovery is long and difficult. The work you are doing is extremely important, both for your happiness and your survival. But it is a lot of work, and you continue to struggle with it day in and day out in the name of sobriety. You are to occasionally be rewarded for that!

And, let’s be honest, even though you are surrounded by supportive counselors, family, friends and advisors, there are still times when you are the only one who can make you happy.

Take time out from your daily grind and do something just for you. Do something that brings you extreme joy, and that will have you feeling positive and motivated. The things you choose to do can be large, planned out activities that you schedule in advance, or simple outings you choose to do on the spur of the moment. Some examples of ways to self-nurture are:

–Talk a walk. Long or short, that’s up to you. Choose a location that brings you happiness, such as a hike in the woods, or a walk along a beach, or just a stroll through your neighborhood.

–Take yourself to a movie. It can feel strange at first to see a movie by yourself, but I’ve done it a few times and I think you’ll find it to be a very enjoyable experience. You don’t have to share your snacks with anyone!

–Take yourself to lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant. This can feel weird at first too. You might feel as if everyone in the restaurant is staring at you, wondering why you’re alone. But, odds are no one is looking at you at all. If it helps, bring a book or newspaper to read. Order your favorite dish on the menu, even if it’s the most expensive. And by all means, order dessert.

–Plan a weekend trip to participate in an activity you enjoy, such as kayaking, hiking, camping, fishing, visiting art museums, participating in a meditation retreat, antiquing or visiting friends. Just get away for a while. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out vacation, just a day and a half or two days away from home to relax and refresh.

–Get “dolled up.” Go get yourself a new haircut or new hair color. Get a manicure and a pedicure. Buy yourself a new outfit, it doesn’t even have to be for a special occasion, just for fun. Buy a new lipstick color. Anything to change up your look a little bit, and make it feel refreshed.

–Do something good for your body that you enjoy. Take a fun class at the gym. Get a massage. Take a yoga class. You’re having fun but you’re also doing good by your body.

–Nurture yourself spiritually, whatever that means for you. Go to church or temple. Do a private Bible study. Spend some time meditating. Listen to a spirituality podcast, or read a book about spirituality.

–Do something artistic. Paint, draw, sculpt, craft, build something. Anything that’s creative and involves you using your hands, and really participating in the process. The creative process can be incredibly freeing and healing.

These are just a handful of ideas, you can come up with your own. Anything that’s fun and brings you joy, and is outside your normal daily routine. Take yourself on as many of these “self dates” as you can. The happiness it brings will be extremely beneficial for your recovery and your outlook on life. You’re dealing with an addiction, which is hard work. But you can have fun with life too!

Keep Your Eyes Open

I’m late this week with the safe coping strategy. Sometimes life is so darn busy! But, I didn’t want to put it off until next week.

I wanted to talk a little this week about getting comfortable with sobriety. It’s good to start feeling comfortable in your own skin again, and to feel confident in your sobriety. It’s definitely a positive thing to be happy again and moving on with your life. But, it’s very important not to get too comfortable and too confident, or you risk falling back into old patterns.

Never forget that you are still, and will always be, in recovery. And no matter how many days you get under your belt, the risk of slipping still exists. I’ve heard too many a tale of a person with years of sobriety falling off the wagon. You need to stay focused, and always be on top of your condition.

A coping strategy I feel relates to this is:

Prioritize healing. Make healing your most urgent and important goal, above all else.

This is one of those times it’s helpful to think of your addiction as a disease. It’s something that you will carry with you for the rest of your life, and you need to keep up with the treatment.

When we find ourselves getting too comfortable with any situation in life, it’s easy to get complacent. Like, if you lose the amount of weight you sought to lose, you feel comfortable going to the gym less often, and pretty soon you’re not going at all. Or, you get rewarded for doing a good job at work, so you feel comfortable slacking off a little bit, and your work actually begins to suffer.

Recovering from an addiction is like this too. If you start to get a little too confident in yourself, you might stop going to meetings. Or you might stop taking your anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Or you might even start to think you can use again, because you’ve got it under control.

But these are dangerous things to do, at any stage in your recovery. As difficult as it is, you need to keep the fact that you are an addict in the forefront of your mind. Always be doing something that benefits your recovery. Keep going to those meetings, keep taking necessary medications, keep reminding yourself what your life could become if you ever start to use again.

And if you find yourself feeling down because you’ll never be “normal” again, remind yourself that you never really were. Your addiction took you to places that were certainly not “normal”. And though you didn’t know it at the time, you were always an addict. Now that you’re aware of it and have taken steps to correct it, keep up the good work and keep yourself safe, happy and healthy. Don’t let yourself become complacent. Your life is worth more than that.