The absolute rawness of early recovery is an experience I will never forget and would rather not revisit in this lifetime. Everything felt so rough, jagged edges of my life experience catching on everything. Simple tasks and errands proved to be hazardous and extremely challenging. The temptation was everywhere. Navigating life felt almost impossible without the white out, softening the effect of my comfortable cloud of altered consciousness. How did I get here? How was it possible that I had created a life completely reliant on alcohol and drugs to make me able to function? Without my substances, I was as raw as a freshly skinned knee. I had no concept of recovery tools, or how to use them. No pink cloud enveloped me and brought me softly and gently to the ground of sobriety. The cold hard earth was under my feet and I had a lot to learn.
What I Had To Learn
I heard a lot in those first few sober months that I needed to create a recovery toolkit to use when cravings arose, as they would and did. A toolkit was a set of actions, ideas, and resources that would be there for me when I was in need. I would have the tools at the ready and somehow magically know which one to use at each specific occurrences of stress or craving. The idea of this seemed almost impossible to me. When you are in active alcoholism the only tool you have is drinking, and it’s a damn effective tool until it isn’t anymore. My minds responses to hard feelings were pretty much as follows. Hurt? Have a drink. Lonely? Some wine would probably help! Feeling sad? No worries, vodka to the rescue… When this has been your go to the toolkit, the suggestion of a warm bath feels like a puny substitution for the absolute annihilation of feeling that alcohol provides. I did not believe that anything could ease my pain in the way that alcohol had. The problem was that alcohol was also the source of much of my pain, and I could no longer hide from that fact. I had to find some recovery tools that worked for me. Tools that I would use.
I was given a lot of wonderful advice from very wise people in the beginning of my recovery journey. I am eternally grateful to those who were there with me, most especially my recovery coach. Yet I had to find the day to day tools that would keep me sober, I had to learn what worked for me, and learn to honor that.I had been running away from myself into destruction for so long. Could I run away from destruction? Could I run towards something constructive instead? Or at least less destructive? Here is what I found to work for me.
It seemed so hard at first, to do the things that need to be done to keep my life afloat. To go to work, and come home, not drink and go to bed was really all I could manage. I embraced sleep as a healthy part of my recovery program. If it all was too much to handle and the voice of craving was gnawing at my brain I would quite literally send myself to bed. I still do this sometimes. It is a simple and safe way to create a space to let go of the need to fix things or figure things out. Sleep has been helpful to my recovering brain and body. Learning to let myself rest has been such a valuable tool. My bed feels like a sanctuary, and a symbol of my family that I need some space and quite.
I practiced yoga before I got sober, always with a sense of fraudulence. A yoga imposter. I would practice in the morning and drink in the evening. Some mornings during practice I would vow to not drink that night, only to later break that vow and find myself in the bottle yet again. Yoga felt good, but there was always part of me that knew I was not really devoting to the practice.
In sobriety, yoga has become a lifeline and a way to love me. I treat myself through yoga. It has no specific form. I allow myself to practice in the way that feels best each day. Maybe sweaty Vinyasa one day and gentle Hatha the next. My ability to listen to my body and give myself what I need has grown so much over these last two years. A physical practice of some kind, be it yoga or running or anything in between, seems to me one of the most valuable recovery tools available. There is something powerful about moving and loving your body, especially a body that was for years used and abuse. Each time I come to my mat it is an affirmation of my choice to live a new life. A conscious life. Filled with love, self-care, and commitment to growth.
I came into recovery lonely. So very lonely. When I first got myself to a meeting I had been sober for five months, five lonely months. The joy of connection with others, being known, and understood was such a gift. Reaching out is hard, and vulnerable. The first time I called someone to say “Hey, I am struggling.” I was literally shaking I was so nervous. Learning to reach out and connect has saved my ass from relapse more times than I can count. This tool is for me essential. I need community, to hold me accountable and to hold me up when I falter. Or to just hold my hand when things hurt, and they do hurt. Being sober is not an easy ride al the time. We feel stuff, and having the community to share those feelings with makes them bearable. I never thought that being sober would affect my social life in a good way, but it has! I have a close group of sober friends who get me, understand my journey and support me along the way.
Time outdoors, preferably in the woods calms me down more quickly than just about anything. If it is a weekday and I am feeling triggered or upset, taking my dog down to the river works just fine. There is something about being under the sky, away from my home, desk, and phone, that allows me to turn in and listen to my true self. I find that the busyness of my mind lets away and I am able to see the beauty that life offers so freely. A leaf floating in the water. The geese that call overhead. The satisfying sound of my feet on the trail. These things are the gifts that keep on giving, this is being home in my own sweet life. I go to nature to find myself and to lose myself simultaneously. I remember the first few times I went hiking sober. The intense joy of just being in the woods and not needing a drink or a smoke to make it enjoyable. Such freedom!
It’s Not Magic!
There is no magic to creating a healthy set of recovery tools. It is really just a process of slowing down enough to notice what makes you feel better. It will vary for each of us. Yoga may not be your thing, a long bath or a walk may be the trick to take the edge of the crazy for a little while. And there is no unseen voice that will come out of the clouds and tell you when it is time to reach into your recovery toolkit and find a tool that will work. It is all trial and error. Trial, error, and success. Pay attention to what is right, to what brings relief. Remember that you have recovery tools, they are available to you all the time. But you have to bring them out, polish them off and give them a chance to help you. The more you use them the stronger they will grow.