Part of the human experience is facing obstacles, physical and emotional pain, loss, and other setbacks. Whether these are huge life-altering occurrences or regular ol’ stressors, we’ve all experienced them at one degree or another and it’s through these challenges that we learn how to deal using coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms or skills are strategies we use to help manage painful or difficult emotions and to try and make ourselves feel happy, whole, and normal again. For a lot of people, these can be meditating, engaging in logical problem solving, asking for help, or releasing pent-up emotions in healthy ways. For others with unhealthy or non-existent coping skills, they might engage in self-criticism, become aggressive or violent, or turn to substances to numb the frig out. Using drugs and/or alcohol to cope is super common yet super destructive.
In the beginning, our intentions aren’t to become a raging alcoholic whose life is crumbling down around them, but rather we drink to calm down, unwind after a stressful day, numb, to feel “normal”, as a reward, to feel more confident, to reduce physical pain, or to help deal with loss. And what do we do when a coping mechanism works? We keep doing it! But there’s danger in using it as a coping strategy- after a while you find yourself drinking every time you want to feel happy, “normal”, less stressed, or every time you experience undesirable emotions. It’s a vicious cycle and it robs you of yourself.
So you make the brave, brilliant, and loving decision to get sober. AMAZING. YOU CAN DO IT AND IT’S WORTH IT.
Things are going pretty alright at first and you’ve gone a few days without drinking. After all, it’s just a drink right? Well, not entirely. Remember how you used alcohol as a coping mechanism? Now it’s gone and you need to… well, cope. Uncomfortable feelings happen, past traumas might start to come to the surface, and thoughts of relapse might creep in with the increasing amount of triggers you find all around you. You need to find new coping mechanisms during the hard times to get you through and to help you avoid relapse.
Enter the Sobriety Toolkit! This metaphorical box includes healthy coping strategies you can call on when you want to reach for a drink or when tough feelings come up and you question your sobriety. Remember, these negative feelings are temporary but when you have coping strategies already in place these low bouts decrease in length and severity. Everyone is different in what calms them down so here’s a list of ideas you can pick and chose to build your Sobriety Toolkit.
- Have a list of at least 5 real consequences your drinking has caused in your life. Euphoric recall (only remembering the good times and ignoring the bad) is a huge threat to sobriety. It’s so important to have a list of what can, and more than likely will, happen if you decide to drink again
- Have a list of at least 5 reasons why you’re choosing sobriety every day. It can be anything from family, health, mental clarity, better opportunities, to stop anxiety, to gain respect again, anything- as long as the reasons are specific to you and your life.
- Have a list of all your supports, along with their contact info. And don’t just keep it in your phone- it does something psychologically to see the list written out. You feel better supported and feel less alone.
- Meditate (see YouTube for guided meditations). If you find meditating difficult (like I did for many years) it might be helpful to incorporate some mindfulness techniques into your practice first to calm your body first. Feel your body in the chair, hear the sounds around you, breathe in deeply, and look around the room to remind your brain that you’re safe. For me, doing this first eases my fight-or-flight response so that I can then give a 5 minute meditation a fair shot.
- Daily affirmations- download an app that shows positive quotes, or personalized mantras to show every few hours. Words are powerful.
- Bookmark the AA meeting list for your area so you can easily access it in case you need to get to a meeting ASAP. Honestly, even if you’re not THAT into AA, it’s comforting to know that you can probably find a meeting nearby to attend the same day and even just sitting in a room with other people who get it really helps you feel less alone.
- Build a wish list of all the things you’d like to buy yourself with all the money you’re saving from never stepping foot in the liquor store again.
- Workout! Not only is exercise amazing for your body and mind, but it’s a super effective and healthy distraction when you’re in a terrible, risky mood.
- Journal how you’re feeling. I wrote a post on exactly this- click here to read it.
- Get out of the “stinkin’ thinkin'” spiral and switch gears into the positive. Write down all the positives that are happening in your life- it helps a lot to get things back into perspective.
- Have a tea break and just sit and sip. Yogi Bedtime tea, Yogi Kava Stress Relief tea, chamomile, valerian root are all great teas to relax you.
- Have a dance party around your house for no reason other than it feels good. Even if you’re in a horrible mood give it a try- it’s sort of like smiling to yourself in the mirror, it puts you in a better mood almost instantly.
- Epsom salt bath with drops of lavender essential oils melt the stress away in the most warm and cozy way.
- Get into ASMR videos on YouTube. If ASMR videos work on you you know that instant melty feeling you get where you’re almost zoned out from relaxation.
- Scream. If you think it will help, give it a go! If you think it could trigger you, please don’t. Just remember to do it in a sound-proofing way like into a pillow if you live in close proximity to other humans. That’d be an awkward conversation to have to the police when they show up.
- Try EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). I don’t know much of this so I can’t speak to it, but I have heard really great things about it. Google is your friend.
- Yoga helps both your body and mind, depending on what type you try. Again, YouTube is a fantastic resource.
I had many sad and scary days in early recovery and I wasn’t prepared with a toolkit like this and I wish I did- it would have made things a lot easier. But I did have a support system and I did journal a lot and after the first few months things were becoming more tolerable and triggers were becoming less intense. It still took me about a year before I was able to really feel like the thoughts of relapse were a distant memory so just know it does get better. It takes time, patience, and effort but it does eventually get easier and less overwhelming. Life is amazing when you make the loving decision to stop drinking and gifting yourself with new and healthy coping mechanisms is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your future.
Good luck Friend! You can do it.