An article by Renee W.
When I first got sober in 2014, I thought that “getting sober” was all I had to do. That meant I simply wouldn’t drink or use drugs, and mission accomplished… or so I thought.
Abstaining from alcohol and drugs is part of recovery. But it’s also just the beginning. What I realized after a few years of not drinking was something quite profound and alarming for someone in recovery:
I was still miserable.
Looking back, it’s obvious why I was still miserable, but I truly didn’t understand it at the time. After all, I had filled my days with recovery-friendly activities like:
- Attending AA meetings
- Exercising (yes, including yoga)
- Writing (plenty of self-reflection)
- Creative outlets, such as painting
However, I could not deny it: I was miserable, even while doing “all the recovery things.”
I white-knuckled my days, desperately trying not to give in and drink, while checking off all the “recovery boxes.” This lasted until I couldn’t do it anymore. I relapsed in 2017.
What happened? Perhaps more importantly, why did that happen?
I didn’t understand that quitting alcohol and drugs was only the first step. So I lived in that step for years and didn’t develop any healthy coping mechanisms and true growth.
But wait, you said you did recovery-friendly activities, like AA. Did that not help?
It helped to a degree. But the problem was that I was never really honest with myself or others about what was happening inside me. I had become an expert at simply going through the “sobriety motion,” all the while wondering what the heck was actually wrong with me on the inside.
I was too self-absorbed and worried about what others thought to ever really get honest enough to see any actual growth. That’s why I was miserable, and that’s why I relapsed.
My story is not all that unique or surprising. People relapse all the time because of the same reasons.
So, what’s the key?
Building a strong foundation for lasting addiction recovery involves developing healthy coping mechanisms that support you through all the obstacles you’re going to face. Sure, this may look different for each person, but some common strategies exist, and they are a good start.
Understanding recovery and the need for healthy coping mechanisms
True recovery is a transformative process that transcends beyond mere abstinence from addictive substances.
True recovery encompasses:
- Emotional healing
- Personal growth
- Positive coping strategies
- Enhancing resilience
- Fostering self-awareness
- Building a strong support network
It requires developing healthy coping mechanisms, which are the tools that help people navigate the challenges in recovery. These mechanisms can range from mindfulness techniques to nurturing interpersonal relationships. They are all important and can produce authentic, long-lasting sobriety.
The role of healthy coping mechanisms in recovery (The Recovery Toolbox)
Today, I think of healthy coping mechanisms as my recovery toolbox. My toolbox is armed with coping strategies that work for me. Building a recovery toolbox takes time as you navigate what works and what doesn’t.
The goal is to create an extensive toolbox of various tools that work. Then, in times of anxiety when you think your sobriety is threatened, your first reaction won’t be to drink or use. It will be to reach for your toolbox.
Having a healthy box of tools to use in recovery helps with all of the following:
1. Coping with triggers and cravings
Triggers and cravings are so very common (and normal) in the recovery process. The goal is to be able to develop effective strategies to navigate through these challenging moments. This can be done through allowing yourself to feel your emotions and staying present the whole way through.
Physical relapse is never random. Emotional relapse occurs first, which is followed by a mental relapse. Physical relapse always follows if triggers, cravings, and emotions are not properly addressed.
2. Enhancing resilience
I love the Japanese proverb “Fall down seven times, get up eight,” as it is a great example of developing resilience.
The recovery process is never linear, and setbacks are to be expected. Healthy coping mechanisms aid in developing resilience, which is the ability to bounce back, time and time again.
3. Managing stress and emotions
Stress and overwhelming emotions can threaten recovery. Healthy coping strategies, such as journaling and relaxation techniques, can help manage stress and process emotions in a healthy way.
4. Fostering self-awareness
Becoming self-aware is a cornerstone of lasting recovery. Healthy coping mechanisms like therapy, meditation, and introspection help individuals gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and actions. This self-awareness allows them to identify patterns and triggers and make informed choices.
5. Building meaningful connections
Isolation is the opposite of authentic recovery. One of the best parts of lasting recovery is making meaningful connections. This involves building a support network of friends, family, mentors, and support groups. These connections provide a sense of belonging, understanding, and accountability.
Strategies to develop healthy coping mechanisms (How to build your Recovery Toolbox)
You may be thinking that a toolbox full of stress management, self-awareness, and meaningful connections sounds great, but how do you get there?
As mentioned before, nothing about the recovery process is linear. Setbacks are inevitable, but here are some practical ways to help you get started:
1. Seeking professional help
Don’t underestimate the power of professional help in recovery. Therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) offer individuals the tools to address underlying issues and develop healthy coping strategies. Trained professionals guide individuals in building a strong foundation for their recovery journey.
2. Practicing mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness practices are so helpful for staying in the present moment, a much-needed practice for those in recovery. Mindfulness enhances self-awareness, reduces stress, and promotes emotional regulation. Specific techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and body scans help all individuals stay grounded and in the present, even in the face of triggers or cravings.
3. Engaging in physical activity
Regular exercise has numerous benefits for body, mind, and soul. It boosts mood, reduces stress, and improves overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Physical activities like yoga, jogging, or dancing not only contribute to physical health but also reinforce a positive mindset.
4. Exploring creative outlets
You don’t have to think of yourself as a creative type to benefit from creative outlets. Activities like painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument can all provide a healthy outlet for both self-expression and emotional release. These creative activities, regardless of the end product, allow individuals to process and release feelings and experiences in a healthy and productive way.
5. Building healthy routines
Without a healthy routine, especially early in sobriety, lasting recovery will be difficult. Establishing daily routines (sometimes with minute-by-minute planning) is key to reinforcing stability and structure. Adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, and regular exercise are all important, but also including things such as self-reflection and stress management should be prioritized.
6. Practicing self-love
Treating yourself with kindness sounds obvious, but think, really think about how you treat yourself. What do you say to yourself? Would you treat someone you loved that way? Developing healthy coping strategies involves treating yourself with love, compassion, and understanding. Self-compassion encourages individuals to forgive themselves for past mistakes and treat setbacks as opportunities for growth.
7. Cultivating positive relationships
Building and nurturing positive relationships is instrumental in lasting recovery. Surrounding yourself with those who are supportive and align with your goals is monumental. It also builds a network of encouragement and accountability. Positive relationships foster a sense of belonging and connection, and as British journalist Johann Hari says, “the opposite of addiction is connection.”
Echoing the beginning, I am now four years and a handful of months sober and have more joy and peace than I have ever had in my life. That may sound sappy, maybe even dramatic, but it’s true.
Circumstances are not easy in my life, as I am sure they aren’t in your life, either. Challenges come and go. People come and go. Grief is real. Life never quite goes as planned.
However, armed with my recovery toolbox, I can still live joyous, happy, and free (one of my favorite AA slogans).
So, what changed?
- I sought and received professional help.
- I got brutally honest with myself and others.
- I started my sobriety from scratch and unlearned and relearned everything I thought I ever knew.
- From the beginning, I adopted a healthy schedule and made myself stick to it.
- I practice mindfulness and meditation daily.
- I write every day.
- I developed a strong support system of family, friends, and mentors.
- I like and love who I am today – this took time, but I can say it is true – I like myself.
In other words, I developed healthy coping mechanisms to build a lasting recovery!
Just a few more points:
You don’t have to do everything at once.
But you need to start somewhere.
You are not alone – feel that, know that, believe that.
How can Tikvah Lake Help?
At Tikvah Lake, we understand addiction and its challenges. Our compassionate team of experienced professionals is dedicated to creating a customized recovery plan for each of our clients to meet their specific needs.
What we offer:
- A safe and supportive environment
- Comprehensive, personalized treatment
- Detox management, if required
- Luxurious accommodation and facilities
- Skilled professionals
- Holistic healing
- Aftercare planning and support
Contact us today to speak with a compassionate member of our team and learn more about how we can support you on your recovery journey.