Have you ever eaten a meal that a friend cooked and said “this is amazing how did you make it?”
They give you their grandmother’s cousin’s aunt Flo’s recipe and you excitingly can’t wait to make it yourself. But when you do it tastes nothing like what your friend cooked. As a matter of fact, what you cooked tastes like … well shit.
Welcome to the stew that is called recovery, where what works for me may not work for you. But there are ingredients out there that will make what you need. You just have to find them.
They are called tools and sometimes you might just need one but more than likely you will need a little of a lot of them.
How did I get sober and maintain sobriety for this long?
Well it’s a little AA, NA, Smart, personal research, therapy, meditation, a bit of eastern religion, a bit of western religion, spirituality, podcasts, writing, art, a whole lot of personal reflection, family, friends, community, on and on and on.
What follows is a collection of 12 tools that may help you in your journey through sobriety and finding or remaining in recovery. Give them a try you never know, you might find one that works for you.
-Aaron Lee Perry
of The Miracle of the Mundane
Tool #1: Other people
I lean on other people in my recovery. Newly sober, I called sober for help with decisions both big and small. The main person I call is my sponsor. He knows my history. He seems to know me better than I know myself.
Questions like, "The event is at a bar. What should I do?"
My sponsor answers with, "Have a way out. You need to have your car, and leave the moment you feel uncomfortable."
Simple answers become convoluted in my thinking. Other experienced people know how to keep things simple.
Tool #2: Tell on myself
The best thing I can do in my recovery is name my demons. My whole life changed when I admitted I was an alcoholic and an addict. I couldn't get my mind healthy until I admitted that. I have since named other demons. On my blog, I named my phone addiction as a demon. I named Internet porn as a demon.
Airing my dirty laundry is a survivor tool for me. I hear people say: "You're only as sick as your secrets," and I know what they mean. When I name my demons, I can transform weakness into strength.
By far my top recovery tool has been writing. In the early days of my sobriety, it was suggested to me that I journal daily. Initially I thought that is something that teenage girls do, a Dear Diary type affair. Naturally, I balked at the suggestion. I had no idea what to write. I had no idea who I was. I was so far removed from my feelings that you fit an ocean between me and them. I was an expert at skirting the periphery of that ocean, in any attempt to avoid any and every feeling! So I showed a little humility and asked what others wrote. It was suggested that I write twice a day: when I wake up and before I go to bed. It is the perfect way to cement your day.
The first journal recording could be how I slept, my thoughts and feelings and my plan for the day. The evening entry could include my experience that day and, most importantly - in fact the most important tool in my recovery - is to record what I have done right that day. This has been the most self-esteem boosting exercise of my recovery. I still undertake it today, four years later. Whilst I value the reflection of where our behaviour has gone off course, and any amends we owe, I think we don’t focus enough on our assets, or exercises of confidence building - rather ego deflation and the uncovering of defects. Why not look at the other side of the coin? I wholeheartedly encourage anyone in recovery to undertake this exercise. Daily, I record any self-care I have undertaken, how I have invested in my recovery, any connections that I have made, and the very fact I have invested in writing that day.
The benefits of writing have been endless. I am more connected to my thoughts and feelings; and experience something magical in the transference of thoughts to paper - I can’t quite articulate it. It is magnificent. It somehow clears my mind and helps me to marshall my thoughts. I’m able to work through any issues to a solution. It has led to my writing a blog. For someone who was so far removed from herself to now write about her thoughts and feelings is nothing short of a miracle.
Second, connection. What I mean by that is human connection. I need to connect on a level where I can see your brokeness. I need to hear it, feel it and experience it. I need to know that I am not alone. There is huge power in collective empathy and that level of intimacy: in seeing me in you, and you understanding me, because you’ve been there. Another avoidance strategy in my active addiction was connection. I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want people. People annoyed me. They were an inconvenience. Today that is not the case. Whilst its still an ingrained behaviour to avoid behaviour, I outwardly seek out to connect. Connection to me is like a comfort blanket. The ways I connect are speaking to my close friends, meetings, and a sponsor. In the early days it was suggested to me that I find three women I can trust and keep in touch with them on a regular basis. Whilst the people change, I still have three people today.
of Lara Frazier and Addiction Unscripted
Top two tools in our toolbox:
CONNECTION: Connection means multiple things to me. It means having a tribe who you can call on anytime, any day. But, it also means the connection to God and the love inside us all. It means asking for help. It means learning HOW to ask for help. It means finding the beauty and pure goodness in every person you meet. It means sending love to all humans, regardless of anything. I always go back to this quote from A Course in Miracles, when I think about connection.
"When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose sight of yourself. "
Sometimes, in hard moments when I just don’t know what to do, I say a quiet prayer “help.” Help can come in all forms from God. Your hope is that the help will provide immediate comfort and ease, but sometimes it will provide a chaos of storms, because God is showing you your true nature and your true strength.
Connection to people gives me life. Even though I am quite introverted at times, I still crave others. I still need their light to show me my own. One of my favorite quotes, that I use often, is by Johann Hari, the best-selling author of Chasing The Scream. He says; “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
Mantras & Affirmations: I never realized how badly I treated myself prior to getting sober. There was so much negative self-talk in my head. I would never have treated another person the way I treated myself. Today, I am very careful about the words I speak outwards, as well as the words I speak inwards. I have learned to take very good care of myself. For, I can only take care of others if I take care of me as well. I believe the words I think and say are part of the energy I put into the world. If I want positive high vibe energy, then I must think, say, and believe these words. Repetition is everything.
Some of my favorite mantra’s are below:
I can do hard things.
Devotion creates miracles
I am the servant of something unstoppable
I am allowed to change
I trust the evolution of my life
I am the one I’ve been waiting for
Every relationship is an assignment
I don’t believe in miracles; I rely on them.
My challenges are my greatest learning devices
I am stronger than my resistance
Do the next right thing
I learned to integrate positive self-talk and affirmations early in my sobriety. But, the integration of mantras into my daily thoughts was something I began using when I went through Hip Sobriety School last winter. The majority of these mantras come from: A Course in Miracles, Hip Sobriety School (hipsobriety.com), May Cause Miracles by Gabby Bernstein, and Laura McKowen (lauramckowen.com).
Mantras have showed me my inner strength, and my inner power.
“When I am disturbed, it is because I find 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.” - AA Big Book
Old (drinking) Cristina found fault in most people, places or things; but mostly she found fault in herself. Drinking ususally dulled out the anguish temporarily. There were also occasions it did the opposite and amplified the issues instead. New (sober) Cristina knows that she can only control her actions, reactions and choices. Taking a hard, heart-wrenching look in the mirror needed to happen for change to occur. Acceptance and faith are what keeps New Cristina sober on a daily basis.
The tools I use to keep acceptance and faith at the forefront of my days come in a couple of clusters.
1. Meditation & Therapy –
In order to find and grasp acceptance in my life, I needed to learn the tools to calm my brain down in order to be able to think calmly and logically. My anxiety and CPTSD can often get in the way of being able to process thoughts properly. My therapist and I first worked on the technique of being able to breathe first, which essentially slowed down my thoughts. I visualize my anxiety level as a meter and bring it down, down, down, until my breath is calm and I don’t feel like my heart is going to jump out of my chest. The very popular misconception of meditation is that you are trying to clear out your thoughts. What it truly is, is being able to accept the right here and now, exactly as it is in reality, without judgement, without over-analyzation. I use different mantras in order to “anchor” myself while meditating, depending on the situation. Most of the time it’s “I love and accept myself as I am” or “You are safe, nothing can harm you right now.” It helps me really focus on the moment and know that all those extraneous thoughts rolling around can suck it because they aren’t real. Once I am here… mindful… it’s easier to begin to accept that I really can’t control anything other than myself, but also that I have control over myself. How powerful is that?
I have control over myself.
What others choose to do or do not do has no direct correlation to me. Most importantly, how I act does have a direct correlation to what I believe. When I was drinking, I didn’t believe in much. I didn’t think I was worth love and respect. I didn’t think anything I ever did would be good enough. And I surely didn’t believe that I was complete just as I am now, flaws and all. My actions and outcomes based on my actions, proved these beliefs. Now I accept the mess and try and turn it into a message. I accept that I’ll never be perfect, but I’m totally flawsome. I accept that my weaknesses are just as important as my strengths. All this acceptance leads to true happiness and freedom. Because it’s truly a blessed feeling when I have complete and utter chaos or sadness surrounding me, but there is still calm and peace in my heart. That’s grace.
“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.” – Brennan Manning
Grace allows me to know that I am safe and held in the midst of terrible circumstances and there’s nothing I can do about it except accept myself as I am, love myself as I am, and extend my hand to others to show them love as well. Acceptance is an on-going process. I have the tools, but just as anything else, the more we practice at something, the better we get at it. Today, I can tell you that without meditation and therapy I would not be able to love and accept myself as I am. Because I love and accept myself, I make better choices today… healthy, nourishing choices. So truly acceptance is the door I walked through into the best part of my life, so far.
2. Higher Power, Church & Prayer
A wise person once said: “Faith is simple. Life is complicated.” For me, most of my life, this was completely opposite. Faith was hard, unimaginable and mostly non-existent in my life. But what I didn’t realize, until getting on my recovery path, was that my faith was always inside me. It was just hiding under the depression and anger and unproductive thoughts inside my head. Being a blamer, it was easier for me to say that all religion was awful because of my terrible experience with it. But there was always a spark inside that kept me somewhat connected to the spiritual part of me. For a long while I can say that I looked to nature as my higher power. Looking to the stars and the moon always gave me an introspective and peaceful feeling. Looking at the enormity of the universe often made me feel like my problems were too insignificant to be depressed about. At some point in my late 20’s I started re-believing in Santa Claus and unicorns.
Hear me out.
Santa brings out the best in people. I often lament that Christmastime is too short, and I wish we could live with those wondrous, warm and wholesome feelings all year round. I started telling people that I was Santa’s elf and tried to take those positive, fun feelings I felt and share them with everyone I met. It may sound silly, but it gives me such a good feeling to put smiles on people’s faces. Similar thing with unicorns. I believe I am a unicorn because being exactly who I am is magical and rare. Plus, I’ve heard from lots of people that now when they see a unicorn they think of me and smile! So I’m spreading love and joy without even knowing it! Ok, so where’s the correlation? I mean other than “God is love” and that’s the main reason behind all I do? At some point in my journey, I stopped fighting myself about my beliefs in a higher power. I told myself that if I can believe in Santa and unicorns, I can believe that there is something bigger than myself, looking out for my best interests and always on my side. It’s not just that I believe in God, it’s that I believe that God is in me or a part of me… in all of us. And guess what? Once I flipped that switch to just start believing, everything else started falling in line. Going to church is now something I look forward to and crave in my life, as opposed to something I committed to attending. It’s a part of my life that is truly necessary for my spiritual healing and growth. The church is my lighthouse in the storm of life. To loosely quote part of a sermon that truly touched me: “We need the hardships in life to give us the opportunity to continue to choose God. We have a Savior that understands our struggles.” So when I pray, it isn’t just a bunch of words recited over and over or a conglomerate of complaints. I pray to gain strength through Him. I pray because I know he understands. I pray because I know I am forgiven. I pray because I am grateful for it all… the lessons, the hardships, the choices, the magic of it all. Life may be complicated, but I know there is a reason for it all. Faith is simple. I chose to believe and I continue to choose it every day. My faith has become bigger than my fears and I am able to enjoy every facet of my complicated life.
Laura’s Top 2 Recovery Tools
My recovery encompasses recovery from substance use disorder (I was a hardcore binge drinker, but only once or twice a week—and while I don’t consider myself to be an alcoholic, I definitely have a history of disordered drinking) and mental illness (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, social anxiety, panic attacks).
That being said, it’s almost impossible to give you, dear reader, just two recovery tools—because I have such a wide variety of shapes and sizes in my toolbox to meet different needs. But I’ll do my best. After all, that’s all any of us can ask for—right?
This one is the biggest, most absolutely true measure of helping maintain my sobriety/recovery. I include everyone within this umbrella: my immediate and extended family, close IRL (in real life) friends, my online tribe of beautiful recovery souls (some of which I’ve been blessed with meeting IRL too!), my therapist, my CrossFit family, and people who come to me through finding my website, telling me I helped them or their family members. I’m a people person and a LOVE person so it makes sense that community helps build me up when I’m feeling low and take me higher when I’m already perched to soar (OMG—that sounds cheesy. Deal with it. Hah.)
Through my connections with others, I’m able to stay accountable. Both to those others, and to myself. That definitely keeps me on the right path.
2. Holistic Wellness
If you surveyed me a year ago, I probably would have said “fitness,” end of story. But the beauty of living in recovery is that we develop ourselves and grow. And now, I see wellness as a holistic approach. It’s so much more than just fitness. For me, CrossFit (and the community of folks I’ve met there—see above), wogging (walking/jogging—I’ve coined a new term, people!) outside to get fresh air in nature, and riding my bike sporadically are all ways I prefer to stay physically healthy. But I also like to feed my mind and soul with bikram yoga—that I just recently discovered and love love love, reading recovery memoirs, listening to mental health and addiction recovery podcasts, singing my heart out in karaoke/the shower/the car. I do the 80/20 rule with nutrition—I’m cooking more and more, thanks to Blue Apron, picking fresh produce from local farmers markets, and savoring my food. But I also love ice cream and pizza. And dark chocolate. So I find a balance. I make sure to take time for me and I’m learning, every day, to love myself more. Obviously, it’s a daily challenge because of moods, situations, etc. But by treating myself to what I deserve—through feeding and exercising my mind, body, and soul—I’m able to be a healthier person for myself, and for YOU.
Keep everything in front of you and take it day by day.
Don’t sweat about the future. Seriously.
Take every thought that comes into your mind about future problems or worries or whatever and just squash them now. Toss those little fuckers out! You don’t live in the future. You live in the present and if you take care of yourself and your business in the present the future falls into place.
Sounds scary right? I know it did to me but it works. If you address what is directly in front of you today you lay the footwork for the path to the future you want and deserve. You will be amazed how the world opens up and seems less daunting when you handle what is in front of you.
One of the biggest problems in accomplishing this tool is fear. Fear of the unknown. But you have to let go of that fear and trust yourself. You can handle today. It’s one on one and that’s the way we want it.
You can handle what is in front of you. Tackle everything that pops up in front of you like you’re the boss. The God damn boss. Because you are the boss. You control your life if you keep everything in front of you and take it day by day.
Seek out others in recovery.
They are the only ones that will truly understand what you are going through. I don’t care if it’s in the rooms of AA, NA, Smart, online, church, or wherever just find a community that is active in maintaining sobriety.
The best doctors and therapists that I have had have all been the ones that told me up front that they didn’t know what I was going through personally but could offer me insights and help that have helped others.
I know what you are thinking, “No one else has done the God awful things that I have done.”
Wrong. Old Joe Some sitting in the corner drinking his fifth cup of coffee did things ten times worse than you and he’s been sober for thirty years.
Go talk to him.
One of the biggest reliefs for me was finding out that I wasn’t some kind of alien and there are thousands of others that think and feel like me. And you know what they are fighting the same battle as me. They need your help as much as you need theirs because recovery is about accountability and being present.