Consider Adding These Tools to Your Approach
Image by Nico H. from Pixabay
To conquer addiction, it is imperative to incorporate multiple methods. You can bring a knife to a gunfight, but only if you’re a skilled ninja. Ideally, we need an array of tools in our arsenal if we have any hope of winning our own personal wars. The methods you use are a very individualized choice and all of the below may not speak to you. Nevertheless, here are the tools I reach for in my holistic approach to recovery.
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” — Abraham Maslow
Choose an Overall Recovery Approach
First and foremost, it is vital to choose a path for your recovery that makes you feel empowered. Pick a main course of action and commit to it. Then, supplement your recovery efforts by choosing from the buffet of recovery approaches including self-help or spiritual approaches that speak to you.
When I first tried to quit drinking, five years ago, I attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It did not appeal to me at all. I am not going into the reasons why because there is enough AA bashing out there and I know that the approach has helped many people.
Unfortunately, back in 2014, AA was still very mainstream and the major sobriety influencers that we see now all over the Internet were just getting started. My mind began to open up as alternative methodologies appeared and I found encouraging tactics that work for me.
My overall tactic to remain sober incorporates the following practices and mindsets. Your approach might include other tools as well, such as a support group like AA (just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t) or SMART Recovery, individual therapy, following or writing a blog, participating in an online chat room, utilizing a sobriety app, etc.
It has been said that there is no one size fits all approach to addiction and we must take our recovery in our own hands, as with any other approach to our health.
“Never say never” is the phrase that comes to mind when I think about long-term goals. If you tell yourself over and over again “I am quitting drinking forever,” this can feel so punitive that it is contradictory and harmful to your recovery. Instead of a dignified choice, your abstinence becomes a retaliatory consequence and you begin to judge it.
This is where I pull from the “AA buffet” and embrace the one day at a time philosophy. Embracing the mantra, “Not forever, just not right now,” makes the future a lot less frightening. This is a practice of self-compassion (discussed below). I am kind to myself by not inciting fear every time I think about my recovery. As they say, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
I am very fortunate to have found a Psychologist who I refer to as THE WORLD’S BEST THERAPIST. I have been in therapy for a few years with her now. I don’t know that I would have quit drinking if I hadn’t started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is the practice of re-framing your thoughts and beliefs to serve you better. It is an extremely effective treatment for an overactive “fight or flight response.”
Throughout my life, I have experienced periods of trauma. Because my main coping skill was drinking, my stress response was overactive and my brain constantly on high alert.
Think of it like this popular analogy: You are out hiking and you see a snake right in front of you on the trail. You are suddenly caught in a moment of fear. Your heart rate and respiration quicken, blood rushes from your midsection to your limbs, you feel fluttering in your stomach and your upper back and shoulders tighten up as you prepare for fight or flight.
Now imagine that the “snake” actually turns out to be a tree root coming out of the ground in the middle of the trail. At first glance, your brain stem doesn’t know the difference. Now imagine every little problem in your life becoming a snake from which you can never escape.
THE WORLD’S BEST THERAPIST taught me first and foremost that there was nothing wrong with me. My fight or flight response was basically misfiring. She spent hours coaching me to re-frame my thoughts so every little problem I encountered in life did not seem insurmountable. (Like sobriety for one). Quitting drinking at one time seemed like an impossible undertaking, fraught with fear. Now that I have the right tools to use, tacking sobriety is not nearly as daunting.
Education and “Bibliotherapy”
David D. Burns, author of “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” states “Self-help seems to be a key to recovery, whether or not you receive treatment.” He suggests an important part of self-help is “bibliotherapy,” (or reading).
To this end, in order to identify nuggets of wisdom which speak to me, I spend a fair amount of time reading about various addiction and recovery theories and complimentary self-help tactics. I feel it is necessary for me to have information that enables me to make an informed decision on my chosen path for recovery. I have referred to a few of those books within this article and you can see an additional list here.
The key to success on any path of recovery and the self-discovery it involves is self-compassion. My favorite book on this topic is Dr. Kristin Neff’s, “Self-Compassion.” It is an easy straightforward explanation of the power of being kind to yourself. The key to mastering this concept though, like any other, is practice. If you can make practicing kindness with yourself a regular part of your daily life, the results you will see are truly amazing.
THE WORLD’S BEST THERAPIST helped me see the importance of incorporating this practice into my life consistently. I had to be reminded over and over again. As a species, our brain is wired with what is called a “negativity bias.” This fact and all of my other issues combined created a habit of constantly beating up on myself. It took me a lot of practice to start treating myself with the kindness and empathy that I would show a friend. By showing myself loving-kindness and compassion life is easier and I am happier.
As I am engaging in my sobriety journey, I experience periods of self-doubt. It was fairly recently that I found myself in one of these moments. I was doubting my ability to stay the course and remain sober.
There wasn’t any particular reason or event behind the doubt but it placed me into emotional turmoil. However, while on a run, I had an epiphany and realized that as if self-doubt wasn’t enough, I was also judging myself for having the feeling and beating up on myself. When this hit me, I immediately showed myself compassion and assured myself that self-doubt is normal and that it didn’t equate to failure.
It was truly exciting to be able to do this for myself. My emotional state improved. I felt empowerment and the joy of self-discovery and self-trust.
Self-compassion and mindfulness go hand in hand. We can use mindfulness to uncover what is driving sensations such as anxiety and bring awareness to our thoughts and feelings without judging them, treating ourselves with the care and kindness that we so desperately need and deserve.
One of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness is through practicing meditation. If you just read that and cringed, a great book that might provide a new perspective is “10% Happier,” by Dan Harris.
Mindfulness has helped me tremendously when it comes to working through cravings and triggers. Through watching my thoughts, feelings and other circumstances without judgment or attachment, I can bring to consciousness what is underlying my desire to drink.
I then use my self-compassion and CBT tools to show myself kindness and re-frame those thoughts. It is not the cravings themselves that necessarily lead a person back to the booze but the self-judgment and shame that accompany them.
Our brain chemistry also plays a big part in cravings and triggers, something that can’t be necessarily controlled but we can work on rewiring. The rewiring of our brain will only take place if we work on strengthening it through practice.
Exercise and Eat Right
There are numerous articles touting exercise as the “magic pill” for depression. It is also the magic pill for nearly everything else. Your body needs to move. Your blood needs to flow, your heart and lungs need to work and your cells need the oxygenation. Just move. Do what you like. I choose mostly running, with a little strength training and yoga.
You don’t have to join a gym or even spend much money to get started exercising. For example, if you choose yoga, there are numerous YouTube videos. Running merely requires running shoes and exercise clothes. You choose what works for you. Even brisk walking provides health benefits.
Eat right. On my gosh what does this even mean anymore? Don’t worry, I won’t tell you it means vegan or paleo or low-fat or low-carb or vegetarian or Mediterranean. What I will say is that you are in recovery and your body needs you to care for it and give it proper nourishment. A holistic approach includes your body, not just your mind.
Sure, eat a cookie here and there or a piece of chocolate cake because you may deserve a treat now and then but make the basis of your diet nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
I eat a mostly vegan diet but sometimes I consume cheese or a small amount of fish or meat if I feel my body needs it or I simply want it. Do what works for you, just make sure you get the nutrients.
Cultivate Patience and Grit
Recovery takes hard work and there are times all of the above tools aren’t enough. We may have a bad day or a time period filled with the discomfort that doesn’t seem to end. This is when it is time to power through and remind ourselves that change is constant and the state of discomfort will pass over time.
However, when you feel low-grade sadness or other distress and it is not subsiding, it is time to use patience and grit. Perseverance and determination make up grit and these qualities are handy to have when facing something as difficult as recovery.
I work on developing both patience and grit by using running as my development tool. Running teaches me to welcome discomfort for periods of time in order to improve my speed and endurance. This translates directly to life in general, as we need to be patient during periods of discomfort in order to grow.
Oftentimes after enduring a period of discomfort, we not only come out stronger in the end but we also emerge with an increase in self-worth and improved resilience. We know that we can depend on ourselves to do what is necessary.
I hope that somewhere in this list you found an idea that sparked your interest and you add that tool to your recovery arsenal. Whichever path you choose and tools you incorporate, stay the course. I assure you; sobriety only gets better.