Recovery can be a challenging journey—and that’s exactly what makes it so rewarding. Luckily, there are many people who have walked the road ahead, and those kind souls offer their experience and support to those of us who are following behind. Those who have been in longtime recovery know that it always helps to have certain tools close at hand for when things get sticky—coping skills to use instead of using drugs.
As you learn to live your life in recovery, you’ll learn to reach for these much healthier methods of coping with life’s struggles. You’ve likely been told to be careful around the people, places, and things that have triggered you in the past—and that is definitely important.
But you then might ask, What next? How does one go about building a new life in recovery? Many of us want to construct this new life quickly, as quickly as possible—we wouldn’t be addicts if we didn’t seek a quick fix.
This is the time to slow down and remember that no sound structure is built in a day, but rather brick by brick—and it’s best completed using the proper tools in the proper way.
You won’t need to search very far to access these tools—they’re in your toolbox right now. You just need to keep them closer at hand. Here are some skills to cultivate to make sure your new life in recovery is solid and safe.
Your Attention: Meditation & Mindfulness to Cope with Cravings & Other Difficulties in Recovery
Many of your fellows will cite meditation and mindfulness as cornerstones of their recovery. It makes sense. In your addiction, even when it had nothing to do with your drug of choice, how often did you find yourself swept into bad decisions without realizing it? Even now, do you find yourself reacting drastically to difficult emotions, whether it’s fear, anger, sadness?
Separating our emotions (fear, anger, etc.) from what we do in response to them (eg, scream, cry, throw things) can be difficult. It can almost feel like we can’t help but to react the way we do when our emotions are so overwhelming. But that’s what gets us into trouble, isn’t it? What if I told you that we can help how we react to emotions? Yes, even blinding rage. Even debilitating fear.
How to Use It
A simple practice is to pay attention to your breathing. How is it affected by the emotions you are feeling right now? Where else do you feel that in your body? Can you recognize the body’s reaction to the emotion and just be curious about that? How does slowing down your breathing help? What thoughts are going through your mind?
How It Helps
A meditation and mindfulness practice can help to slow down your reactions and create space between what caused the emotion, the emotion itself, and the reaction to it. By paying attention to our bodies and our thoughts and feelings when we are calm, it strengthens our ability to do so when we are agitated. This helps us learn to choose a different reaction when we’re upset. We learn to recognize the cues that we might be heading down the path of wrongful thinking.
Your Community: Find New Friends in Recovery Meetings & Support Groups
Many new to recovery are recommended to do a 90 in 90—meaning to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. This isn’t just a regimen to instill discipline, although many new to recovery can definitely benefit from that. What it also does is push the newcomer out of isolation—which often breeds addiction—and urge them to connect with others.
How to Use It
When you go to a meeting, listen carefully. See whose stories you can relate to, and at the break, share with them how their story affected yours. Be open about sharing your experiences—anyone in those rooms will tell you they’ve heard it all.
How It Helps
Often addicts tell their stories to others and the reaction is at best shock—at worst it’s disgust or dismay. So the soothing and validating effects of telling your story around people who will instead nod in understanding cannot be understated. The camaraderie that is formed when you hear others’ stories that sound so similar to your own is truly unmatched.
You are not alone. Your tribe is out there, and they are waiting to welcome you with open arms.
Your Own Body: Getting Healthy in Recovery
How much did boredom fuel your addiction? It’s human nature to want to challenge ourselves, to learn something new, to feel a rush from time to time. We can do that by challenging our bodies to get stronger and healthier.
How to Use It
You use it by using it! Just get moving. Start with taking a walk every day, even if it’s down the street and back. Anytime you feel like you’re getting in your own head, get out of the house and walk.
Yoga is a good way to incorporate mindfulness with physical activity. It also increases balance and strength as well as flexibility. Find a class, and you’ll also open yourself up to a new community. If there isn’t a class nearby, you can find videos online or an app to guide you through a yoga session.
You can also improve cardiovascular health by doing exercise that increases your heart rate: jogging, jumping rope, even Zumba!
How It Helps
Any increase in physical activity is linked to an improved sense of well being (otherwise known as serenity) as well as improved health. It helps your body produce endorphins—which many attribute to a healthier and natural “high.” Don’t be surprised if exercise becomes your newest obsession.
Your Phone: A Recovery Connection Tool
There’s a lot of hubbub about how all these apps on our phones serve to isolate us. But when we’re mindful about using them, they can also connect us.
How to use it
A few apps help track your recovery—down to the hours you have under your belt. And if you’re ready to get on to social media, many people have found community in recovery support groups, enabling them to find friends both local and far-flung to help them stay on a healthy path. You can also find access to recovery-based hotlines, books, and online meetings.
How it helps
Especially for people who live in remote areas or can’t get to meetings, being able to connect virtually has been so valuable. Some people who are at first timid about going to in-person meetings find they’ve been able to get their feet wet by seeking out connection online. Many people in recovery have found the support they needed—whether it was in their active addiction or to help continue recovery—through connections they’ve made first online, then later connecting in the real world.