At the start of my recovery, years of people pleasing had dulled down who I really was. I developed an ability to respond to any situation in the way I thought I should rather than the way I actually felt. On top of that, years of drinking dulled the pain of living a life of lies. Frankly, I was a great big emotional wreck.
Why Do I Need a Recovery Tool Kit?
My fellows advised me to build up my recovery tool kit – that would help me get through the tough times. I never really understood what that meant. How could a set of tools help me, when all I had to do what stop drinking? In the early days that was true. All I did have to do was stop drinking. But later, it became about getting through life without ever considering a drink to cope.
Year one was my practical time, because I had to learn to recognize my triggers and cravings. I also had to manage the addiction. At the time this seemed so hard, but I had the support in place to tackle “demon alcohol.” For example, regular meetings, personal phone numbers of sober pals and distractions helped me get through each day.
I would wake in the morning and follow my routine.Boy, am I thankful for waking up without a hangover! I will read my recovery literature. And I will open my tool kit and have a plan for my day. If it gets to be too much and I feel the need for a drink, I will call someone, go to a meeting, or find a time-consuming distraction.
There were a lot of ways to overcome the cravings. I tried food, going for a walk with my dog Wallace, cleaning, or calling another person in recovery. I tried absolutely anything that stopped me from picking up that drink!
As long as I followed that simple routine, it kept me sober a day at a time.
One day led to two and on and on until I survived my first year. A whole year without alcohol felt like an incredible achievement! During the year I cried A LOT. I got angry. I was introspective. Some days I was totally pathetic and others euphoric, but none of that mattered. Because all I had to do was stay sober each day and I was a raving success.
I learned not to project…
In other words, presume to know how any given situation would make me feel. This was very different than planning. Planning is a date I put in my diary, projection is an assumption/extrapolation based on little or no knowledge of the outcome.
I learned it was okay to be me
As emotional as I was, I allowed myself those feelings I had suppressed for years. Alcohol helped me wear a mask of happiness. That is, until it became destructive, and I used it to hide behind. All of this quashed who I really was and stopped me from learning from my mistakes. In my drinking days I never worked out who was good or bad for me. This was because the pain (and sometimes joy) was too overwhelming. So, I would get drunk. If I was tired, I would get drunk. When I was sad, I would get drunk. And if I was uncomfortable or nervous, I would definitely get drunk.
By drinking over these feelings, I would push them to the bottom of my subconscious and forget that these were all normal responses to life. That I had a choice. I just didn’t allow myself the ability to make that choice. I was scared of the consequences, scared of getting things wrong so it was better to do nothing. Or so I thought.
Go forward to my rock bottom. My brain was full. It was like living with a giant bag of cotton wool in my head. My thoughts and all my emotional responses had nowhere to go until the final emotional explosion.
Fast forward to my 5th year of sobriety, and my sea is calming. The waves of emotion are settling, and I am starting to know who I am. At the start of my recovery journey, emotionally I was about 5 years old. Now I think I am an emotional 20. This is progress! And my recovery tool kit is well stocked.
Recovery Tool Kit Contents:
12-step meetings allow me to be honest, own my feelings and share them with my fellows. Why is this a vital tool? Because my fellows recognize my concerns. And they have been through similar experiences. Therefore, they accept who I am, and that my life experience is valid.
My friends are those people who know me and choose to be in my life. They are not drinking buddies or the super mums I thought I needed to befriend. I don’t base my friendships on looks or possessions. Friends accept me as I am and I accept them. My friendships are a “hula hoop” I keep around me. And when it slips a little, I bring it right back up around my waist where is should be.
My actions these days are slower, more thought out. Also, my choices are based on my gut sense of what I want. I feel my feelings and let them pass and flow through me. Sometimes that is deeply painful, because even joy can be painful. I have learned that sitting with my feelings for a period of time, and not blurting them out to anyone who is around, make me more balanced and healthier.
Words have power. And my words now are more considered and appropriate. If I am not sure of a response I will pause and say, ”I don’t know what to say. Can I please think about that?” I don’t need to just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind to fill a silence or offer an answer. I try to keep hurtful words inside, as they come out like poison and never help the situation. I allow others to voice their opinion and consider that it is just an opinion and not necessarily my truth.
Even the times when I feel like I want a drink are part of my tool kit…
I am a recovering alcoholic, after all. It is what I do with this thought or feeling that is key. More often than not, I will share a craving or trigger with a likeminded fellow. This normally takes the power out of it and the craving is gone. If not, I dig out my early recovery tools and get to a meeting, talk to a fellow, eat something, drink something (non-alcoholic of course), or carry out an action to take my mind away from that thought. Why do I need a recovery tool kit? Because before I had one, all my thoughts feelings and actions led me to alcohol. Now, with my handy toolbox, I am another day away from that last drink.
Nicola Lee had it all - a successful career, 2 children, marriage, car, house... She found herself at alcoholic rock bottom on the 5th December 2015. Nicola says, "After some time in sobriety, I decided to write down my journey through recovery and finding a way to live happily and sober. By writing my truth I hope to dispel some of the myths around what defines an alcoholic." Nicola Lee lives in Hampshire, England. She writes a blog at called 365 'Days a Year' and also writes for the Huffington Post UK.