What is a sobriety toolbox, and should you have one? Much like a household toolbox that you use to fix things around the house, a sobriety toolbox is a collections of items, mechanisms, or behaviors that you can turn to when you need help staying sober. Tools can be actual items that you can keep in a box or special bag, or they can be actions that you can take to calm you down, or lift you up.
When you drink alcohol or use drugs, it can become your go-to coping mechanism whenever you feel stressed, upset, anxious, or bored. It’s often the first, and most effective way for you to handle an uncomfortable situation, or celebrate a happy occasion. After awhile, you become so accustomed to using your drug of choice, that you never learn any other healthy ways to deal with life’s ups and downs.
When you stop drinking or using drugs, suddenly you lose the one coping mechanism that you’ve relied on in the past. Depending on how long you have been drinking and using, it may be the only way you know to deal with your emotions. Especially early in sobriety, many people find that all of the feelings that they have been numbing and escaping from come flooding back, and it can be overwhelming. It takes time to develop new ways to process these negative emotions. Having a back up plan when these feelings arise can be key to staying sober. This is where the toolbox comes in. You can use these tools to help you face problems that you used to solve with drugs or alcohol. The things in your toolbox will be different for everyone, and you will find out what works best for you with some trial and error.
Here are 10 things that are in my toolbox and how I use them;
- Essential oils/scented lotions – Smells can help change your mood, and they can be calming, or invigorating. Citrus and mint scents can uplift your mood and wake you up. Lavender, cedar, and earthy scents can ground you and calm you down. I keep a few with me to breathe in when I need it.
- Hot baths – There’s nothing like a hot bath or shower to relax and rejuvenate you. You can add Epsom salts or fragrances to your bath if you’d like.
- Meditation – A few minutes of meditation daily, or whenever you feel like it can make a huge difference. Find a quiet spot and close your eyes. Breathe slowly and deeply. Focusing on your breathing and repeating a word or mantra can stop your thoughts from racing. If you get distracted, bring your mind back to your breathing or mantra. This may take some practice at first, so don’t get discouraged and keep trying. There are also apps like Headspace or Calm if you want a guided meditation.
- Journaling or writing – Keeping a journal or writing down what you’re thinking can be very therapeutic and help you organize your thoughts and emotions. Keeping a list of reasons why you want to be sober, or why you quit can keep you on track when you feel tempted to drink or use. Carry a list with you to refer back to.
- Exercise – Exercise releases feel good endorphins and helps to combat depression. I always feel better after exercise. It gets the blood flowing, brightens your mood, and gives you energy. Even walking can make you feel better, especially when it’s outside, which brings us to the next one…
- Spending time outdoors in nature – Fresh air can do you a world of good. Hiking, walking, or even sitting outside will almost always make you feel better, and remind you of the beauty around you. Sunlight also gives you vitamin D, which is essential to your health and mood.
- A special object – This can be a crystal, piece of jewelry, keepsake, or anything that means something to you. I have some mala beads, and a jade heart that was my grandmothers that I carry around with me. Sometimes just looking at it can make you feel better or bring back good memories.
- Music – Having a song or special playlist handy to listen to when you’re feeling down helps a lot. Even a poem or lyrics to a song can be uplifting.
- Hot or cold drinks – Tea, coffee, or my favorite LaCroix sparkling water. I love sitting with a hot cup of coffee in the morning, or a tall cold LaCroix with a lime slice in the evening. It’s something to do while you relax and unwind for a few minutes, and it can take your mind off other things.
- Reading – A good book, memoir, or article on sobriety can be a great motivator, and remind you why you became sober. When I first quit drinking I read hours of literature. I browsed sobriety blogs, websites and facebook pages, and joined facebook groups for recovery and sobriety. Its a great way to learn tips on staying sober, and hearing other people’s stories makes you feel like you’re not alone. I started a facebook page called Climbing From The Wreckage where I post lots of content that I can look back on if I need to.
I hope that gave you some ideas of tools that you can keep on hand if you need them. Over time as I keep learning, my toolbox evolves with me. Some things I find I don’t need anymore, and I’m always trying new strategies. Let me know in the comments what you have in your sobriety toolbox, and how it works for you!