Category Archives: Toolbox

Heath’s Eight Ideas to Get Through Early Recovery

Heath M., in recovery in Atlanta, posted this personal list of things he did to ease his way through early sobriety, on the LSR Email List (1998).

What helped me during initial sobriety:

1. Make sure you have a VCR and a blockbuster card, rent all the Godfathers, and that should keep you occupied for a while.

2. Buy a Nintendo or Playstation…interactive entertainment can be much more stimulating than watching TV….

3. Keep sober friends and invite them over, loneliness can sting…

4. Eat well and often…be good to yourself…if you have a craving for any sort of food, eat it and eat as much as you want…initially I had weird cravings, usually sugar related, so I ate tons of Ben and Jerry’s and kept lots of mini peanut butter cups around…

5. When you feel up to it…get physically active in one way or another…. I play ping-pong (hell, I obsess over it) and activities that can only be done (well) sober are great motivators…

6. Don’t over-extend yourself…I tried to pour myself into my research…I found complete exhaustion to be a trigger of sorts…. But initially, if you want to substitute workaholism for drugs or alcohol, go for it…just remember that balance is the key…

7. Volunteer your time…. I volunteered at the local humane society…nothing gave me more of a sense of purpose than that…it keeps you busy, introduces you to great people, boosts your self-esteem, and reminds you how fortunate you are…I’ve heard of others volunteering at old folks homes, children’s hospitals, AIDS hospices, etc.

8. Get a million hobbies…make sure you have alternatives to drinking and using….

These are only a few of the things I’ve found that help me…if everyone could submit one unique idea, we could have a cool keeper, and a helpful chapter in the next edition of SOS Sobriety

Four Tools That Help Me

By Mark C.

People.  I have found that if I am alone or with people who are still using then it’s usually just a matter of time before I start to find excuses to use. Being around people who are not using, and specifically people in recovery I find excuses not to use.

Establish Phone Buddies: Because it can be awkward to ask for help when I really need it I have found it useful to call one or two phone buddies on a regular basis (every day for me) just to say hi and check in.
When I really need them for support I have already established a relationship and it comes natural to mention any current dilemma and get the support I need. I can also be there to support them, which helps me feel useful.

Minimize Drama: Too much drama takes me out every time. For myself I find my personal drama has three etiologies:

1) I divert my attention from what is happening in my life.
2) I feed my narcissistic desire to be the center of attention.
3) I have poor decision making capabilities when it comes to how much I should become involved in other people’s drama.

The key for me is to find out where my drama is coming from and choose to address it in a healthier way.

Debriefing at the end of the day: I get together with a friend on the phone or in person and we talk about how our day went. I try to answer the following questions:
1) How did my feelings change throughout the day?
2) What I did for my sobriety?
3) In what ways did I jeopardize it?
4) What do I need to do tomorrow?
5) Tell something good about myself.
I usually feel better about how the day went when I do this.


Craig M.’s Monday Night Sobriety Tool Collection

I collected these twenty tested tips for staying sober at the Monday night Berkeley meeting this week:

1) Identify what physical needs alcohol met for your body. Alcohol is metabolized into water, an aldehyde, and sugar. Only sugar could satisfy a physical need/craving for your body. So maybe you could just eat sugary foods and eliminate the alcohol middleman. I personally found that a handful of ginger cookies did most of the things for me that vodka did, without as many bad side effects. It made quitting easier.
2) Keep busy. Sign up for a class, take on a big project at work, start a new hobby, build a boat in the basement. It helps a lot if your new activities keep you out of the house during any times of the day you used to regularly drink heavily.
3) Exercise. Walk or bike to work, or walk over lunch.
4) Always have safe beverages nearby. If you become hooked on diet Pepsi or Dr Pepper, you aren’t going to suffer nearly the same consequences as from being addicted to alcohol. The group split pretty much evenly on the issue of Non-Alcoholic Beer, some finding it valuable and safe while others view it as so dangerous that “drinking even one NA beer would be a relapse”. Know yourself and your limits.
5) Get alcoholic hepatitis or pancreatitis – there’s nothing like physical pain and the knowledge that you’ll die if you start drinking again to keep you sober during those challenging first months of sobriety (obviously I’m just kidding on this point, but finding out you are really seriously sick can be a strong motivator).
6) Stay away from parties for a while. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but make it easier for yourself at first. If you do go to parties, go with your family or stick close to home so you can easily leave if you get uncomfortable.
7) Be kind to yourself. Use “discomfort with alcohol” as an excuse to skip those boring family events you dread for completely unrelated reasons. Get a massage, sleep in on the weekend, treat yourself to something you want but wouldn’t normally get.
8) Think of sobriety as a possibly temporary thing during the first few months, when things are hard. This may sound dangerous, but it’s not that different than the “one day at a time” approach that some people use.
9) Remember your hangovers, dry heaves, arrests, and other negative consequences. Keep these memories fresh.
10) Do everything in tiny little steps. Don’t jump back to your “normal” patterns too quickly.
11) Examine your alcohol-substitute behaviors, to make sure they aren’t potentially a problem.
12) Remind yourself that you “aren’t going to be happy with just one drink, so why have it?” when the thought that “just one wouldn’t hurt” pops into your head.
13) No alcohol in the house. Absolutely. If guests bring it to a dinner or party, make them leave it in the car.
14) Remember that everyone is an individual, and what works for others might not work for you. There is no one true way.
15) Identify situations where you drank in the past, and try to see what it was about them that led you to drink to excess. If you have relapsed, examine everything about it to try to learn what the problem was. Ask others for their feedback, since you might be blind to something about yourself which is obvious to everyone else.
16) You don’t need alcohol to sleep. Alcohol CAUSES sleep pattern problems. It might be hard for a week or two, but after a while you will sleep better than ever before (my own decades-long insomnia has completely vanished). Remember, it may take six months to completely return to your normal sleep patterns, so be patient.
17) Watch out for danger times – be especially vigilant when you are angry, having a hard time being productive, etc.
18) Try meditation.
19) Immerse yourself in recovery – read a lot of books, go to tons of meetings. Take on a leadership role in your recovery meetings (that has the benefit of making it somewhat mandatory to go to the meetings).
20) Be open to introspection. The key to success is the ability to take an honest look at themselves. You have to change some pretty deeply ingrained patterns, and you can’t do it on autopilot.

Craig M., from the Lifering email list, 4/26/97

Dealing with Cravings and Feelings

Set Up the Projector

If I wondered why I didn’t drink yesterday, I’d never get this morning’s breakfast or probably lunch made. I have discovered that my superhuman, superheterodyne, Hoover Dam-powered intellect doesn’t do me much good when I have to fight off the desire for drink or cigarettes.

I use the part of the brain that tells me that I am not a drinker and not a smoker. When some part of the brain pops up and says: “Why not?” I ask it if it would like to see some old film clips of what happens when I drink. If it wants to see them, I set up the projector and play as much as any of us can take from my archives.

Then I go and make breakfast.


Make a Big Painting

I submit not a unique idea but one that helped me much: when the irrational idea of wanting a drink came powerfully at me, I would say yes to it in my head and then follow it through, watching the ensuing consequences. Buy a big bottle of wine, no two or three, since I didn’t want to get caught having to drive out for more. Feel much better half hour later. Feel a little dizzy an hour later and want to call a lot of people and tell them lots about myself these days. But also want to make a big painting that shows exactly how I feel about everything. Screaming at the world after three hours. Asleep on couch. Wake in morning with stomach pain and head made of burnt matches and dreadful curdled sense of self. I then figure that I really don’t want to go and buy a bottle of wine and don’t.


Sitting With My Feelings

The time of recovery began when I was willing to sit there and feel whatever pain my mind and body would create and still not take the drink. I got to the point of that “sitting with” when I couldn’t find anything else that worked … moderation, only one, every-other, day … support groups … and reading … .After the “sitting with” the support group, education, and involvement with other alcoholics was of great help. BUT, the “sitting with” was only one millimeter this side of a feeling of total destruction.

After the “sitting with” I could use daily schedules, commitments, self-examination into why alcohol worked so well for me in the beginning and the beginning of a lifelong study of being an alcoholic.

Seventeen years after the “sitting with” it still remains the most traumatic memory of my recovery. There is wisdom among those of us who practice recovery in the secular way…wisdom that needs to be shared with those who approach us and say help, I don’t know how to do this thing. With so many “Ways” and the great need for each individual to find their own way … the more we share the process, the more we offer suggestions, techniques, and philosophical rantings that have resulted in our individual sobriety, the more human beings will make it.

Being sober ain’t an easy thing. If it were we would all know how it is done. For me it began with “THE SITTING WITH.” I didn’t think I would survive, but life is now things I couldn’t even imagine back at that time. Life is worth stopping.

–Ron C,  4/19/97

The Acceptance Valve

Gary Emery uses the metaphor of an “acceptance valve,” the portal through which our experience flows. Free flowing experience = emotional and psychological equilibrium. A partially closed acceptance valve reduces the flow of experience causing something like emotional constipation. In other words, resistance to experience (expressed physically as tension and “bracing”) narrows the acceptance valve, creating “friction” and causing emotional pain, just as the wires in a toaster resist the flow of electricity causing heat.

The system is self-reinforcing. Resisting negative emotions/experiences magnifies them, making them more painful than they have to be. Resistance delays efficient processing of experience causing painful experiences to last longer. Chronically clogged acceptance valves can create a logjam of undigested, unprocessed, unresolved experiences which — consciously or unconsciously — persist over time, as they are regularly “replayed” like discordant notes on a piano when triggered by thoughts and external events. Acceptance valves that remain clogged over many years represent so-called “neurotic” personalities as well as other physical and mental health problems. I believe that this process has complicity in some addictions: an inability to efficiently process experience, thus the need to medicate ourselves.

This may sound vague and almost mystical; and it certainly fits in nicely with Martin’s discussion of “effortless” and the Tao. However, it is not nearly as intangible as it may sound. It is simply a choice (or lack of one) about how we react to the FACT of experience. We all have experiences; good, bad, neutral. We cannot prevent experience, nor should we try to. But we do have very considerable choice about how we think about and react to those experiences, and that makes all the difference.

This is NOT an exercise in surrender, pacifism, or masochism. It is healing, and is in fact empowering in a great number of ways.

I am becoming overlong, but it would be unfair to sign off here without at least offering a tidbit of a technique for practicing acceptance. I find that a secularized version of the “Serenity Prayer” can be helpful: Replace “Gawd, grant me….” with “I am developing the capacity (serenity)…”

Also, direct from Emery: When a painful experience happens, you say to yourself (as in an “I-thou dialog”) “I accept that I am really pissed off that the dog peed on the carpet again … and I am moving toward my vision of a clean house and well-behaved mutt.” It is important to note that the act of acceptance is toward (and of) your EXPERIENCE; it is not about the act of the dog or the damage to the carpet; because some behaviors and circumstances can of course be quite unacceptable and intolerable.

Try it with something that is bugging you, and see if it gets you through the experience more quickly and comfortably, and leaves you calmer, able to do more effective problem solving.

— Rex A, 8/98

Re-Engage the Senses

Here’s another toolbox item: I can be going along in sobriety just fine and then WHAM! a craving hits. My awareness and consciousness fly away and I forget to inhabit my body. The trick is to re-engage my five senses: squeeze my legs and arms, touch my face and hair, hop or skip, eat a breath mint, smell a flower, etc.

My most dangerous “war zone” is behind the wheel of a car. The car goes on automatic pilot within this little plastic tube (amazingly similar to the hamster habitat, but designed for alcoholics) to the nearest drugstore or supermarket where wine is sold. So at all times I carry my Sobriety Survival Kit. It contains, among other things, a jar of bubbles, a harmonica, a kaleidoscope, Tic Tacs, raisins, perfumed skin lotion, a feather duster, a foot roller/massager, castanets, a copy of “Keepers“, (a book of the best messages from the early days of this list), a journal and pen, a clown nose, a Koosh ball, and a pair of white gloves. If I have to go into the grocery store for regular shopping, I put on those gloves because it’s impossible to reach for the liquor shelf without noticing them as a reminder of my commitment to sobriety.

Of course, all of this is just stage props if I choose to override my intention. But it has saved my ass more than a time or two.

Kindly, Sally

“Daily Dos”

 Keeping the Sobriety Priority fresh in our minds is helped with daily reinforcement. The following are excerpts from email posts contributed to a “Daily Do” topic..

  • Laura L:  One thing that helped me a lot when I got sober was to actually write down how drinking made me feel, and all the guilt, shame etc., the behaviors I exhibited, etc. etc. Just having that small, folded piece of paper in my wallet helped a lot…  I rarely even looked at it, because I knew what was written there. This was just a little “daily do” that helped me.
  • Marianne: My contribution: take a multi-vitamin with minerals each day, washed down with various flavored waters, soft drinks new to the market since you gave them up for booze, or interesting juices and juice mixes.
  • Aram A.: “I give myself a short pep talk when I wake up every morning.”
  • Kerrie M.: “One thing that helps me stay sober is a saying I found at a 12-step store. It’s pasted on my bathroom mirror, so I see it every morning. The original got waterlogged, but it goes something like this, ‘I’d rather spend the rest of my life sober, believing I’m an alcoholic, than live it drunk or just a little bit drunk, trying to convince myself I’m not.'”
  • Rick G.: “Kerrie … I loved your ‘Daily Do.’ Reminds me of one I saw on a small desk top daily flip chart I once owned. Got it in a book store and I still see them around, if anyone likes the idea check out your local book store recovery section. I used to look forward to the morning ‘flip’ with my coffee…. What I’m calling a “daily flip chart” was actually a small cardboard triangular shaped item about 4″ by 3″ joined at the top by a wire binding. Each card had a delightful positive affirmation on it as a sort of ‘thought for the day.’ I had it for about the first year clean and sober until I got bored with it. Looking back now, I think it may have been written by an AAer because the messages were mostly simple ‘peace and serenity’ thoughts, but without anything specifically related to AA. I think it helped, a little bit anyway, level out the irrational b.s. going on in my head in the first few months clean and sober. I still see items like the one I described above, in my favorite book store.I remember in the first few months a sober employee who has been with me for many years, would come into my office, see me sitting there gritting my teeth and say ‘lighten up a bit Rick! Jeeeezzz! We liked you better drunk all the time.’ That helped level me out for a few days.” 
  • Mark P.: “I am a big fan of making one’s living space a constant reminder for sobriety. I have several ‘reminders’ posted about my apartment. In the kitchen I have a small ‘I will not be destroyed by my alcoholism,’ others posted about are ‘The Sobriety Priority,’ ‘I don’t drink no matter what.’ I leave some kind of recovery literature in view at all times.. I collect articles on recovery and there is usually one on the night stand. My bookshelf has many volumes on recovery which are visible. I have videos on recovery sitting by my VCR. It would be impossible to be in my house for more than 20 seconds without knowing that I am an alcoholic in recovery. That’s the way I want it. Whatever room I am in there is something to remind my brain (lizard and otherwise) that I am in recovery…. I also check this e-mail forum first thing every morning before I go to work. It is a nice way to start a sober day.”
  • Marty N: “I try to do something every day to remind myself that I am an alcoholic and cannot drink or use, no matter what. At first it was drinking decaf in the morning, instead of caf, that reminded me. Then I started taking B-complex vitamins to restore my depleted body chemistry, and swallowing those horse-sized pills every morning definitely jogged my brain. Moreover, the vitamins turned my urine neon-yellow, so that the reminder repeated itself throughout the day. Then I mentally associated tooth brushing with affirming my alcoholism, and that worked for a time. Lately I’ve been using my participation in this email list as my Daily Do.”
  • Larry D.: “Most AA slogans made me want to puke, more so the more often I heard them. But two were really useful to me:”The first was ‘Easy does it!’ I put a bumper sticker up high in the rear window of my jeep, the only time I was tempted to use my car as a temperance billboard, and I got some great reactions to it. I was surprised to learn how generic the slogan was; I got recognition from alcoholics, drug abusers, overeaters, gamblers, wife-abusers, and once from somebody in an organization for pedophiles in recovery. My sticker was transparent and faced outward, so when I looked in the rearview mirror the message read normally, left-to-right. Especially in my earliest days of sobriety (or was it because I was younger then?), I needed that message often, and I think the sticker helped me a lot. For sure, it saved me a few speeding tickets.”The other slogan is more germane to recent discussions: ‘There is no problem I’ve got that is so bad that taking a drink won’t make it worse.’ An elaboration on the theme of the slogan: ‘I don’t drink no matter what,’ it made me stop and think at a couple very critical times. I didn’t dust it off very often, but in a crisis situation, it was a lifesaver.”
  • Sherry F.: “My mantra borrowed from my stop-smoking days ‘Drinking (smoking) never makes anything better’ — the only response that seems to apply to most situations. Although the aforementioned is not a daily affirmation, it is an affirmation nonetheless, pulled out on an as needed basis.”
  • Dudley A: “I have no specific Daily Dos to remind me that drinking is not the best path for me. On the other hand, as I pack up my tennis gear for the trip to the courts every morning, I can’t help but be reminded that were I still drinking (and smoking), I wouldn’t be heading to the tennis courts at all. Not a bad trade-off, and my memory is such that I have no desire whatsoever to return to my less than blissful reality of yesteryear.”
  • Ben B.: “…I can offhand think of three things I do on a daily basis … that keep me sober: 1. I don’t drink. 2. I don’t drink. 3. Lastly, but certainly not least, I don’t drink. These have been the only three things that I have consistently done every day over the last eight years. Okay, so they are all one thing. I think you get the idea… I haven’t had an urge to drink in a while, so I really don’t feel the need to do any ritual around it.”