Staying sober with your recovery toolbox
Updated: Apr 5
Alcohol can be a tool for dealing with difficult emotions, people, places and things. It’s really effective at blocking out pain and creating a sense of happiness … for a short time, that is.
The trouble is, alcohol doesn’t work for long and often, it stops working entirely. That’s not to mention the cost that you have to pay the next day. Being a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can really do a number on your mood, energy and health.
In sobriety, we recognise that alcohol once played a role in our life to create or block a feeling but most people in early recovery find they don’t have new tools to replace their old friend (or now enemy), alcohol.
Here are some of the tools we teach in our evidence-based therapy programme at Ocean Hills:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
The relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviour is the crux of the talking therapy, CBT. It can be used for relieving symptoms of everything from substance use disorders to depression and anxiety.
Learning this skill helps to create coping strategies to help with emotional regulation. Put simply, CBT helps you to change your thinking so you can change your behaviour.
Using the part of our brain that is creative can help us process difficult emotions and calm down. Once you are ‘in the zone’ and your logical mind has stopped chattering, you can release your feelings - good, bad or in between - in a healthy, productive and deeply satisfying way.
But don’t worry, being creative doesn't necessarily mean having to become a musician or artist. Creativity can look like many things for different people. While some of us like to pick up a paint brush, guitar or get behind a potter’s wheel, others might find that gardening, colouring in or singing does it for them.
And if you’re really not into creating, you can always enjoy other people’s art - you can process feelings through listening to music, appreciating art or whatever else fills you with awe.
Mindfulness means being aware of each moment. Although it may seem simple, for people who have struggled with addiction, mindfulness is the opposite of what they’ve always done. Instead of taking a drink to block out a feeling, mindfulness asks us to really be present enough to notice it, acknowledge it without judgement and then move on.
However, mindfulness is not just about being aware of the difficult stuff - it means appreciating the good moments in life with a mindset that honours even the mundane. If you are practicing mindfulness, even the most tedious tasks can become enjoyable and relaxing.
Mindfulness is often used with meditation and breathing techniques, all of which are proven to make you happier and healthier and far more able to cope with stress, including drinking triggers.
Something magical happens with the act of putting pen to paper. Feelings that are hidden or busting to be heard are able to land on the page. When that happens, you can’t help but listen to what is going on inside of you.
At Ocean Hills, we encourage regular journaling to help process difficult thoughts and emotions.
If you're not comfortable with writing or feel you’re no good at it, remember you don’t have to be Shakespeare, and no one’s going to read what you’ve written, except you. You can even write in bullet points if you find that easier.
Regular exercise is important for physical health, there’s no doubt about it. For mental and emotional health its benefits continue, with studies showing exercise is as effective or even more effective as some prescription medications that are used to treat mental distress.
To add to that, people with addiction can use exercise to distract themselves from cravings and triggers, shift a bad mood and build resilience. It’s also a great habit to replace negative activities, like drinking alcohol.
As mentioned, exercise is a great distraction from triggers and cravings but there are many other things you can do as well. Physically removing yourself from the trigger, if there is one, is a good place to start. Having a shower provides a sensory distraction from a craving, as does swimming or using a sauna. You might find cleaning, gardening or doing some work can also help.
Sharing with others
Sometimes the best form of distraction is sharing your thoughts and feelings with others. This doesn’t have to be done in a formal therapeutic setting either – you can pick up the phone to a trusted friend or attend a peer support group in person or online.
The old adage that a problem shared is a problem halved is true. We also know that helping others who might be going through the same difficulties as yourself can be really useful and healing.
If you're worried about your drinking or that of someone you love, call Elaine on 027 573 7744 for a confidential and compassionate chat. You're never alone.