My Recovery Tools
Updated: Sep 15, 2019
What got and keeps me sober? I get asked this question a lot. Initially, it took me a second to recognize that I’ve put many tools, systems and routines in place that support my sobriety. Now that these tools are solidified in my life and habits, it’s hard to remember what life looked like before them. But in stepping back and reflecting, there are many tools that I intentionally and regularly utilize to support my recovery. Success leaves clues so my hope is that in sharing some of what’s worked for me, that you can find success with these tools in your recovery.
For the most part, I’ve always been an active person but it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how important regular movement is to my sobriety. It just feels so damn good to move my body in challenging ways, to find my physical limit, to push against my edges and to continue to expand my comfort zone AND to be fully present for the physical challenges and sensations that come along with vigorous exercise. Movement really encourages me to tune into my body and feel my strength, which is such a powerful experience and one that’s hard to do when you’re drunk or hungover.
We all know that moving our bodies releases endorphins (our natural, feel-good chemicals) which are also linked to alleviating #depression symptoms. Also - and this probably goes without saying - working out is SO much better when you aren’t hungover. Period. I love hard, intense workouts and am at the gym on the regs BUT that isn’t everyone’s jam. #Movement can take many forms and can be free and easy to do. This could include a brisk walk, playing with your kids, going for a run, jumping rope, swimming … the list goes on. Whatever keeps you moving is what you should stick with and try to make it fun!
You can’t do it alone. I know you’re independent (me too - I literally have the word ‘independence’ inked into my skin), that you think you can keep your #recovery to yourself (same, sister) and that you don’t need anyone else to make this work (ditto, my friend). I hate to be there bearer of bad news but you’re wrong. And that’s okay. Anyone who’s struggled to keep their #alcohol or substance use in check likely dwells under a dark cloak of shame most of the time and it’s the darkness of this shame that tries to convince you that you can - and have to - do this alone.
I’m not saying that you have to shout about your recovery and your struggles from the rooftops - although if that’s your jam, I salute you. But please don’t proceed under the assumption that secrecy is your friend and that sharing your journey is embarrassing. Reach out to someone you trust and feel safe with and let them know what you’re up to. Not everyone is worthy of your truth so choose wisely. Opening up and being #vulnerable with someone else is a gift and a meaningful opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
When I was starting to think about #sobriety, I knew of only one friend who was already sober. Most of my friends still drank and none of them really understood how problematic drinking had become in my life because, shame. So I turned to social media and started following women in the sober community who were recovering out loud, living their badass lives and generally being amazing. From here, I connected with a local chapter of a women’s recovery community and started to attend meetings in person.
Thank goodness for social media and the #connection is facilitates. I questioned my drinking and struggled silently for almost a year so trust me when I say I get where you’re coming from. And I hope you can also trust that this doesn’t have to be your journey, too. The support and the community is out there. You just have to ask.
I’ve always been an avid reader and with a background in academic research, books were naturally one of the first places I turned to when I began my recovery journey. It was so helpful to read stories of women that reflected my experiences. I was especially drawn to women’s stories because I believe they fundamentally differ in significant ways from men’s stories and experiences (drinking is a tool of the patriarchy and it’s used to control and dominant women’s intellect, capacity and power - more on that in another blog post).
Even in the stories that didn’t reflect my lived experiences, I found powerful, hopeful messages that inspired me to keep going and simultaneously made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my journey or my struggle. Not only did I read a lot of addiction and recovery books and blogs, I also read a lot of really powerful work by women who are in recovery themselves. As someone who doesn’t believe in coincidence, I can’t help but think that the transformative, incredible work being offered by these women wouldn’t have been possible if alcohol still played a role in their lives. Can you imagine Brené Brown drunk, talking about vulnerability? Me either. In fact, I think that might be my worst nightmare.
Strong AF Boundaries
I need to lay down some hard truths about #boundaries up front. First, they are ESSENTIAL in life, love, work, play, health, everything but they are EXTRA essential for those in recovery. What this means is if you aren’t already rock-solid at recognizing, voicing and holding your boundaries, you’ve got some work to do. Second, most people SUCK at boundaries. They don’t understand them, they don’t practice healthy boundaries in their own lives, when presented with boundaries, they often feel personally slighted and interpret your assertion as selfish or mean.
Boundary work is hard work but it’s also necessary and healthy work, too, especially for women. As girls and women, we’ve been insidiously taught and raised to be amiable and quiet, to “go with the flow” and not “rock the boat” but all of those euphemisms are simply code for wanting women to shut the fuck up and remain small.
In the name of transparency, thanks to a close, older friend I had when I was younger, I got a lot of first-hand experience living and practicing boundaries at a young(er) age so I may be slightly more seasoned that your average gal. But that doesn’t mean boundaries can’t be conquered now, by you. If you need some help getting started, just Google “Brené Brown boundaries” - this is a great starting point.
To break it down for you, boundaries are recognizing what’s okay for you and what’s not in all areas of your life. Boundaries work best when you tune into your intuition as it always guides you well.
Start small with your boundaries, getting in some practice with things like passing on a second helping of mashed potatoes at a family dinner. Your boundary is that you’re full and no longer want to eat but in previous experiences, you may have said yes to make the offerer happy. Or the next time you’re invited to a social event but you’re exhausted and would much rather stay in and get so much needed rest.
Even something simple as a “No, thanks. I’m full” to mashed potatoes or a “I’m exhausted so I’m going to have a chill night at home” to an invite out can feel overwhelming in the beginning, especially if you’re still fighting your people-pleasing tendencies but I’m happy to report it gets easier with practice. And in time, you’ll be a boundary-ninja, speaking from the heart and holding firm on what works for you and what simply does not.
Pro tip: as you become more clear on what the most important things in your life are, boundaries will also become easier and more necessary to practice. Once you know what you want and what you’re working toward, it’ll become easier to say no to things that don’t support your moving in that direction.
In addition to recovering from alcohol use disorder, I have also done the gruelling work of healing myself and my body from various disordered eating behaviours, specifically bulimia and anorexia. Getting to where I am now, which is loving my body, making choices that reflect that love, having a healthy relationship with food and ultimately, now understanding food as medicine that has the power to heal, took a loooooooong time and I’m so grateful to finally be here. Being at war with my body for years weighed heavily on me and consumed much of my mental and emotional capacity for a really long time.
So what does eating well mean and what does it have to do with recovery? Great questions! Eating well means something different to everyone you ask. For me, I’ve been experimenting and refining my eating habits for years now and for a variety of reasons. I have a few chronic health conditions that can be improved holistically through diet (and in this sense, diet simply means the kinds of food that one habitually eats, not diet in the sense of restriction and deprivation) and if I’m able to have a positive impact on my health conditions through what I eat, then I’m interested in that.
My version of eating well looks like a diet primarily comprised of whole foods (when it comes to produce, I buy organic based on the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15, Dirty Dozen list, which is updated annually), mostly vegan with a few exceptions, minimal refined sugar, lots and lots of fresh (ideally filtered) water, and next to no highly processed food.
Eating well for you may look very different. I found what works for me through a lot of trial and error and I would encourage you to do the same. Get curious about food and tune into your body and how various foods actually make you feel.
In case you missed it, alcohol is poison to the body. Literally. Drinking heavily or even regularly can really take a toll on your body including vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, a reduced ability to absorb nutrients caused by damage in your gut, a weakened immune system, poor sleep or sleep quality, and the list goes on. On top of that, your digestive organs take a bit of a beating, working overtime to successfully filter all that alcohol through your body.
It also goes without saying that when you’re drinking, you’re not always making the healthiest food choices for your body. Think back to the last time you were drinking heavily: what did you eat? I knew it - you made a salad. JK. Of course you didn’t. You probably opted to pick up fast food on the way home from the bar or scarf down a bag of chips before bed. And what about the last time you were hungover? Did you start your day with a balanced protein, fat and veggie smoothie? Or did you opt for a greasy spoon diner breakfast to “soak up” all the booze lingering in your system? Yep. Me too. When hungover and in doubt, always throw carbs at the problem.
At this point, I’m hoping that it’s clear that #alcohol itself and the intoxicated state we get ourselves to after a night of imbibing aren’t terribly supportive when it comes to eating well and making choices that support your healthiest self. Once you’ve stopped drinking (and this is especially true for your first year of sobriety), restoring your body to a state of health requires intentional eating, amongst other things like movement, sleep, drinking ample water, etc.
For me, getting my eating on track was pivotal for my recovery. Making healthy choices around food reinforced that feeling the best I possibly can as often as possible is a huge priority for me. And that I deserve to feel as good as possible as often as possible. I wholeheartedly believe that food is medicine and can be used to heal. Eating well feels like self-respect, self-love and self-care, which feels pretty damn good.
These are a handful of #wellness tools that have served me well in my recovery and have, over time, become foundational habits in my life that I don’t even need to think about anymore. I hope you found value in what I’ve shared. Please feel free to share some of the wellness recovery tools that have worked in your life. We all can learn from each other.