Developing Coping Skills in Recovery
Regaining a social life and engaging in normal activities can be challenging in sobriety. “Regular” activities such as going out for dinner, going to a party, attending a concert, a wedding, dating and handling conflicts at work can feel like entirely new territory to us. We feel like we’ve forgotten how to live or that we may never feel as comfortable as everyone else appears to be. What many don’t tell newcomers in sobriety is that this is completely normal and takes some getting used to. Nobody in recovery is expected to suddenly become confident in all situations or be the life of every party, completely calm in their own sober skin. But with the right coping tools, participating in life’s big and small events becomes easier and we can finally let ourselves relax. Here are some tips that can help in these situations:
When you become nostalgic, stay present: Maybe you’ve been invited to join friends for a show at a venue where you remember going while using or drinking. The smallest things can conjure memories of the last time we were in certain situations – a song, a familiar face, an article of clothing. Remember to stay present so that you can create new memories—new memories that you get to remember because you lived it in a clear state of mind. Look around you: what are people doing at this exact moment? What song is playing right now? Who are you with? Use the present to take a snapshot of this moment and let this be your memory moving forward, letting go of how things were. If social anxiety is an issue you’re dealing with, bring some tools on the road like the Joyable app or the Mindfulness app.
When you feel left out, make a call: If you are in recovery, you know you don’t have to face anything by yourself. Step away from the group to give a sober friend a call. You may just want to ask them how they’re doing and get out of your head, or you can tell them how you’re feeling and feel comfort in talking to someone who relates and understands. You can also call your sponsor to check in and have a pep talk to give you the confidence you need for any given situation. Keep a few sober friends in your “favorites” list on your phone and most likely, you will have someone to touch base with. You may also want to make plans to attend a meeting after your social engagement. Take a look in your area to find one nearby at a time you can be there.
Coping with Triggers
When you feel triggered, play the tape through: Your brain may start to play selective fond memories of drinking and using in social situations, recalling how fun it used to be to get drunk or high with friends at a party. Addiction is a tricky disease that deceives us with a seductive playlist of imaginary scenarios—scenarios where we are normal and can enjoy getting drunk or high without serious consequences. Dwelling on this for too long can be counter-productive to recovery and may lead to glamorizing the old times. Think about what happens after the first drink. An alcoholic is unlikely to just have “a glass of wine with dinner.” It may start with a glass and the night ends in a blackout or several empty bottles at home. This is not meant to sound scary but is an important reminder that the reality of drinking or using is far different than the idea of it. With drugs and alcohol in the picture, our reality is painful and unlike the idealistic scenarios we’re only seeing parts of.
When you feel antsy, help out: Being of service is the ultimate way to give you something to do when you feel fidgety and it makes you feel good. If you’re at a BBQ or party, lend a hand to the people in the kitchen or help out with grilling. It will give you something to focus on and to take your mind off of your worries and is a great way to break the ice! You might have the opportunity to talk to new people you wouldn’t have spoken to otherwise.
When you feel heavy, lighten up: We need reminders not to take ourselves too seriously. Learning to laugh at ourselves is important and helps us enjoy more moments in life. If you are on a date that isn’t going well, try to see the light in a situation that might resemble a disaster scene in a romantic comedy. It is easy to experience every situation as a heavy, Oscar-worthy drama scene in our lives and to retreat into our heads. Step outside of the situation like a fly on the wall and see a situation for the hilarious time it really is. Remember that this is one experience out of many you’ve had, and many more to come. It may not be the road to your destiny and is more of a practice session. Try to access your inner child and allow yourself to be goofy. If you need some inspiration, check out the Happify app or meet up with friends who make you laugh. Force yourself to dance and sing or make a face at yourself in the mirror. You can always use a laugh.
When you’re worked up, let it out: A conflict at work or argument may leave you feeling irrational and trapped in angry emotions. There are a few things you can do to combat negativity before it becomes too toxic. Breathing techniques may seem silly when you’re worked up, but they work wonders. Try left nostril breathing, a method in Kundalini meditation, easy enough to do anywhere and gives a sense of calm. If you have room to stretch somewhere, a Pigeon Pose is a way to release emotions wound up from your hips, where your body stores plenty of pent up emotion. You can also do a quick three-minute meditation to center yourself and relieve anger.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.