Building A Recovery Toolkit (Part I)

When we first get into the rooms of recovery we hear lots of suggestions. Some of us take them seriously. Others see them as simplistic, and not applicable to people with experience/education/intelligence like ours. I plead guilty to a prolonged membership in that category; it didn’t help my recovery at all. I discovered, after paying a high price, that those suggestions definitely apply to me, and I’m still taking them.

It seems to me that people “in recovery” can be divided into two classes: recovering and getting by. I avoid “drunk”, “relapsed”, “dry drunk” and similar put-downs. While they’re useful in their way, they’re weighed down with derision and emotion. What I’m referring to here is folks who may be abstinent, but who aren’t getting all they could out of recovery.

Sobriety begins with abstinence, but doesn’t end there. I don’t know where it ends — or if if ends — because I believe that sobriety is a constant journey toward becoming a better human being. Recovery builds on the characteristics of the human spirit such as Patience, Understanding, Tolerance, Compassion, Forgiveness, and their results: Connection with others, Harmony, Love, and occasional Joy.

The Twelve Steps provide us a framework, but in a way, our program is composed of two parallel and equally important paths: the one that we are walking when “working” our program, and the one we walk when living the other parts of our lives. We can’t spend all our time at meetings, or with our sponsors. So what do we do to improve ourselves at other times, especially if we are relatively early in recovery?

We use the tools from our recovery toolkit.

If we were going on a wilderness trek, a hike through pathless forest, plains, desert or what have you, we’d definitely carry certain tools. We’d have our GPS, and unless we’re pretty naïve we’d have, as backups, a compass and a good map, as well as other useful things like a flashlight, first-aid kit, knife and a couple of dozen other things that you can’t whittle out of a stick when needed. We’d want good shoes, sensible clothing, reasonably good health, and most likely a companion or companions for company and support if we need it.

No one with good sense would embark on a wilderness hike without the basic necessities, and hopefully some of the optional stuff. Does it make sense, then, for those of us who ran with the wolves before joining the recovery community, to head back into the wilderness unprotected, now that we’re no longer members of the pack?

So what do we carry with us from the rooms and treatment facilities back into the “real world?” In my opinion, the two most important things are a list of meetings in the area where we’re headed and as many phone numbers of recovering people as we can collect (and we keep collecting them). We need the basic text of our particular program, along any pamphlets or other publications that we’re able to pick up.

There are also a couple of other books that I recommend for daily reading: Living Sober, an AA publication, and Beyond Belief (especially helpful for folks who are having trouble with the “God Thing”, but also the best general book of daily readings that I’ve seen in 28 years, believer or not. If we have Daily Reflections or any other collection of spiritual readings, they’re fine too, but I think the first two are essential, regardless of fellowship, spiritual path, religious belief, or lack thereof.

Last (but so not least), is a journal. Spring for a decent one; good hard-bound journal books are available for less than $10.00, and they’re practically indestructible. If we can afford one with good acid-free paper, so much the better. Good paper makes a huge difference in writing comfort. The reasons that I recommend something other than a spiral bound or similar notebook are simply that (a.) we’ll have it for a long time, and (b.) we’re likely to take it more seriously. That said, any journal is better than none.

Next time I’ll discuss daily practices for sobriety (what I tell the folks I sponsor).

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