Part of human life involves facing challenges and stressors, physical or emotional pain, conflict with others or without ourselves, and loss. Some people go through much more significant pain and setbacks than others – whether it be through childhood use or neglect, a near-death experience, single-trauma, violence or a loss of a child, marriage or close loved one. As we all go through obstacles of life, we learn various coping mechanisms to hide or deflect pain, or try to make ourselves feel better or “normal” again. Everyone has their own unique way of dealing with difficult times – whether it be cracking jokes to deflect emotional strain, eating comfort foods, spending money or hitting the gym. The majority of individuals that we work with at Vertava Health have found their coping mechanisms to deal with pain – past or present – in alcohol and/or drug use.
Coping With Drugs Or Alcohol
Using drugs or alcohol as a means to cope is one of the most common – but destructive – ways people handle stress or pain. The majority of people who become addicted to drugs or alcohol begin their usage not as an attempt to become addicted – but instead, as a means to:
- Calm down after a disagreement or conflict with a spouse, friend or family member
- Unwind after a stressful day
- Numb traumatic memories
- Feel “normal”
- Relieve tension
- Deal with rejection or loss
- Feel more confident in social situations
- Escape pressures of work, school, marriage, parenthood, etc.
- Reduce physical pain from an injury or illness
- Reward themselves
The thing about coping mechanisms is that once you try it and it works, you’re going to want to do it again the next time you feel that way. A few pills or drinks to feel more confident in a social setting can mean a few pills or drinks the next time you feel uncomfortable. After a while, drinking or using drugs can become a way to deal with a situation every time you feel stressed, uncomfortable or experience unwanted emotions. [middle-callout]
Other Unhealthy Coping Tools
In addition to using drugs or alcohol to deal with challenges and pain, many addicted people – and their family members – cope with the effects of addiction using other unhealthy mechanisms:
- Displaced Anger
- Minimizing or Downplaying
Building A Toolbox Of Coping Mechanisms
One of the most important things to know about recovery from addiction is that recovery is more than just stopping drug or alcohol use. Recovery is about getting to the underlying issues and building a balanced life that makes it easier to not use or drink. In order to find balance, you don’t need to change everything in your life but you do have to take the actions to succeed – and set yourself up for success. A recovery toolbox is a way to support you through your journey. The metaphorical box includes healthy coping strategies that can help get you through difficult times, triggers and emotions – or even just bring you back to a place of comfort and ease. For many people in early recovery, building a sobriety toolbox means reflecting back to things they once enjoyed before addiction came into play: Hobbies, passions, interests or talents. These coping methods can also include new interests or hobbies as you rediscover yourself. A recovery toolbox doesn’t just include fun things you like to do in your spare time, but also things that inspire you, comfort you, guide you, ground you, calm you or relieve cravings.
What’s In Your Recovery Toolbox?
Letting go of an addiction can actually bring up a huge void – especially for those who have been addicted for many years. After all, drugs or alcohol took up time, energy, money. Without the usual go-to, you’ll need to replace the substances and unhealthy coping strategies of addiction with something healthy. Saying ‘no’ to your addiction day in and day out means saying ‘yes’ to a world of other things, including new coping mechanisms and things you may have never imagined. As recovery is a new chapter in your life, it’s a great chance to open yourself up to new practices. The following are just a few ideas to get your recovery toolbox started:
To Inspire You:
- A piece of paper with your favorite quote or mantra; Daily affirmation or verse on your phone
- Words work. A reminder or affirmation doesn’t just halt destructive behaviors, it can raise your spirits, remind you of the truth and pull you up out of destructive thoughts or actions
- Attend a sober meeting or call a supportive friend
- Have a short list of people on hand or quick access to finding a local meeting. These are people who understand where you’re at, what you’re going through and can help lift you up and talk you down
- Allocate money previously used on your addiction for a weekend getaway or a special gift for yourself
- For some people, money can be a huge motivator. Have a pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing or a short-trip you’ve been wanting to take? Saving the money you once used on your unhealthy fix and working towards a goal can be extremely gratifying
To Comfort You:
- Breathing exercises
- While focusing solely on your the air going in and out of your lungs, long, deep breathing can bring a sense of calm. Using this tool can relieve anxiety and promote balance
- Essential oils
- Smells ring bells. Scent is one of the most powerful triggers for emotions and memories. A comforting scent such as lavender or eucalyptus can bring you back to a place of peace. Check out this list of 11 scents that can benefit your well-being
To Relieve Cravings:
- Exercise is one of the most useful healthy coping mechanisms. It doesn’t just improve your physical fitness and help your body recover from damage from drugs and alcohol, but it can also help you to sleep better, reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
To Ground You:
- Guided meditation or even just taking a few minutes to find a quiet place can have major physical and mental benefits including reduced stress, increased mindfulness and relaxation
- Writing down your thoughts or feelings – whether they be positive or negative – can be a release. Instead of bottling things up, you’ll be able to express yourself on paper and organize your thoughts and emotions
- Focus on the positive
- You may have heard the expression, “Stinkin’ thinkin’” – which refers to getting caught up in negative thoughts that can trigger drug or alcohol use or even relapse. Avoiding this spiral of negativity starts with shifting your thought pattern and looking for the positive things. This can go hand-in-hand with practicing gratitude
These are just a few examples of coping mechanisms that can help in your recovery from addiction. Each person will find different things that work for them in their own, unique path. What’s in your recovery toolbox?