Tools of Recovery

addiction recovery tools

What are the Tools of Recovery?

There is more to recovery than not using. If it were as simple as abstinence, there wouldn’t be treatment centers, support group meetings or any of the other tools recovering addicts and alcoholics use to maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes some semblance of happiness. The crucial difference between white-knuckling through that first year or gently transitioning can be as simple as using the suggestions, or tools, others have found helpful. Though some of these tools may sound simplistic or trite, their value has been proven over and over, as those with multiple years of sobriety can attest.

Should you or your loved one hit a tough emotional spot, try using some of these tips and tricks.

  • Support Group Meetings
  • Books and Literature
  • Spirituality and Acceptance
  • Making Connections and Networking
  • Exercise
  • Quiet Time and Meditation
  • Write it Down! Journaling
  • Affirmations
  • Using a Mentor
  • Living One Day at a Time
  • Volunteer Work (Service)
  • Making Connections and Networking
  • Practicing Gratitude
  • Slogans and Reminders
  • Conventions, Retreats, Sober Activities
  • Psychotherapy

Support Group Meetings

Many choose to find a support group to attend upon leaving treatment. This can offer additional support once the addict is out of the safe confines of the treatment center and returns to his normal environment, with all the temptations and stressors he left behind. Misery loves company, but how about healing? Engaging the friends one turned to while actively using is often counter-productive and sometimes can lead to relapse.

Seeing how others who have made their recovery journey before him, navigate the pitfalls and mood swings of early sobriety can be of great help. It is there he will hear personal accounts and solutions he may not have thought of. His mood may change by interacting with others. Perhaps something as simple as getting out of the home environment for an hour or two can make a big difference in perspective! These meetings can be found anywhere, and there are many to choose from. The oldest and most popular is Alcoholic’s Anonymous (plus Narcotics anonymous and other 12-step meetings), and the meetings have schedule booklets available at no cost.

There is usually a listing for A.A. in the phone book as well, if one is looking for a meeting without a schedule handy. Some meetings are for those in recovery only, while others (open meetings) may be attended by friends and family of the alcoholic.There are also other support groups, such as:

  • Women for Sobriety
  • Rational Recovery
  • SMART Recovery (Self Management and Recovery Training)
  • SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety)
  • and many more

Some offer face-to-face meetings while others are available online. Some churches and community groups may have their own programs. Treatment centers also may have a list of available options for those who choose not to attend 12-step meetings. One may choose according to preferences and schedule, but the importance of this tool should not be minimized.

Use A Mentor

An alcoholic’s mind can be a dangerous place to dwell alone, say some in recovery. A staple in 12-step programs and some of the other support groups, a mentor (or sponsor) can help guide newcomers in that crucial first year or more. Knowing what to expect, how to handle delicate situations, knowing when you’re heading for relapse are all important things the addict may not be able to determine for himself. Plus, keeping oneself honest and accountable is nearly impossible to do without help, and who can teach himself that which he doesn’t know? Having someone to call when the inevitable crisis hits – someone who has been there himself – can make all the difference. Choosing someone of the same sex (to avoid romantic complications) who seems to be emotionally healthy and has more sober time than the addict is the best course.

Books and Literature

Of course, this is an important resource for everyone – in recovery or not! Whether your support group has it’s own book (most do) or you find one for yourself, reading about what it is you’re dealing with can prepare the addict (or alcoholic) for what may lie ahead. Education about the disease process can create awareness of common pitfalls to avoid. Understanding the emotional and physiological aspects of addiction can do much to gauge responses to what life throws at you.

What are common issues early on? Which things improve? Which suggestions are crucial? Do others have similar issues? When does life even out? Does everyone have panic attacks at first? Answers to these questions and more can be found in books, pamphlets and online articles. An added bonus is that while reading, one can’t dwell on something stressful at the same time, so he may open the book in red-faced anxiety, but will probably close it feeling much more at ease.

Living One Day at a Time

All our lives we are taught to look ahead, take care of what we should, and try to avoid problems that may come later. That truly is sound advice; however, when addiction becomes the norm, an addict lives only in the now. In the immediacy of using or acquiring the substance of choice, cares about the future slip away. Everything happens “tomorrow.” Once in recovery, the opposite comes into play. Suddenly the addict sees everything.

Everything he did or didn’t do. Everything he needs to fix. Everything he wanted to do but couldn’t while under the influence. It can be intimidating and overwhelming. And the addict’s main coping method is no longer an option. How can he face the fact that he can never drink or use ever again? What about the holidays? What if the worst that could ever happen does? All those issues have undoubtedly sent some right back into their addiction. Rather than live with all that projected insecurity, many have found the value of breaking life into daily segments. Dwelling in the uncertainty of tomorrow can be quite stressful – especially in early sobriety.

Narrowing one’s focus to what lies within the existing day can do much to quell some of that anxiety. Keeping a list of the day’s agenda is usually enough to keep one busy. Breaking down the mountain of problems left in the wake of addiction into small, do-able parcels keeps one from becoming overwhelmed. Each day, setting goals toward the solution and tackling the problems one step at a time, keeps things moving and manageable. The idea of never drinking again may seem daunting or unachievable! Facing the prospect of abstaining only today, then making a new decision tomorrow may seem much more palatable. And future catastrophes? Most things we fear never happen anyway, so why buy trouble?

Turning it Over – Spirituality & Acceptance

As caption of your ship and master of your destiny, rough waters have proven challenging. Now, without your first mate (your substance) you may sometimes feel you’re driving blind. Storms swirl as they always will, but without navigation, how can you predict exactly where you’ll land? You can’t. Such has always been the nature of life, whether you accept it or not. No amount of self-will, planning, preparation, or hard work can remove the chance nature of life. When it all breaks loose, and the panic takes over, how do you cope? Or even when nothing has happened yet, but you’re in worry mode anyway, what do you do? You can’t even get a hold of your mentor or any of your friends…

Think back on when you were using and the cop car was behind you. “Please, don’t let him stop me, please, please, please…” you would mumble to yourself. You probably weren’t analyzing who you were “praying” to – it was just a knee-jerk response to the fear of what might happen. That’s the answer in it’s simplest form. Pray, or turn to whatever or whomever you believe in, when times get tough. It beats going it alone! Spirituality is different than organized religion.

Religion is about dogma and a certain set of beliefs to follow in regards to who God is and what he requires of us. If one follows the rules and lives life in a redeeming manner, religious beliefs promise eternal life as the reward. Spirituality, on the other hand, may be more personal and individualized and may encompass a wider range of concepts. Rather than hard and fast rules, spirituality is more about finding the good around oneself and in nature, and striving to contribute to the good of mankind as a whole.

Spirituality can co-exist with religion, but it is less about definition and more about intuition. Spirituality can be a cornerstone of your recovery program once you decide that you aren’t the center of the universe and you can’t control everything and everyone. If you think about it logically, there can be a sense of relief and freedom that comes from throwing in the control towel and allowing the belief that things will fall as they may and work out, whether you fix everything or not.

As a tool of recovery, your spirituality can pull you through some tough spots, but most notably, it is key to busting those patterns that keep one stuck and frustrated. People do what they will, and the idea that one can force another to do what’s right is a fallacy. Many forms of frustration can be avoided by trusting in the process of life and not rushing to make everything into the way you know it should be!

Truth is, everyone thinks their way is the best – so who’s really right? If one can reach a space of trusting that life’s situations will resolve themselves to a point acceptable – maybe even better – than what you planned can ease some of the pressure. If one’s viewpoint is too narrow, better resolutions may be overlooked or lost. Better to think in terms of open-mindedness rather than hanging with what you know out of fear. Instead of operating out of varied degrees of control, letting go of the reigns and accepting the results can lead to greater happiness in the long run.

When one truly has faith that he won’t perish or come to harm by the whims of chance, much of that fear of the unknown vanishes. That is the faith born out of spirituality. As a comforting type of assurance, many choose to pray or commune with the higher power they believe in, then leave the outcome to be as it will. Of course, each of us has to do what we can, on a physical level, to own and take care of our responsibilities. Once you have done what you can, try to let go of the situation and move on to something else. If more effort is needed, revisit the situation when it’s time.

There are, of course, times when things do not work out to your advantage, in spite of doing the right things. That fact of life is inevitable. Even if the worst thing does happen (around 90% of the time what we worry about never happens), it usually isn’t nearly as bad as we imagined. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or indulging in self-debasement, try processing by learning from the mistakes then moving on to the next right thing. Mistakes are a part of life so learning to accept yours is key to finding balance. Spiritual maintenance can be as simple as asking for guidance and being grateful for what you have. Keeping things simple and curtailing unreasonable expectations creates a new freedom as the reward.

Service Work

As many come limping into treatment without much self-esteem, there is a way to feel better without using anything! Who doesn’t feel better when helping someone else! Newcomers to recovery may find some solace in volunteering or helping someone in need as a way to offset all that feeling bad that came with sobering up and getting a good look at what life has come to. Doing something useful and of value to others is a great foil for that emptiness one sometimes feels while mourning the loss of his addictive substance. Plus it’s a great way to fill time once spent getting high! Check community resources to find where help is needed, or ask a mentor or friend.

Some support groups also have volunteer positions that may be available – making coffee, setting up, welcoming members and guests, cleaning up and becoming part of the business end of meetings or committees are all valid and needed endeavors. The complexity of the service is of less importance than finding something and getting started. The bonus is that service work is a great way to meet others and feel a “part of” whatever it is your involved with.


We’ve all been told it’s the healthy thing to do to keep our bodies sound and functioning well, but many don’t realize that there are emotional benefits as well. Since the endorphin system is involved when in active addiction, it takes time for those areas of our brains to begin to function somewhat normally. It’s been proven that exercise stimulates the production of Serotonin, one of those chemicals having to do with well being. If the weather is warm enough, simply walking is a great way to soak up sunshine (another Serotonin stimulator) while appreciating being awake and alive. If weight is an issue, losing the extra pounds is an added bonus. Helps fill some of those newly freed-up hours, too!

Make Connections – Networking and using the Phone

Some say that using the phone is one of the most important addiction recovery tools because it is in our interactions with others that we grow. Isolation is the by-product of addiction and in isolation one can delude themselves about how dysfunctional they have become. Getting phone numbers and calling others in recovery is the first step of that process. Usually that comes about with much prodding and prompting, as it often feels awkward to call someone you don’t know very well.

Once that first hurdle is behind it becomes easier to chat with others and in time, ask their opinion or help. And since humans are social creatures, interacting with others is crucial to well being. Addicted friends aren’t much help in foraging a new life, but others doing what you aspire to do are. Observing how others tackle life’s problems is as important as learning how to have a good time sober. If life becomes a series of chores with no fun involved, it is probably just a matter of time before one reaches for his former source of bliss – booze or drugs! Finding new playmates is right up there with finding a good mentor!

Learning how to do healthy relationships will be of great value in the long run, but it can’t be done in isolation. Forget hiding online or going to a support group where you enter and leave alone. Try to spend a little time socializing before and after your group meets. Chat on the phone. Initiate meeting for coffee or lunch. Ask someone to go to a movie. Learning how to initiate contact will keep loneliness at bay while helping you grow. Sober living is what you make it, so choose joyful living!

Practice Gratitude

Once one has pushed past the denial and decided to get help tackling his addiction, he most likely has a head filled with all his failures, disappointments, remorse and a host of other negative emotions. Some of that is, of course, about the damage done to ourselves and others, but some of it is due to those pesky brain chemicals again! If your substance of abuse was alcohol or opiates, those substances may have made you feel better at the time of ingestion (by squelching the craving), but they are depressants and the overall effect is one of depression.

If you used Methamphetamines or cocaine, you now have to deal with life without that rush of energy and you have to deal with the backlash of having your original energy feel depleted – depression again! Thankfully, that part of the recovery process is transient, but when it’s going on, the depressed part of the mood swings may feel all consuming. Brain chemicals generally normalize within that first year, but there is a remedy one can begin using right off the bat – practicing gratitude.

When one is depressed, all he may be able to see is how bad everything is. How overwhelming and impossible the road ahead seems. How dreary and listless he feels. He may have been raised in a family that only focused on the negative aspects of life, forgetting to even acknowledge the positives! Training one’s mind to look at what’s right in life is a learned skill that comes over time with a little effort. Some start the process by making a short list each day of what he has to be grateful for.

Some days that list may be mighty short, but acknowledging each day sober is a good way to start! How about having a roof over your head? Family who have reached out to you? Do you still have a job? Is there enough food to eat? How about friends – new or old? Maybe practicing recovery is keeping you out of jail. Maybe your health is improving. Maybe being grateful that you didn’t die while in the throes of your addiction should be acknowledged!

Acknowledging something in your mind and writing it down are two different things. Pen to paper (albeit brief) has the psychological benefit of imprinting the knowledge in your psyche. Just thinking about it isn’t the same. Over time, as the habit of imprinting what’s good in life becomes entrenched, you may find that on a bad day, or in a crisis of some sort, that you are able to conjure up some of the things on that daily list.


Maybe you’ve lost your job – but you haven’t lost your wife! Maybe the car coughed it’s last gasp – but your new job is close enough to walk and you can save money for the new one. Plus, you’re not drinking anymore, so you don’ t get fired after two months like before! You still have your family, and instead of criticizing and blaming you for everything, they now tell you they love you and are glad to have you back! In spite of yourself and your circumstances, you can train yourself to be happy. Practicing gratitude is an important part of that attitude shift. Your glass is no longer half empty and you are vibrantly alive! Where you come from has everything to do with how life and others respond to you.

Give it six weeks and see if you experience a change. There’s nothing to lose but the negativity! Note that depression that doesn’t lift after your brain begins to normalize may be clinical rather than situational. If that becomes the case, consult a psychologist or a physician for treatment.

Meditation and Quiet Time

It has been proven that meditation practiced on a regular basis can have a calming effect and lower ones’ blood pressure. Get started by quieting your space with soothing music or silence. Sit or lie comfortably and practice deep breathing. As you begin to relax, let thoughts flow through your mind without fixating on them. Some say tensing and relaxing the body’s muscles is a great way to start the process. Others suggest mentally taking yourself to a pleasant, soothing place is another way.

There are tapes, books and videos to guide you step-by-step if you have difficulty quieting yourself. People sometimes join groups to meditate, or take a yoga class if you can’t bring yourself to slow down. How you choose to add that quiet to your day is less important than just finding some way to do it. Benefits can be felt as soon as the first time you do it- even if it ‘s just 10 or 15 minutes! It is common for those in recovery to choose some sort of mediation book to read daily, usually on awakening, to plant something positive to start the day with. Some choose to retire at night with a positive message as well.

Some receive daily messages online. Again, how to do it is a personal choice. Just doing it sometime is what’s really important. The readings are typically short – perfect to go with morning coffee. This tool is particularly useful if you have a hard time relaxing or you harbor a lot of stress. Remind yourself that 10 minutes of quite time early on may prevent melt downs and harried worry later. It’s time well spent.


With all the new input and information one is given during the recovery process, it may be hard to remember what to do when. What was it Harry said he did when he was in traffic to ward off road rage? How did Jessica deal with her hysterical mother when her brother was in that car accident? How did Blake respond to that boss who always hovered over him, expecting the worst? Sadie repeats something to herself when her stress level starts rising – what was it again?

You may not be able to remember what all was said when you left treatment, and sometimes at support meetings they say these annoying little euphemisms and slogans. You’ve heard them over and over, and whether you find them trite or not, they start to stick in your head. That’s the point!

  • Let go and let God
  • Just for Today
  • You’re only as Sick as your Secrets
  • Easy does it!
  • HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired
  • KISS (keep it simple, sweetie)
  • It works if you work it!

It may not register that you were told at treatment about staying in today, but hearing “just for today” over and over will remind you! When you’ve been burning the candle at both ends and have forgotten to take it easy, someone may ask you about HALT, and where you are with it. Again, the slogan prompts you to see if you’ve taken care of yourself today or not. Complicating that toothpick? KISS it and remember to ease up a bit. The slogans may be silly, but quite effective. Can’t hurt to be open-minded.


You want to tell your mother-in-law off so bad you can taste it, but you don’t dare tell her how you feel at this point because she’s helped you a lot and your husband will get furious if you do. Besides, she is right about a few things – it ‘s just her delivery that stings. So whadda you do? You want to scream at your son because of the bad choices he’s making, but you know you have to leave him to make his own mistakes… You have had it with your boss’ bad behavior, but you don’t want to lose your job. Still, the smoke is coming out your ears from the heat of biting your tongue… Where do you take all this communication you can’t deliver appropriately? You’ve discussed it with your mentor or friends, but that’s not enough. You’re still burning up inside…

Just as reshaping your attitude by writing down what you’re grateful for works, writing down what you’re not-so-grateful for helps to get it off your chest and still some of that anger. You probably don’t want to deliver that venom-filled letter to anyone but the garbage man, but that’s okay; you’ve gotten it out of your consciousness and are now able to relax, let it go, and focus on something else. Amazing how that works, but works it does. Even if it’s not about venting anger, writing down your thoughts and aspirations helps you sort them out and prioritize. It may help you gauge where it is you’re going, and later, help you see where you have grown. Therapists suggest journaling for those very reasons. Next time you want to pull your hair out over something you can’t change, try writing instead. May keep you from exploding save you the cost of a wig!

Conventions, Conferences, Retreats and other Social Activities

Isolating is for addicts! Get involved or attend recovery activities enjoyed by other alcoholics and addicts. Getting out of your routine for a day or a weekend can do much to relax you and spark new enthusiasm for your recovery. You may be exposed to something you haven’t heard or seen. You may meet a group of people who become part of your journey. Much may be learned by others doing what you are also trying to do. These activities are a fun way to enhance your viewpoint and reinforce your resolve to lead a sober life. Gaining knowledge is always beneficial, but connecting with others is what will have the most impact and keep you growing. Check with members of your support group or online to find out what’s happening. Learning to socialize and have fun are as important as participating in support group meetings. Life without play can look pretty bleak – enjoy, yourself! If you can’t find an event, rally together other recovering friends and create your own. The longer one stays sober, the more he will find to do that doesn’t involve mood altering. Sober canoeing, anyone? Make it happen.


Some believe, some don’t. Throughout the growing process, our minds learn how life is by our experiences. If those experiences are full of negativity or abuse, what we internalize about ourselves and how life is are our “tapes” – our “archives” of how things work. If your tape is peppered with how unlovable or bad you are, it affects how you do life. Practicing gratitude is of great help in forming “new tapes” about how you view the world and it’s experiences. Affirmations are about writing new tapes in regards to how we perceive ourselves – like deprogramming. This is one of those things that sounds too simplistic to be of value, but experience has shown that one can internalize positive things about themselves by repeatedly affirming them.

Find a private place you will look at throughout the course of your day and write down some positives to counteract the negatives. Some examples include phrases such as “I am loving and loveable,” or “I am capable of doing all that I need to.” Have a mentor or friend help you identify your problematic self-talk and find affirmations to counteract that. After seeing the words of the new “tapes” daily over a period of time, you may find you’re internalizing those positive viewpoints. Again, if you’re skeptical, try it anyway. There is little effort involved and the payoff may prove worth it.


Even when one is doing all he can to pursue recovery and find happiness, it still seems to elude him. Significant time has passed and depression still clouds the days. Maybe it’s time to consult a professional. Some emotional issues are brought on by chemical imbalances he may have been born with. Maybe that’s part of why he used drugs to begin with. Or maybe there is unresolved trauma that only the bottle seemed to soothe, and now it clouds his judgment and slows his progress. Maybe it’s rage that can’t seem to be tamed that comes out of nowhere. A good therapist can help identify clinical depression (different than situational depression) or other mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, which may be common among those in recovery.

Once a diagnosis has been made by a psychologist or physician, medication may be prescribed, but psychotherapy may be needed. Sometimes it’s not the medication that makes the difference, it’s the therapy. Sometimes it’s both. For someone who has come out of, or survived a radically unhealthy situation, the concept of normalcy may be elusive. Children of alcoholics, for example, enter adult life with a distorted view of reality. That child, now adult, knows his home of origin wasn’t right, and then he learned that what he saw on TV wasn’t realistic either. And his neighbors, who seemed to have the perfect life on the outside, turned out to be quite different in the confines of their own home, so now he knows that what others project to the outside world may be far different than what they are really about. Who to trust?

What does healthy living look like, anyway? No one can answer those questions for you, but a good therapist is trained to help you explore your values, what you like about yourself and what you’d like to change. One might get an idea of which areas of his life are out of whack while being made aware of what his strong areas are. Therapists themselves go through a round a psychotherapy, so internal exploring is not just for crazies! The more one does to gain awareness of himself and how he operates in the world, the better adjusted he will be in his new sober life.Back to

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