Recovery Tools

Aspects of Treatment: Prioritizing


Putting Yourself First

One of the hardest aspects in a recovering life is practicing self care and putting yourself first.  For many of us, we have tremendous guilt for our use and past behaviors; we have been told, and often feel, how selfish we became in our active addiction.  

We compound that guilt when we enter into recovery, especially if we have entered into a costly and time consuming detox and treatment program.  For many of us, there was no alternative other than detox and treatment; for many of us, that option was not available and we did this on our own, but regardless of the doorway we entered from and the hallways we traversed to where we are now, we are here, now, in recovery.

Often, family, children and loved ones who have not travelled our path expect everything to go back to a normal, or a ‘before the addiction’- but this isn’t possible because we really are a changed person now.  Before the addiction, we were cucumbers.  Now we are pickles, and can never go back to being a cucumber.  We have life experiences, knowledge and more than a few emotional and physical scars that we never had before.  We are (hopefully) wiser, stronger, yet pretty raw from the journey.  We won’t make the same choices we did in the past.  

Our daily routines of waking, cooking, chores, jobs and school are all now viewed through a different perspective- a new lens.  We have made changes already-who we hang out with, who we talk to, where we go.  The life we had still needs us-but this new you may not have all of the tools to function in both worlds:  our recovery world and our daily living world.  We have damages to face, the consequences of our using, in addition to the rebuilding of trusts.  

It can feel, and often is, overwhelming, and in the chaos of the reconstruction, the first casualty is usually ourselves.   We almost without fail, begin neglecting us.  We take the back seat to the other million details of daily life.  

We put off a quiet moment in the wee hours before everyone else wakes to prepare lunches for the kids and do a load of laundry.   We put down our journal to feed the cat or let out the dog.  We skipped a meeting because the timing interfered with our turn at the car pool.  We start saying ‘yes’ to others while we say ‘no’ to us.  We start to subconsciously build resentments.  We are like a soda-pop bottle that is capped and shaken.  And shaken.  And shaken some more.  

Pretty soon, they surface, those resentments, and the old enemy of addiction has risen his snakey head, whispering lies once again.  

Recovery is hard-probably the hardest job you will ever do.  And it is never OK to neglect yourself in recovery.  Never.  Because everything you do, everything you want, everything you need, depends on you and your recovery.  You are the cornerstone of your life and recovery.  

Without you, nothing will happen with you.  Someone else will make the kid’s lunches.  Someone else will drive the car pool.  Someone else will do the chores.  Somebody else will go to school or work.  Somebody else will live the life you fought so hard to get back.

Your new life as a recovering person depends on your ability to care for the one person in your life who can do that.  That one person is you.  So how do you ‘do you’?  

 You Prioritize You.  

The following are exercises, or tasks, that might help you center yourself and keep grounded, and to help keep you first.  You have to be first, and remember that if you aren’t you, then who will be?  There isn’t any particular order, and if these don’t fit for you, that’s OK- there is no right or wrong ‘way’.  Recovery is individual, and what works for one may not work for another-cookie cutter recipes only really work with baking.  Recovery is individual and mostly, unconventional. 


#1  Write a Gratitude Letter to Yourself   

Write a letter to yourself acknowledging your journey into recovery and the work you have done.  Remember how you made the decision to stop using alcohol or drugs.  Congratulate yourself on taking that first step.  Recognize how hard that was, and pat yourself on the back.  Write about what you appreciate about yourself, what you are grateful for, the challenges and trials you have overcome, the things you have learned about yourself.  

Think about the people and pets who love you-because they do love you!  Feel that, experience that, and write about the good feelings you have from knowing that they love you.  Maybe there is someone special right now who is helping you through this tough path of early recovery- what about you do they see?  Those are awesome attributes you have.

Are you a good writer, speaker, or listener?  Are you athletically inclined?  How about gardening or cooking?  Are you a baker or a cook?  Are you organized and orderly, creative or artistic?  Are you kind, friendly, and put people at ease?  Are you a good friend?   How about funny, simple or smart?  

Sit in a quiet area, choose your favorite writing tool and paper.  And start recognizing you as an important and valuable person.  You are.  


#2  Make Time For You

This sounds much easier than it actually is-making time for yourself.  But this is something that is crucial for those of us in recovery.  In our past, alcohol and drugs, regardless of how and why we began using, resulted in us using them as a band-aid for stress and pain.  They became our go-to answer to deal with what life was throwing at us.  It became what calmed us, brought us relief, what woke us up.  Maybe it was a combination, but the result was the same.  We emotionally checked out with them.  And we don’t have that escape route any longer.  

In early recovery, we can feel almost skinned- raw and open – and we don’t have a lot of skills to cope with situations that arise daily, like traffic jams, flat tires, alarm clocks that don’t go off.  If your drug of choice were opiates, then even paper cuts might feel like an amputation.  We might cry a lot, or feel like crying.  TV commercials might make us choke up- we are usually all over the place emotionally.  

Mindful Meditations can be really helpful.  These are 10-15 minute little breathing moments that you take for yourself right where you are.  They help you center your breath, quiet the noise, and just ground yourself from the chaos of the moment.  



The Mayo Clinic describes Mindful Meditation as:  

“Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.”

This practice is best done first thing in the morning, before checking phones or email.

  1. On waking, sit in your bed or a chair in a relaxed posture. Close your eyes and connect with the sensations of your seated body. Make sure your spine is straight, but not rigid.
  2. Take three long, deep, nourishing breaths—breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then let your breath settle into its own rhythm, as you simply follow it in and out, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and belly as you breathe.
  3. Ask yourself: “What is my intention for today?” Use these prompts to help answer that question, as you think about the people and activities you will face. Ask yourself:
  • How might I show up today to have the best impact?
  • What quality of mind do I want to strengthen and develop?
  • What do I need to take better care of myself?
  • During difficult moments, how might I be more compassionate to others and myself?
  • How might I feel more connected and fulfilled?
  1. Set your intention for the day. For example, “Today, I will be kind to myself; be patient with others; give generously; stay grounded; persevere; have fun; eat well,” or anything else you feel is important.
  2. Throughout the day, check in with yourself. Pause, take a breath, and revisit your intention. Notice, as you become more and more conscious of your intentions for each day, how the quality of your communications, relationships, and mood shifts.



#3  Journal   

Some people like to keep a Gratitude journal to remind them daily of the things they are grateful for.  This is a way to keep your mind focused on the positive and ‘right-size’ negative or petty aspects of life.

Others keep journals that are more like a diary-writing down the thoughts in their heads as they come in; there is something very healing about putting thoughts down on paper.  It helps to make sense of the jumble that sometimes forms as scores of thoughts dart around.  It is what writers and songwriters do.  

Whichever way works for you- I cannot encourage it enough.  Anna Nalick sang:  “…If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to…”, in her song Just Breathe.  I think those words just sum up what journaling is all about.  

Thoughts jumble up with memories; mix in trauma, grief, regret, shame and drugs and you have nightmares that can suffocate you.   Through journaling, these thoughts become ‘right-sized’ and, brought out of the shadows, and can be confronted for what they are.   No longer monsters, but shadows.  

Journals can be made – Pinterest and craft stores have excellent ideas.  Amazon and Barnes and Noble sell a variety, from basic to leather bound.  There are journal workbooks (see below), that have quotes which provide a basis for thought that you can add your thoughts to.  Millennials love electronic formats.  These are just a few ideas, but however you proceed, try to make this a priority for you.

Many people have changed their alarm schedule to allow for an extra hour in the morning devoted entirely to you-before the rest of the house wakes up.  They make a pot of coffee and greet the sunrise through journaling.  This is my favorite.  Others work on those at the end of their day, lying in bed, writing down thoughts of the day.  

Again, there is no right way- but the rewards are amazing.



#4  Physical Health and Nutrition 

Alcohol and drug use destroy nutrients in the body and attack physical health.  Alcohol is toxic to almost every cell and organ in the body, and other drugs systematically attack our vital organs.  Addressing your health and nutritional needs are a key component to your recovery.  

As a priority to yourself, please schedule an appointment with a medical doctor for a complete physical if you have not done so already.  Your liver and kidneys are especially susceptible to injury and disease from alcohol and drug use; Hep C can be easily treated today, and other liver damages can heal.  

Nutrition is pivotal in recovery, and many foods can help with lingering withdrawals, cravings or just boosting health.  Please follow the links below for additional information and support.  

  • Try to begin some form of physical activity- walking or riding a bike can increase endorphins and has the added bonus of supporting physical health- 
  • Engage family and friends in physical activities-family walks, hikes or bike rides are great ways to reconnect with your loved ones

Have you neglected a sport or activity because of your use?  Now is a great time to revisit that.  Ever try yoga?  Many free groups are available!  Did you ever want to learn how to swim?  Why not?  YMCA’s and community pools offer free or low cost swimming lessons!  

The important thing is to get moving, eat nutritious foods and have fun!  

See below for detailed information



#5  Remembering To Keep You First   

Final Thoughts

If you are a schedule follower and make schedules for your life, then make sure you schedule time for yourself daily, even if it is only for 15 minutes.

If you join a community group, such as AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, or SMART Recovery, check out several groups before you commit to one.  Make sure that their culture fits your values and needs.  The 12 Step groups have Speaker Meetings, Open (meaning open for anyone), Closed (specific to alcohol or drug users only), among a few,  where you can try out the meeting and meet people.  Celebrate Recovery is family friendly, and others are online.  But- when you find the right one for you, make sure you schedule that for you on your schedule.  Prioritize You!

**Journal, or draw-journal, or task-journal.  But try it- get those thoughts out of your head and on paper!

**Try Mindful Meditation- these short breathing exercises can really be beneficial.

**Get Physical!

**Eat Well!  Nutrition is key!

**Pick a Hobby-(not shopping-don’t trade addictions!)  Try many-swimming, horseback  riding, arts and crafts, gardening, walking or hiking, golf, macrame, yoga, paddle-boarding-something that will become yours.  Something that you enjoy that gets you out of your daily grind.   


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