When we think about the key coping skills for overcoming drug or alcohol addiction, I think it is helpful to split recovery into 2 separate camps: short term and long term recovery.
In the short term–say, for the first year or so of your sobriety–you are doing anything and everything that you can in order to “cope.” This is a very delicate stage of recovery and many people do not make it through this at all without relapsing.
My advice for short term recovery is to use any and all available resources to you in order to avoid relapse. Use intense focus in order to maintain your sobriety, at all costs. For example, go to several 12 step meetings every day, if that is what it takes. Or, check yourself into long term rehab, if that is what it takes. They talk about “going to any lengths” to stay clean and sober. In early recovery, this is the cost of sobriety. You need intense focus.
Now in long term recovery, things get a bit trickier. Why? Because you are no longer hanging on with a kung fu grip just trying to maintain your recovery on a day to day basis. After you have a year or more in your recovery, staying clean and sober on a daily basis will become easier and more automatic for you. It just will. (If it doesn’t, then you did not experience much growth in your early recovery, and should probably revisit it).
No, in long term recovery, the enemy becomes more subtle. It is not about picking up and using a drink or a drug right now, like it was when you had two weeks clean. No, the enemy in long term recovery is complacency. Yes, you can still relapse, and many do. But it is more of a long, drawn out process, not an event, like it is in early recovery.
Knowing this can help shape your strategy for developing coping skills in long term addiction recovery.
Here are some of the key skills that you should be learning in early recovery, and consistently using in long term sobriety:
* Having a heightened awareness of when you are in a volatile emotional state that might lead you to relapse. If you don’t know that you are upset, cranky, or in self pity mode, then you run an increased risk of sudden relapse. So developing and cultivating this awareness is important. Some do this through meditation or other spiritual means, but there are other ways to achieve awareness as well.
* Using outlets and releases for the inevitable frustrations you will experience during the ups and downs of your recovery. For example, some people go to 12 step meetings such as AA or NA and vent their frustrations (this is actually not what the meetings are intended for, but they do get used in this way). Others might exercise as a release. Still others might have close friends they can confide in to release stress. And so on. The point is, if you do not have a way to deal with the general turbulence that is bound to ebb and flow through your course of life, then you will be more likely to relapse in the long run. It is up to each individual in recovery to find the release mechanisms that work best for them.
* Listening carefully to feedback from friends, family, and peers in recovery about your current emotional state. If they tell you it is off kilter, listen to them and respond with a coping strategy.
* Exploring new coping strategies as a function of personal growth. For example, I used to rely on cigarettes to help me cope with emotional distress. I replaced that eventually and now use exercise as a replacement for that outlet. This was driven by my push to grow in my recovery. Seeking better health for myself led to this shift in coping mechanisms. The exercise is not necessarily “better” as a coping skill than the smoking was, but it is certainly a lot healthier, and cheaper as well.
Use these skills to help you grow stronger in your recovery.