Mary is a recovery coach with a private practice in Asheville, NC. She is presently working towards her certification as a substance abuse counselor, facilitating DWI groups for Second Spring Counseling, and oﬀering life skill classes to local sober homes, including Oasis Recovery, in order to help clients transition back into society after treatment. We recently got to sit down with her and learn about one metaphor she consistently uses in her groups, and how it covers the basics of recovery.
Bonnie: I’ve heard you mention a table as a metaphor for recovery in your coaching groups, could you talk more about this concept?
Mary: So, I use the metaphor of a table to address the issue of how to create stability in your recovery, especially in early recovery. This is based both on research, and also my personal observation about what seems to keep people clean and sober longer, with less likelihood of relapse. The “table top” is the recovery and the “legs” of the table represent diﬀerent areas that need regular attending to- for example, one leg would correspond to community. Some people choose the 12 step approach, but it doesn’t have to be just the 12 step approach. You could focus on another community for support. In the 12 step approach, this would consist of meetings and fellowship. Some people use Smart Recovery or Refuge Recovery. The benefit is in connecting with people, especially your peers; those who have a similar experience and a similar goal.
Another leg is a mentor. In the context of a 12 step program, this would be a sponsor. In other communities it may be a therapist, or a coach, or another mentor in your community- someone who is working with you, around your spiritual growth.
The third leg is your tool box: this contains coping skills that you pick up along the way, from being in a treatment program or from your mentor, or others’ sharing experience, strength, and hope.
Bonnie: Like HALT (the self-care acronym: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired?) Or the solutions to this, rather- eating, addressing the root of anger, socializing, and sleep…I guess that would be EASS
Mary: Yes! those would fit here. The tool box is something you are continually adding tools to, as well. It’s not just an unchanging resource. It is one that you are building and refining all the time.
Bonnie: Sort of like adjusting your self-care routine, as life gets fuller, and changing your go-to calming strategies for diﬀerent times in life-I’ve experienced this, for sure…What would you say is one of the easiest coping skills that someone could turn to in the face of challenging triggers?
Mary: one of the first ones that people sometimes take for granted is intentional breathing, conscious breathing. That can include simply pausing when agitated to do deep breathing or doing some specific breathing practices to access the problem-solving part of the brain. Also, Mindfulness practices, that encourage us to simply stop when we start to feel triggered, are very helpful and accessible. It’s helpful to remember the power of the pause, counting to 10, doing a body scan- all of these take us out of that worrying part of the brain and interrupt the trigger.
And the last leg [of the recovery table] is some sort of regular spiritual practice, which the 12 steps cover pretty thoroughly- a plan for looking at yourself, and systematically being able to address your strengths and your shortcomings, and work on self development.
Bonnie: There are so many aspects of a healthy experience that addicts and alcoholics come in needing and wanting- like healthy eating, exercise, sleep, etc. What would you say to someone, wanting to incorporate all of these healthy habits, but feeling discouraged, or overwhelmed-where would you recommend they start?
Mary: Sleep and exercise. These would be my first focus. Sleep because it’s probably the single most important method for healing the damage done from addiction. And Exercise because it’s the most scientifically-supported natural mood booster and motivator.
I read a book recently called “Running for my life,” where this guy primarily recovered through running. Ultimately he had to more deeply address some things that he was running away from in order to have a healthy relationship, but the running itself had served him well enough that he was better equipped to address some of that internal processing, and exercise is really powerful in this way.
You can learn more about Mary’s practice at www.mary-davis.com