Coping Tools Expiration Date

When we find something that helps us stay sober, the feelings of joy, relief, and hope are hard to beat. When that healthy behavior loses its impact, it is not failure, but a milestone on the path to healing.

Anyone who has been sober for any length of time has gone through it. You are not engaging with your drug of choice—be it heroin, food, sex, shopping, or whatever it was that turned your life into a trainwreck. Instead, you have adopted new, healthy behaviors. You are spending time in nature and cuddling your pets. You are performing better at work and exercising every day. You are exhilarated. You are strong. You are finally on the path to becoming whole.

Then, you realize those tools that once brought you joy and the sense of forward movement are no longer as effective. The feelings of unworthiness, fear, and abandonment may not be as present as they once were, but they linger on the periphery of things, affecting your well-being and what you bring into your life.  The whole scenario feels so familiar . . . and then you realize why. It’s like those times when you needed another shot, another line, another one-night stand, and so on and so forth,  to achieve the same level of numbness, confidence, or happiness.   

Don’t mistake this for judgment of the “quality” of the inner work you’re doing, because it’s not. I am simply acknowledging the insidiousness of addiction and trauma. A “positive” behavior can become an emotional crutch, just as a harmful one can—like when it feels like more of a compulsion than a source of joy.

One of the most common examples is workaholism. You have a passion for something (or a material goal) and throw yourself into it, believing that you have found your reason for being and no longer need to drink, drug, overeat, etc. This works for a while—you feel fulfilled, and because you’re putting all your focus on it, you’re likely receiving a lot of external validation in the form of praise and prosperity. The problem is, you have confused your reason for being with the core of your Being (yes, “being” with a capital B, because it represents something more profound than your external identities), which is what you really need to find. This is the essential, eternal you that is always perfect and always worthy, regardless of whether you are in the C-Suite, drive a Bentley, meditate every day, or do absolutely nothing.  

The path to healing is not one-size-fits-all. What another proclaims as their saving grace may not work for you, or may work only briefly. Also, the path is rarely straight or illuminated further than a few feet in front of us. When we stop avoiding our pain through compulsive behaviors and face it from a new perspective – a soul perspective  (specifically, one that frames healing as constantly stepping outside our comfort zone), the pain provides us with a roadmap back to its root causes. Interestingly, that same roadmap can help us reconnect with our soul and the point(s) at which we lost pieces of it along the way.

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