Feeling Like a Tool

By Kristen Rybandt 07/16/14

I remember seeing an Easy Does It bumper sticker on a beat up car years ago and thinking of it as a warning not to push the car too hard or it might come apart in spectacular cartoon fashion.


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It works if you work it...you’re worth it, so work it! I’ll never forget the first time I heard that because I was holding hands with strangers in a circle stretched around the room and thinking maybe AA was a cult after all. It’s not, though. Cults don’t just take a dollar at a time and encourage you to take what you need and leave the rest, one day at a time. Cults don’t decorate the walls with ink sketched portraits of their leaders and hand-lettered slogans in trippy 1970 font. Well, maybe they do that last one.

I remember seeing an Easy Does It bumper sticker on a beat up car years ago and thinking of it as a warning not to push the car too hard or it might come apart in spectacular cartoon fashion, its wheels rolling away in all directions. I had no idea the warning was for the driver or that I could one day use my own warning label. No wonder then that Easy Does It is one of my least favorite slogans.

None of the slogans seemed any more than embarrassing clichés at first. One Day At A Time. Live and Let Live. Time Takes Time. Think Think Think. While none contained long words, I couldn’t wrap my head around what they really meant. Although I stared at these framed platitudes during meetings, they were just meaningless words while I looked for more three dimensional signs of hope in the room.

When I started reading sober blogs, I kept hearing about Tools I needed to have in my Toolbox. I pictured the salmon pink toolbox we gave my mother one year for her birthday and how forced and tight her smile was. “Oh thank you, this is just what I need,” she told us, and put the box in an out of the way cabinet. Using the word tool for the first time in recovery made me feel like a grade A tool.

The thing about clichés is they’re based on some truth. They may be pat oversimplifications, but simpler is usually better in recovery. Beyond scheduling things like appointments and vacations, I don’t need to worry about tomorrow until it gets here. In early sobriety and still on rough days, it’s been helpful to have that simple reminder that while today might suck terribly, tomorrow will probably suck less. One Day At A Time was the first slogan I embraced because I got it.

First Things First made sense when I saw it fall into place early on. In order to stop drinking, I personally relied heavily on nicotine, sugar and caffeine. Of course, I fretted until I realized I could address them when I was ready to, which I later did. I wouldn’t have worked on anything if I hadn’t taken the first step of giving up the drink.

Times Takes Time is another favorite I’ve held onto outside of the rooms. I’ve been sober without meetings for longer than I went to weekly meetings, and time without a drink has been the only constant. Every day I have to make healthy choices towards recovery, and every day it gets a little easier to do that. If I step way back, I can see the progress I’ve made. Even when it doesn’t seem like much in a given month or season, overall it’s pretty amazing. Time did that. Time without a drink.

Tools aren’t always handy slogans. Some of the most useful ones are concrete, physical things like regular exercise and a good diet and plenty of sleep. My favorite tools are the solid, sober people I communicate with regularly online and in person. These connections are where the real healing happens.

Sometimes falling back on other, lesser vices are a handy tool, but more often I find it’s best to leave them in the toolbox. Meetings are another tool I hold onto but don’t use at the moment. If my needs change and my schedule opens up, I might start going again. I don’t like to throw any of my tools out. I have plenty of room in my toolbox and feel better just knowing they’re there.

I still don’t have that Easy Does It bumper sticker, but maybe that’s next. I can’t think of anything easier than a magical toolbox I carry around with me everywhere I go. I’ve added the pieces slowly over the last three years, some well-worn and others barely touched. They’re right there when I need them and remember to reach in.

Kristen is a sober mom and wife who lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She blogs at http://byebyebeer.com and will celebrate 3 years sober later this month.

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Kristen Rybandt lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania with her family and blogs about recovery and beyond at Bye Bye Beer. You can find her on Linkdin.