Steven Washington is the author of Recovering You: Soul Care and Mindful Movement for Overcoming Addiction. As a former professional dancer who performed on Broadway in Disney’s The Lion King, his love of movement inspired him to become the highly acclaimed Qigong and Pilates teacher that he is today. Washington said he lives a joyful life of recovery and is passionate about helping others as they navigate toward health and happiness. He offers Qigong, pilates, dance, meditation, laughter and more through his website.
Q: What was your motivation behind writing Recovering You?
A: My motivation for writing Recovering You was to share everything that has sustained me through 20 years of continuous sobriety. I wanted to create a holistic addiction recovery guide that would give the reader tools and practices to help them live a more conscious and joyous life. It is important for me to transmit the message that they aren’t alone, and they are worthy of recovery and transformation. From my experience, I know that addiction is a life challenge where we lose deep parts of ourselves, which leave us feeling adrift and lost. Recovering You provides a road map back to your true self.
Q: What are some things to consider when developing self-care habits? Talk about some habits that can be adopted.
A: Recovering from addiction is a monumental task and developing life affirming self-care habits can be intimidating at first. Taking good care of ourselves hasn’t always been a priority, but recovery provides a new opportunity to change things for the better. Here are a few things to consider when developing new self-care habits:
• Self-care practices only work if you do them regularly. The benefits are cumulative.
• Choose practices that you enjoy doing and almost immediately feel the benefits of them. It is hard to commit to something that you don’t find joy in doing.
• Think about how you will incorporate the practices into your day. Will you do them in the morning, afternoon or evening? Plan for when you will do these activities and adjust your current routine to accommodate them.
• Start small and keep things simple. Be flexible. Set yourself up for success.
• Be patient.
In the book, I teach valuable practices like self-massage, deep breathing, meditation and mindful movement. In active addiction, we use substances or other behaviors to self-soothe. The practices I suggest will help you self-regulate in healthy ways. Self-massage and deep breathing are simple yet very powerful tools to use anytime, especially when you’re feeling stressed.
Q: Please explain the “Recovery Toolbox.”
A: The “Recovery Toolbox” is a collection of experiences, strategies, methods and ideas that a person can draw upon to help them find solutions to issues that occur in recovery. Each chapter in my book explores a topic that is essential to address for those of us in recovery. These are emotional experiences and states of being—such as fear, shame, isolation, faith, gratitude and others. Each chapter also includes a series of sections that help us explore, examine and work with that issue in our own life. Within the “Recovery Toolbox,” I provide a range of short exercises that are designed to be quick and easy. Some provide somatic experiences to gain insights through the physical body. Others invite reflection, and others describe specific actions we can take to encourage transformation, alignment and well-being.
Q: How can people in recovery create coping strategies for their triggers?
A: Triggers are very real, and they happen to everyone. I can’t stress enough how important it is for people in recovery to develop a plan of action when they feel triggered to relapse. One way to address this problem is for people to identify what triggers them. They may be triggered by an emotion, a person or an environment. Reflecting on what tends to make them uncomfortable and edgy can be a valuable tool.
Early in sobriety, I was easily triggered by certain people in my life. I associated drinking and drug use with those people. It became necessary for me to place distance between myself and those individuals. I also found certain neighborhoods or establishments to be triggering because I had experienced some of my darkest days in those places. For a time, I had to avoid those areas for me to be safe and preserve my sobriety. I know that many people have family members or work colleagues that trigger them, and they don’t have the luxury of avoiding those people. However, just because they are challenging dynamics to navigate, it doesn’t mean the only option is to relapse.
One effective tool I began to use was to connect with as many recovering people as possible and gather their contact information. I got in the habit of calling a few of them regularly, just to create a routine when I wasn’t in a crisis. When the moment came that I felt triggered, I was already accustomed to reaching out. I would call people until I felt better.
Another tool that I use is deep breathing. When we are stressed, the nervous system becomes dysregulated and the natural impulse is to self soothe. Instead of rushing toward an addictive behavior, take a moment to observe the breath. If the breath is short and shallow, it’s what’s called a “stress breath.” Take five to 10 slow deep breaths into the belly. Allow the belly to expand with the inhale and soften with the exhale. Afterward, notice any changes. The desire to behave destructively may have passed.
My final suggestion is to move the body when triggered. Sometimes, just going outside, taking a walk, and getting fresh air will help a person self-regulate and avoid acting on a triggering impulse.
Q: Movement is an important part of the book. How are different types of movement beneficial in recovery?
A: Movement is beneficial to overall health and wellbeing. Our bodies were designed to move. In my long experience as a movement teacher and person in recovery, I know that any type of movement helps us feel better in our bodies, and when we feel better physically, we tend to feel better emotionally and mentally. It is a good idea to vary the types of movement we do because that challenges the body and brain in beneficial ways. Incorporating mindful or conscious movement practices like yoga, tai chi or qigong are great for people in recovery because they are moving meditations. They are effective as ways to self-regulate the nervous system. What we do in active addiction is mainly a misguided effort to self-soothe. Movement and breath practices are a more natural and healthy way to accomplish that. Paying attention to the way we slowly move our bodies while breathing deeply can be a powerful tool to manage stress, create more energy within the body, and process difficult emotions.
Q: What is social support and how important is it to recovery?
A: Social support is simply a collection of friends, family, spiritual counselors, therapists, 12-step and other support groups that are supportive of a person’s desire and commitment to recover from addiction. Everyone’s support system will be unique to their circumstance’s ability to let others help them. Those relationships can pick us up when we are feeling down and be a line of defense against relapse. Kelly E. Green, PhD, who is an expert in the field of addiction recovery said, “Social support and healthy relationships are critical to addiction recovery, as social isolation and relationship distress are key factors in relapse for many people.” It is also true that social support can help us manage the stresses in life more effectively, than if we try to handle challenges alone.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: The best advice I was ever given in recovery was to never stop quitting. When I began my recovery journey, I wanted to quit drinking, drugging and smoking cigarettes all at once. My friend advised me to start with what was killing me fastest, which were alcohol and drugs. Stopping everything all at the same time would have been too overwhelming for me. When I was ready, I started my marathon of attempts to quit tobacco. I probably quit five to 10 times before it finally became a permanent thing for me. For anyone who has or currently is struggling with any form of addiction, keep trying to quit whatever it is you’re seeking freedom from. Eventually you will find the right approach for you at exactly the right time.