Artwork © 2015 Jocelyn Patrick

Rules for Recovery

There is no set way of recovery from the pain of past abuse. The process takes a life time, and each of our journey's are unique. However, along the way, its nice to have traffic signs when you need to slow down, or turn in a different direction. Hopefully, in that light, the following will be helpful.

  1. Ask for help- Reach out to someone safe
  2. Inspire yourself- Carry something positive (e.g. poem), or negative (photo of a friend who overdosed)3. Leave a bad scene- When things go wrong, get out
  3. Persist- Never, never, never, never, give up.
  4. Honesty- Secrets and lying are at the core of self-harming behaviors; honesty heals them
  5. Cry- Let yourself cry; it will not last forever
  6. Choose self-respect- Choose whatever will make you like yourself tomorrow
  7. Take good care of your body- Eat right, exercise, sleep, safe sex
  8. List your options- In any situation, you have choices
  9. Create meaning- Remind yourself what you are living for: your children, love? truth? justice? God?
  10. Do the best you can with what you have- Make the most of available opportunities.
  11. Set a boundary- Say “no” to protect yourself
  12. Compassion- Listen to yourself with respect and care
  13. When in doubt, do what’s hardest- The most difficult path is invariably the right one
  14. Talk yourself through it- Self-talk helps in difficult times
  15. Imagine- Create a mental picture that helps you feel different (e.g. remember a safe place)
  16. Notice the choice point- In slow motion, notice the exact moment when you chose self-harm behaviors
  17. Pace yourself- If overwhelmed, go slower; if stagnant, go faster
  18. Stay safe- Do whatever you need to do to put your safety above all
  19. Seek understanding, not blame- Listen to your behavior; blaming prevents growth
  20. If one way doesn’t work, try another- As if in a maze, turn a corner and try a new path
  21. Link PTSD (self harming behaviors) and substance abuse- Recognize substances as an attempt to self-medicate
  22. Alone is better than a bad relationship- If only treaters are safe for now, that’s okay
  23. Create a new story- You are the author of your life: be the hero who overcomes adversity
  24. Avoid avoidable suffering- Prevent bad situations in advance
  25. Ask others- Ask others if your belief is accurate
  26. Get organized- You’ll feel more in control with lists, “to do’s” and a clean house
  27. Watch for danger signs- Face a problem before it becomes huge; notice red flags
  28. Healing above all- Focus on what matters
  29. Try something, anything- A good plan today is better than a perfect one tomorrow
  30. Discovery- Find out whether your assumption is true rather than staying “in your head”
  31. Attend treatment- AA, self-help, therapy, medications, groups- anything that keeps you going
  32. Create a buffer- Put something between you and danger (e.g. time, distance)
  33. Say what you really think- You’ll feel closer to others (but only do this with safe people)
  34. Listen to your needs- No more neglect- really hear what you need
  35. Move toward your opposite- E.g. if you are too dependent, try being more independent
  36. Replay the scene- Review a negative event: what can you do differently next time?
  37. Notice the cost- What is the price of substance abuse/self harming behaviors in your life?
  38. Structure your day- A productive schedule keeps you on track and connected to the world
  39. Set an action plan- Be specific, set a deadline, and let others know about it
  40. Protect yourself- Put up a shield against destructive people, bad environments, and substances
  41. Soothing talk- Talk to yourself very gently (as if to a friend or small child)
  42. Think of the consequences- Really see the impact for tomorrow, next week, next year
  43. Trust the process- Just keep moving forward; the only way out is through
  44. Work the material- The more you practice and participate, the quicker the healing
  45. Integrate the split self- Accept all sides of yourself; they are there for a reason
  46. Expect growth to feel uncomfortable- If it feels awkward or difficult you’re doing it right
  47. Replace destructive activities- Eat candy instead of getting high
  48. Pretend you like yourself- See how different the day feels
  49. Focus on now- Do what you can to make today better; don’t get overwhelmed by the past or future
  50. Praise yourself- Notice what you did right; this is the most powerful method of growth
  51. Observe repeating patterns- Try to notice and understand your re-enactments
  52. Self-nurture- Do something that you enjoy (e.g. take a walk, see a movie)
  53. Practice delay- If you can’t totally prevent a self-destructive act, at least delay it as long as possible
  54. Let go of destructive relationships- If it can’t be fixed, detach
  55. Take responsibility- Take an active, not a passive approach
  56. Set a deadline- Make it happen by setting a date
  57. Make a commitment- Promise yourself to do what is right to help your recovery
  58. Rethink- Think in a way that helps you feel better
  59. Detach from emotional pain (grounding)- Distract, walk away, change the channel
  60. Learn from experience- Seek wisdom that can help you next time
  61. Solve the problem- Don’t take it personally when things go wrong- try to just seek a solution
  62. Use kinder language- Make your language less harsh
  63. Examine the evidence- Evaluate both sides of the picture
  64. Plan it out- Take the time to think ahead- it’s the opposite of impulsivity
  65. Identify the belief- For example, ‘shoulds’, ‘deprivation reasoning’
  66. Reward yourself- Find a healthy way to celebrate anything you do right
  67. Create new “tapes”- Literally! Take a tape recorder (record yourself on your phone) and record a new way of thinking to play back
  68. Find rules to live by- Remember a phrase that works for you (e.g. “Stay real” or my favorite, “You got this!”
  69. Setbacks are not failures- A set back is just a setback, nothing more
  70. Tolerate the feeling- No feeling is final, just get through it safely
  71. Actions first and feelings will follow- Don’t wait until you feel motivated; just start now
  72. Create positive addictions- sports, hobbies, AA…
  73. When in doubt, don’t- If you suspect danger, stay away
  74. Fight the trigger- Take an active approach to protect yourself
  75. Notice the source- Before you accept criticism or advice, notice who is telling it to you
  76. Make a decision- If you’re stuck, try choosing the best solution you can right now; don’t wait
  77. Do the right thing- Do what you know will help you, even if you don’t feel like it
  78. Go to a meeting- Feet first; just get there and let the rest happen
  79. Protect your body from HIV- This is truly a life-or-death issue
  80. Prioritize healing- Make healing your most urgent and important goal, above all else
  81. Reach for community resources- Lean on them!
  82. Get others to support your recovery- Tell people what you need
  83. Notice what you can control- List the aspects of your life you do control (e.g. job, friends…)


Original Source:
Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital. (2003). Rules for Recovery. [patient informational handout].

Patient Handout Transcribed From:
Najavits, L. M. (2002). Seeking safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse. New York: Guilford Press.