Bag of tricks

I’ve found I’m using a lot of the same tricks I tell my patients with mild traumatic brain injury to help me abstain from alcohol. Most of these patients suffer with short term memory problems and, unfortunately, the memory problems don’t really get better, but it’s a matter of utilizing strategies to make their world easier to live in. Like, carrying around a small tablet and pen and writing things down like a to-do list. The whole point of these strategies is to help “free up” the brain to be able to focus on more important activities. Having a number of these strategies in place, having a “bag of tricks”, so to speak, is vital to help them function in their day-to-day activities.

I spent 7 years volunteering for a german shepherd rescue and this is where I learned the value of having a bag of tricks to pick out of when I was dealing with different dogs. Over the years, the rescue had a number of volunteers who were either self-taught dog trainers, or official trainers with oodles of experience. What we learned from all of them is invaluable.

There were two trainers, in particular, who were on the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to handling dogs. One, Joe, was like a big teddy bear with these dogs. Positive reinforcement was his strongest suit in working with these dogs. All the dogs looked at him like he was part of the pack and responded so amazingly well to him. (He’s the one that taught me about the bag of tricks). The other, Scott, was a giant of a man, military background and super tough. He was not mean to the dogs, don’t get me wrong, but just his presence around these dogs would intimidate them and they would always do what he asked.

I had spent a bit of time with both Joe and Scott and the most important thing I learned was that I needed them to GIVE ME SOMETHING I CAN USE!! On one hand, Joe would describe different ways of handling dogs. For example, there was one dog that was really giving us volunteers fits getting him out of the kennel. I wasn’t able to be there at the rescue the day Joe was working with this dog, but 2 other volunteers were. One of the volunteers texted me what to do and I put it all in place that evening and I got this dog out, no problem! Just from a written description, I got that dog out, without incident and I was able to get him out from then on. On the other hand, Scott would do on-site training and demonstrate how to handle the dogs. He made it look so easy, but every time I’d try to do what he suggested, it was a disaster! Yah, when you’re 6 foot something, male with a deep voice, you can pretty much get these dogs to do whatever you ask!!

When I spoke to Joe later about that dog, he stated that just because one trick works on one dog, doesn’t mean it will work on another. So, that’s why you begin to gather a bunch of different tricks, fill your bag up and reach in and try one on, if that doesn’t work, reach in and try another. As time goes on, you develop more and more skills, adding just more tricks to your bag. Just like I’m training my patients, try one strategy on for size, if it doesn’t fit, try another one. And just like trying to avoid cravings of alcohol, try going for a walk. If that doesn’t work, try journaling. The more tricks you have in your bag, the more likely you’ll succeed in staying away from alcohol.

My “bag of tricks” for staying sober at this time include: journaling, joining online sober communities, sharing my story, reading about alcohol, educating myself continually, exercising, experimenting, practicing mindfulness. Having a full bag of tricks really has helped me stay away from the drink. If one time journaling doesn’t work, I know I’ve got other things I can do to stay straight.

4 responses to “Bag of tricks”

  1. I love this post so much!! Of course it brought tears to my eyes! The “bag of tricks” philosophy Can, and should be used whenever we are trying to problem solve. And like I say almost every time I comment even being an oil drinker your posts are so relatable. I love them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I reply can you add a comment?


  2. * being a non-drinker.


  3. Klaus Altemueller Avatar
    Klaus Altemueller

    Very nice Jen! Very well written and a great example. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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