I wish I could take credit for "The Toolbox", but it's actually something I was introduced to when I first got clean. A woman named Sharon would talk about it every  morning, at the 7:30 Wake-up meeting.  It was actually her answer for everything: Bad day? "The Toolbox". Boyfriend cheating? "The Toolbox". Company Christmas party? "The Toolbox".   For a long time, it used to aggravate me. I would think to myself, "Hey Sharon, how's about you pipe down with "The Toolbox" crap, and contribute something meaningful to the conversation?" I honestly thought something was wrong with her. Perhaps the drugs had fried her brain to the point where she only knew two words and those were it. It wasn't until I was alone in the rain at the bus stop a few months later, that everything that woman ever said about that damn toolbox suddenly made sense. I wasn't expecting my old drug dealer to pull into the gas station next to the bus stop, and I certainly didn't wake up that day with the intention of having the fight of my life with myself either. The bass from his speakers rattled the trunk of his Escalade, and it immediately sent chills down my spine. Six months earlier, that sound would have caused me to sprint into the front yard practically tripping over myself as he arrived to drop off my goods. Here he was, ten feet away - and here I was, with six months clean on a park bench, waiting for the bus back to rehab from the health department. I always felt so special, because the owner of the rehab trusted me enough to navigate through town on my own after only having been there two months.  Truthfully, the trust they showed made me feel responsible, like each time I returned to the house, it was a mini victory. Today however, I realized how foolish it was for them to give me that freedom - because I was about to f*** it all up.  My mouth watered as he exited the gas station, holding up his sagging pants with one hand, and carrying a scratch off ticket with the other. He was so close I could almost see the diamonds in his teeth. As I went to push myself off of the bench with the intention of calling out to him, I suddenly heard Sharon's raspy, stupid voice in my head; "The Toolbox". I closed my eyes and took a deep, frustrated breath... That f***ing toolbox. The bus pulled up 11 seconds later...and I stepped on. As I trudged to the back row of seats, my flip-flops 'squishing' with each step, I began to sob. It felt as if I had just walked away from the love of my life, knowing I would never see him again. I wanted to use, but I wanted to be clean. Those two desires dancing around in my heart made it almost impossible to breathe. Ever since that day at the bus stop, I've reached into my toolbox at least once a day.  See, we all have this, "Toolbox", and each of us possess different tools.  For about ten years of my life, my toolbox consisted of one thing only—drugs. When I was sad, I reached into the toolbox and grabbed a pill. If I was depressed, I grabbed a pill. Happy? Angry? Excited? Confused? Pill, pill, pill, pill. When I made the decision to get clean, my toolbox was suddenly - empty.  I would feel an emotion, and furiously dig into my toolbox, only to come up empty-handed.  I had no coping mechanisms, nothing to clutch on to in those times of turmoil. So what the hell was I supposed to do?  They say the best thing about getting clean is that you feel again, and the worst thing about getting clean is...that you feel again. What was I supposed to do with all these new feelings? These feelings that—up until that point had never had a chance to bubble to the surface, because the moment I felt them rising I had shoved them back down with my "tool". Sharon had a simple explanation for this; "Put more shit in your toolbox." The day before the bus stop, my father had come to visit me at the rehab center.  He was walking with a cane, as he was in the process of undergoing experimental chemo treatments that made him weak. We spent the hour laughing, reminiscing, and chasing lizards. Before he left he gave me a great, big hug, and he pulled away he squeezed my shoulders and whispered, "I am so proud of you, my beautiful daughter." I didn't know it, but I had subconsciously taken that ounce of pride my father had given me, and placed it into my toolbox.  The very next day, I would have to reach in, and draw from the strength my Dad left me with, and that was the first, of many tools I have added to my collection over the years.

My toolbox today consists of: music, meditation, bubble baths, chocolate (this probably isn't the best tool, but it's in there none the less), my children, my goals, and the fact that my mom and dad are now in Heaven cheering me on from the clouds.

When the kids are driving me crazy and I want to unleash the fury of a thousand dragons, I reach in and grab my "five-minute-time-out card". I give myself five minutes to decompress, and re-enter the room with a more calm demeanor. When I want to isolate, I reach in and grab my address book filled with people in recovery to cheer me up and remind me how awesome I am. When I want to give up, I reach in and grab the video my supporters made for me, where they each took turns talking about how I've impacted them and how my words matter. We all have the ability to fill our toolboxes with things that allow us to navigate life on life's terms, without feeling the need to turn to drugs. My worst day clean is still a thousand times better than my best day high, and I am so grateful to have found what works for me, and apply it to my life daily. I'm also incredibly grateful for Sharon, for talking about that stupid toolbox, because it has changed my life in ways that I can't begin to explain. 63061_470870860427_358237_n

What's in your toolbox?



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32 replies to “The Toolbox”
  1. I live by my tool box! I printed out a picture of a tool box and cut out pictures and hung them all around it! Mine is full of music, puppy’s :), crocheting and lots of other things that calm me down and take my mind off things. I was also able to help my kids and some of their friends make a tool box so then they are scared heh can reach into there tool box for something to help them feel safe, or if they are angry and want to lash out they can reach in to their own little toy boxes and take a second to breath. They love having their little boxes just for them, amazing all the little things it can be used for!

  2. Wow, chills dude, I have a somewhat similar story and this one just broke me down, I’ve always wanted to to tell someone about this lady but I never have. I love you tiff

  3. I think this is awesome and I’m going to try to use it. I have never been addicted to drugs but I am a sugar and food addict. This may seem silly an inconsequential but it’s actually life threatening for me. I have type 2 diabetes. I am going to inventory my toolbox and start to use it. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. I was so happy to hear you talk and write about your toolbox! I chair a meeting on Tuesdays and no one had anything to talk about as chair person it’s my job to have something to talk about when no one has anything well I was totally unprepared and was still new to everything so I looked over at a friend and he had a list in front of him and at the top of the list it said “TOOLBOX” so I said well guys today we are going to talk about what’s in our toolbox and if you don’t have anything in it yet talk about what you need to put in it! …… that’s my toolbox beginning!

  5. I had never heard of a “toolbox” but da#m what a wake up call. I suffer from severe depression, anxiety and lupus. Daily I struggle with even getting out of bed and trudging through my day with my fake face on. Today I is the day i will start pulling from my “toolbox” . What a wakeup call! THANK YOU!

  6. God, Pepsi (on real bad days add a reese’s cup) God, sewing, God, scripture journaling, YOU and your hilarious, serious, gut wrenching posts, my friend Tammy who got me sober, by sharing her sober life with me year after year of me showing up in her Salon Chair. ONE hug from her says 1,000,000,000 words without us opening our mouths. Yes, I too have a tool box. 🙂 spoken in my best dang raspy voice….:) love you girl. keep on keepin on!

  7. This is one of the most helpful things I’ve ever read regarding recovery. I don’t have any tools. I don’t even have a toolbox! So today I’ve created one. And when I think about things i have to put in it I’m empty handed at the moment…except for one thing. Tiffany when you sent me your book you wrote the sweetest note inside. I read it alot. You told me I’m awesome and that you love me so freakin much. Before your blog blew up and you had a million followers we had a late night chat on Facebook messenger. You gave me encouragement and told Me I could do it. You told me my son needs me. I’m gonna go back and read that conversation and begin filling my box.
    Thank you for this! Thank you for believing in me even though you don’t really know me.
    I have so much love and appreciation for you.

  8. This is one of the most helpful things I’ve ever read regarding recovery. I don’t have any tools. I don’t even have a toolbox! So today I’ve created one. And when I think about things i have to put in it I’m empty handed at the moment…except for one thing. Tiffany when you sent me your book you wrote the sweetest note inside. I read it alot. You told me I’m awesome and that you love me so freakin much. Before your blog blew up and you had a million followers we had a late night chat on Facebook messenger. You gave me encouragement and told Me I could do it. You told me my son needs me. I’m gonna go back and read that conversation and begin filling my box.
    Thank you for this! Thank you for believing in me even though you don’t really know me.
    I have so much love and appreciation for you.

  9. Wow … this is awesome. Thank you so much for this. I LOVE the picture of you in the wheelbarrow with your Dad!

  10. Just wanted to let you know that I recommended your blog and book to a friend of mine who fosters children. Because the concept of addicts being good people, who can fully recover, who will be good parents, and who are capable of really and truly getting there… it honestly isn’t a message you hear much at all in society at large. I thought it would be helpful and maybe alleviate any fear and give her hope when and if she has to return children to biological families.

    I learned so much, and grew so much in understanding through your blog I can’t even tell you. Also? Look at those Amazon reviews, woman! Awesome! You did so great… I knew you would.

  11. This is well written where the average person can understand. As a physician, who worked several years at the VA, this is exactly how we would explain PTSD to veterans: you’re reaching in your toolbox to deal with what you experienced, and you’re coming up woefully short on tools. This is exactly why THERAPY is critical, because medicines alone don’t give you tools.

    Thank you for the guttural honesty with which you share your stories. Blessings.

  12. My name is Ashley Jackson. I’ve followed you on Facebook for awhile now. You videos are so inspiring. They get me through everyday with my 4 daughters under 5. I am just now heading about your addiction with pills (which was my addiction for so so so long) thank you for this….I’m so sorry you’ve went through all this but you are beautiful, amazing,inspirational, wonderful,and so so much more…I’m crying as I type this…. I’ve slipped up a few times but have made the decision to not slip up again awhile back. So many people you don’t know LOVE YOU!!! Your amazing…thank you so very much for this….thank you thank you thank you!!! I appreciate you so very much!!! I will never give up….but you have just given me more hope than anyone I’ve ever worked with!!! Thank you.

  13. Thank you for your transparency. The hope that you are giving others is priceless. Keep up what your doing and keep shinning your light! There is a much greater purpose.

  14. This article really spoke to me. I think the line where you say that your worst day sober is still better than your best day high was a real eye opener for me even at this point in my sobriety. I had never thought of it in that respect before. It was a really compelling thought and I’m so glad that you share your journey with us. I am also extremely humorous and have used that ability to mask my truth at times when I really meant to be calling out for help. I can totally relate to you and that makes me feel so thankful that you’re sharing with me!

  15. I really needed this today. I will be coming up on 8 months here in about a week and a half and the whole bit about feeling is so very true. I have been so numb for so long and have avoided feeling anything in any way shape or form and now that the fog is finally clearing I am starting to feel again. I recently started therapy because I have co-occuring disorder(substance abuse disorder as well as bipolar disorder- go figure all these years I spent self medicating because something was off biologically as well as everything else). Anyway, things are starting to come up because I have to deal with them at some point and as they say our “secrets keep us sick” so I am feeling things many things for the first time and life is happening and I’m facing it all head on for the first time and it scares the hell out of me and naturally the first thing I want to do is run-run like hell and do what I know best and get loaded. I don’t though because if there is one thing I do know is that just because I want to it doesn’t mean I have to. I guess knowing that is one of those things I have in my toolbox- I never really looked at it that way but it makes a lot of sense. Thank you

  16. Thank you for sharing this. As a person in recovery it was exactly what I needed to hear right now. It’s a daily battle between the new and old you and you are so very strong to have gotten onto that bus.

  17. WOW!!!
    Just watched your video about anxiety and missing a night of a conference you were at. I also just saw you for the first time this week in a video with the lady from That’s Inappropriate. You two are amazing, funny, real and inspiring!
    Anyway, I ramble…
    I clicked the link in the video for The Toolbox. What a cool idea. I have never taken drugs or drink to cope but FOOD, Sweets, and SHOPPING, have been my coping Go To’s for anxiety.
    Thank you for being real. We all have our struggles and different ways of coping. Thank you for sharing The Toolbox story. It is a real and tangible visual that I am going to start using today!
    (((HUGS))) and ??Prayers?? for you.

  18. I have over four years sober (also from opiates, heroin to be exact) and am so grateful I have found this blog. I work in substance abuse treatment, and today I am running a group therapy session- This is now the topic. I am blessed to have a gloriously overflowing toolbox of my own today, however, my clients do not.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

  19. I really love this!! I’ve never been addicted to drugs but I have had plenty of addictions. I finally walked away from everything that I let keep me hostage or in an invisible prison 1 year ago. I don’t remember the exact day but it was the month of November. This ‘Toolbox’ concept may help with the next steps. Thank you for sharing.

  20. My ex-husband used to talk about the tool box all the time. He used to say that he had a tool box full of tools to use when things got bad. He’d say, “The problem is, the damn monsters under the bed hide the tool box from me sometimes.” Unfortunately, after almost 30 years sober, he couldn’t find the tool box one day and started drinking again.

    The tool box is a good analogy because I think he truly tried, he just didn’t find the tools at the right time. He’s been drinking for the last 4 years and he’s miserable. Unfortunately, now I use a tool box to deal with watching him circle the drain.

    Watching a loved one struggle to find the right tool is hard, watching them fail over and over because the only tool they have is alcohol or drugs is so much worse. All of my tools help me distance myself so I don’t feel responsible, so I don’t ride the roller coaster with him any more. It’s better for me, I know this is true. But I sure wish he’d put some different tools in that box and nail it to the floor so he could find it when he needs it.

  21. I was sitting on the toilet at work today, feeling fairly crummy, babygirl A. is in daycare and I’m back at work. Oh bother. I thought to myself “what is this feeling I’m feeling and why don’t I know how to figure it out?” … Realized that this was a time where I definitely would have taken a pill or two to mask the emotion and artificially elevate myself. I paused in my thinking and grounded and bubbled myself instead. Reminded myself it is ok to feel feelings, whatever they are. That it is okay to feel. Sad; Angry; Mad; Bad. I took some deep breaths and counted to 5. After reading this I’m proud to realize that I utilized some tools in a toolbox I didn’t know I had. Big ups, Tiff.

  22. I am currently 5 months clean….I haven’t reached out at all for help an have had this feeling in my chest an stomach everytime I’m around people drinking or using….this is the first thing I’ve read that’s made sense to me thank you for your words…my tool box has been empty this whole time an it has left me breathless an frustrated that I now had nothing to turn to when the feelings became to much

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