Vital Signs of Recovery

Activity generously provided by Eric Hrabowski & Jennifer Lockhart

Group size:  5 - 50

Purpose:  create group cohesion and allow for a new way of measuring quality of recovery.

Props Needed

  1. Vital Signs of Recovery Handout
  2. Pens

Activity Preparation

  1. Prep time needed: 5 minutes
  2. Prior to class print the vital signs of recovery handout and have pens for all participants.

Time needed

  • Directions: 5 min.
  • Activity: 30 min.
  • Debrief: 15 min.

Set Up:  Make sure participants have a hard surface to lean on so that they can fill out the form.

Activity Directions:

  • Read activity script
  • Instruct the group to Fill out handout

Facilitator script: “Hello everyone today we are going to look at checking in with our recovery in a slightly different way.  Have you ever been to the doctor's office for a routine checkup? (pause so participants can answer) If you have, then you know that one of the first things a health professional checks are your vital signs. Vital signs are measurements of such things like a person's body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiration.  These have to be checked, because they provide us with important data used to determine if we are functioning at an optimal level, or if there are deficiencies.

In order to determine how we are functioning our health care professional will look at certain aspects of our health like: Is our pulse regular or irregular? Is our blood pressure too high or too low? Is our respiration with in normal range? If there are deficiencies in the functioning of these things, the health professional may make recommendations for lifestyle and/or dietary changes, or write a prescription, to help get our bodies back on track.

Our recovery can work in the same manner. Here are some tools to think about your recovery in a bit of a different way. These four vital signs: pulse, blood pressure, temperature and respiration, can also be used to evaluate and monitor recovery.

Pulse

Checking your pulse is the same as taking an inventory of where we are in the recovery process.  In the context of recovery, this would also require you to ask yourself some basic self-assessment questions and answering those questions honestly.  I’ve been told the heart doesn’t lie.  Therefore, being honest with yourself will provide you with a more accurate picture of where you stand and where you need or want to go from there.

So how does one measure where they might be in the recovery process?  A good place to start is with the things that a person in recovery does on a regular basis, which can be compared to the consistency of a beating heart.  Attending Support group meetings regularly is important.  Thus, one of the pulse questions could be, “Am I making meetings a consistent part of my recovery.” Another question could be “Do I have a sponsor?”  If so, “Am I meeting regularly with them?”  Often it may be hard for us to see when we are actually making progress.   Therefore, taking an inventory can be very helpful in that respect. “Are you better off than you were compared to a previous time period?”  The honesty component is critical for us to remain objective about what it is we are actually doing in our personal recovery. Not being critical enough can lead us down a path of complacency, where as being overly critical can potentially bring on feelings of frustration.  It is important to keep in mind that recovery is a process, which means that it will take time.

Blood Pressure

One of the vital signs that may help you remain invested in the process is the blood pressure.  When you think of problems that may result from an abnormal blood pressure you may associate it with being too high and the presence of headaches.  Although many factors can adversely affect your blood pressure, stress will be the focus of this discussion. Stressors come in a variety of forms and can be grouped into the categories of people, places, and things. Doing your part means identifying personal stressors in the these categories, limiting your exposure to them when possible and developing some ways to manage them effectively can be helpful in managing your recovery.  It is good practice not to put ourselves knowingly in contact with high risk people, places and things. Seeking out your dealer in a place where you used to use, and picking up paraphernalia, can certainly increase your recovery blood pressure while going to meetings and talking to your sponsor is a way of keeping it low.

Other methods for managing your recovery blood pressure could include both immediate and preventative strategies. Immediate strategies are techniques that you use in the moment.  A flat tire, an argument, an unexpected run in with a former using associate or dealer are all great opportunities to implement an immediate strategy. Taking a mental or physical time out to regroup and develop a response is one example. Counting, thought stopping and breathing are a few more. These are important because they give us a chance to stop and think. We can use them to keep from escalating a situation to the point where we feel we no longer have a choice in our actions.

Preventative strategies are designed to maintain a low recovery blood pressure. If prior to recovery we had a high stress baseline it would be helpful to implement stress reducing skills on a daily or regular basis to lower our stress baseline.

Behaviors associated with this strategy may include listening to music, exercising, going to meetings and talking to others regularly. We have found the best skill for reducing your stress baseline is a daily or regular meditation practice. Doing these things can help keep your recovery blood pressure at a manageable level. An assessment of your recovery blood pressure would consist of asking yourself if you are implementing these preventative and immediate strategies on a daily basis and self-correcting. The preventative ones help us to maintain a healthy balance in relieving stress and the immediate ones help us handle the unexpected. They can be a powerful combination.

Temperature

The final aspect of the Vital Signs of Recovery is around the temperature of our recovery. The questions we ask here is are we running too hot or too cold? Checking in with our emotional life can be an important tool that can provide data about how we are responding to people, places, and things around us. If we find ourselves angry a lot of the time we might be running too hot; however, if we feel disconnected we might be too cool. Looking for the patterns might help guide where our emotional temperature has been recently.

Respiration

     Respiration is a vital sign that tells us if we are breathing properly. Doing the same things in recovery can become boring so when we think of checking our recovery respiration, let's ask this question. “What are we doing to breathe life into our recovery?” Recovery is so much more than meetings and step work. It is a process that helps us to develop a way of living that can be fulfilling and full of excitement. If we find ourselves bored with our regular meetings we can venture out and try new ones. We can explore new activities and discover what we truly enjoy. When things get stale it is up to us to make it fresh again. “Am I trying new things in this process?” is a great question to ask. If the answer is no, make some changes. Don't let fear and complacency steal the breath of life from your recovery.

Recovery isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Just about anyone could write a prescription for recovery, we don't have to be doctors. The goal here is about sustainable balance. Taking the time to check the vital signs of recovery can help us write our own prescription. Answering some questions honestly and putting some strategies into play on a regular basis will go a long way in helping have healthy recovery vital signs. 

Let’s take a moment to fill out the Recovery Vital Signs worksheet and get a snapshot of how we are doing right now. (pass out worksheet and give participants about 20-30 minutes to fill out)

Debrief

  • How can you use the vital signs of recovery to help you gauge your recovery?
  • What did you notice as you listened to the vital signs of recovery?
  • What did it feel like to fill out the form?
  • What did you notice as others shared their form?
  • What can you do with the information that the vital signs worksheet revealed for you?

Recovery/Wellness Metaphor: This is a great way of teaching participants to self-reflect on their recovery status periodically. This process can be done in any increments and it is helpful to keep previous checkups so that participants can compare.

Role of Facilitator: Help educate participants on this new way of reflecting on their own recovery.

Variations: Modify as needed for population

Where to Find It/How to Make it: See below

 

Vital Signs of Recovery

Pulse

What do I do daily for my recovery? What do I do Weekly? Do I feel this is sufficient to sustain my recovery? What could I do more of to bring my recovery to the next level?

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Blood pressure

On a scale of 0 to 10 How stressed am I right now? _________

On a scale of 0 to 10 How stressed am I this past week? _________

On a scale of 0 to 10 How stressed am I this past month? _________

Does my current stress level allow me to function optimally? What can I do to reduce my stress level?

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Temperature

What emotions have I noticed recently? Are these new or old patterns? What can I do to work through these emotions?

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Respiration

Am I bored with my recovery? Am I feeling stale with any part of my life? Do I feel I am living in my purpose? Do I feel excited, encouraged, and energized by my life? What can I do to breathe life into my recovery?

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What did you learn about yourself and your recovery as a result of this activity?

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As a result of what you learned what are you willing to do with this new information?

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Who are you willing to let help you?

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Taking this snapshot of your recovery can help you gauge where you are currently. It could be very helpful to share this with a counselor or other helping professional to help you keep an eye on your vital signs of recovery.