Getting your tools dirty.

By David Joel Miller.

Your recovery tools.

What shape are your tools in? We all have our tools. Many men and some women like new shiny ones. Other people have craft tools or cooking tools. I was thinking a lot today about tools and how we use them.

Counselors talk with their clients about learning new tools, relationship tools, anger management tools, tools for sober living.

In school, they taught us the “tools” we would need to do our jobs once we graduated. When I teach classes for beginning counselors they learn not only the tools they will need to teach their clients but also the tools they will need to be good counselors.

So with all the tools out there why is this job of recovery so difficult? Why do people try things in life over and over and still they don’t seem to come out right? What is wrong with our tools?

Recently I moved. We had looked forward to the new place. It was larger and it was in a better neighborhood, besides it had a nice yard. In preparation for the move, I bought some new tools. They were so nice and shiny. I had a few old ones from the last place but a new home requires a few new tools. I put them on the workbench in the garage when we moved in. A brand new circular saw, a good shovel for planting in the yard, I had all the tools I thought I would need.

I was talking to a client today about tools. This is his – well let’s not say how many times he has been in a treatment program. I was talking to him about the tools he needed to stay clean and sober and the tools he would need to keep his mental illness at bay. Then it struck me. What tools could I offer him that he had not gotten at other programs before? That got me thinking about all those tools I had bought for the new house and what had happened to them.

A week after we moved in, maybe two, we bought a couple of bushes to go by the back fence. They were small bushes and the ground was damp. They didn’t need a very big hole. So rather than go to the garage for the new spade, I grabbed the old one that was leaning against the shed in the back yard. It worked OK so I saved a trip to the house to get the new one. To this day the new shovel has not been used.

I needed shelves but never got around to buying lumber. Some used metal ones were available at a place on my way home from work. I bought the used shelves. The new saw is still in the box.

I got busy and so instead of doing the yard work the way I had planned, I paid someone to mow the lawn. The net result? All those pretty, shiny, new tools are still sitting there in their original packaging, still unused.

As I talked with my client he explained what went wrong with his previous treatment programs. What had happened that he learned all those new tools but kept getting the same old result? He didn’t need more tools, he had plenty.

He looked at me and then he said – “I didn’t get my tools dirty.”

Then it struck me. We all have tools. We go to seminars, read self-help books, participate in counseling and therapy but we stay stuck in the same old pain and dysfunction. The reason so much learning does not change us?

Sometimes recovery is a messy business. It takes work and effort. We have to practice new skills. But between the learning and the practice – we forget to use those tools.

We forget to get our tools dirty.

For more on this see the posts on Stages of Change especially the Maintenance Step.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


3 thoughts on “Getting your tools dirty.

  1. Pingback: Why giving up the drugs and alcohol didn’t make you happy | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Getting some recovery – preventing relapse | counselorssoapbox

  3. Pingback: What is a dry Drunk – putting down without really getting clean | counselorssoapbox

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