How First Responders Can Read Their Way Through Recovery

How First Responders Can Read Their Way Through Recovery

Published on July 9, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

The first year of recovery typically reveals a great deal about people. Sobriety has a way of directing our attention towards self-reflection. Time can seem to fly by, or it can drag out endlessly — like when firefighters are rushing to put out a massive fire or sit in the firehouse for hours waiting for an alarm. The progress we’ve made might feel life-changing some days, yet on other days this growth seems immeasurable. Reaching one year of sober living is a huge accomplishment. But what can we look forward to?

Answering this question is one of the most common struggles for individuals in recovery. Reaching goals of sobriety tend to leave alumni feeling aimless once they have passed. Measuring progress through annual benchmarks incentivizes long-term recovery, but it can also leave long gaps between rewards for sober behavior. First responders have many opportunities for heroic moments to try to help fill the void, but tragic moments can happen just as frequently.

As a way to supplement these long droughts, many alumni in recovery turn to literature as a method to measure their progress. Taking on a lengthy book offers first responders a metric to gauge their progress while providing mental health benefits that are frequently absent from activities like watching television, playing video games, or scrolling through social media.

Reading is a safe form of escapism — something that first responders likely need more than anyone with the things they see and experience every day. Fostering a regular reading routine builds the long-term willpower and attention-span required for extended periods of sobriety.

Is Reading a Form of Meditation?

The act of sitting in a room for an extended period of time and focusing on any one task provides solace from the sometimes anxious narrative of our interior monologues, or the stressful experiences that first responders often have at work. For this reason, reading can be viewed as a type of guided meditation.

If you have ever attempted to read while distracted, you will likely find that the ability to retain meaningful information becomes difficult. Reading through a large book — regardless of the subject matter — is guaranteed to take a lot of time. The combination of dedicating the time and focusing the energy required to work through a novel kickstarts the brain’s reward system that is associated with making progress.

So, aside from the invaluable knowledge imparted from literature, the practice of consistently working through a book informs our abilities to harness anxious thought processes, redirecting them towards positive outlets. Alumni can hone their attention with close reading while honoring the present moment of their consciousness.

The Power of Tangible Progress

Reading through a physical copy of any book provides tactile support behind the feelings of progress and accomplishment. The swell of pride we feel after closing a book we just finished boosts our confidence as well. This sensation encourages our reward system to seek out additional outlets for stimulating the language-based components of the brain.

Along with the many psychological benefits of sustained reading, the impact that reading has on our emotional intelligence is second to none. Particularly with works of fiction and poetry, the reader’s empathy grows along with the characters or narrators of each piece. Empathizing with a character in a book helps to extend our emotional availability to those in our lives — and ultimately, ourselves. For first responders who have always turned off their emotions to deal with the aftermath of traumatic events, this can be a freeing experience.

Flex Your Mind Like a Muscle

Our jobs as first responders already put us through intense experiences, but our minds are really put through the wringer with addiction and recovery. Alcohol and/or substance use invades the equilibrium of our brain chemistry, effectively altering the way we think about intoxication so that it becomes compulsive. It would be like machining a vehicle’s engine to run on diesel, then modifying it to run on gasoline before switching back to fueling it with diesel again. Inevitably, cognitive wear and tear result from addiction and recovery.

Reading builds many cognitive functions. Regardless of content, reading improves our communication abilities with ourselves and others. It’s also more likely for avid readers to begin writing on their own, which leads to healing for many in recovery.

Read About the Recovery of Other First Responders

One of the unexpected gifts of addiction’s prevalence in modern society is the widespread availability of resources from people who are going through the exact same journey. First responders are a unique group — most people could never understand or imagine what they experience. While the strategies that one first responder uses to strengthen their recovery might not work for everyone, some of the advice out there might help in unexpected ways.

Connecting with someone’s writing — when it seems to leap off the page and captivate some inexplicably vulnerable part of us — represents a unique opportunity within the limits of our own bodies. Every day as first responders, we experience so many things that we cannot control. By reading the words of others, we can control our ability to seek out understanding from people who are recovering just like us. We can identify with their feelings. Reading offers the solace that we are — if maybe just for one moment — not alone.

The continuing care program at True Recovery provides first responders with the community and culture desired by newly-sober individuals. While the weekly program connects peers to one another, our clinical staff remains in place to act as accountability partners as you begin your life and pursue the freedom found in a drug-free lifestyle. In addition to our alumni curriculum and fellowship, we offer a variety of external resources to draw upon through treatment graduation. The truth is, relapse is far less likely when you learn to enjoy sobriety by reaping the benefits of a healthy life and a vibrant support system. It’s inevitable to feel the weight caused by returning to work as a first responder. The True Recovery Alumni Connection offers a protective layer of support to help you ease into this transition. To learn more, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at (888) 743-0490.