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  • Writer's pictureJohn Casper

Why Relapse Prevention Plans and Metaphorical Toolboxes Don’t Work

Relapse Prevention Plans and Metaphorical Toolboxes as they pertain to addiction treatment are happy little checks boxes that make counselors and patients beam with pride upon completion. Everyone claps themselves on the back on a clinical job well done, files the plan away and then ‘nothing’.

Treating a physical disease with ‘paperwork’ is like suturing a severed finger with song lyrics.

(Insert protests here.) Yep, I get it, if you are a counselor or provider you have to write clinical notes and treatment plans as well as involve the patient in the plan it’s the ‘rules. If you are a ‘patient’ maybe you are like “Hey wait a minute, I worked really hard on my ‘plan’, and it has saved my life multiple times over!” To both I would reply, “Well done, but how would you feel if I invited you to move beyond paperwork and begin to actively, tangibly, create a real life, whole person Hope Chest?”

What is a Hope Chest? Hope Chests simply defined are hand-made cedar chests built to protect valuable textiles and belongings from decay and to ‘build’ a future for a young unmarried female. In a nutshell it is a box of worth.

“Using her handcrafting skills, an ordinary girl was able to stock this chest with linen, blankets, napkins, towels, and other textile items which she had made herself, or received as a gift from her parents, friends, or relatives. These handcrafted items were regarded as proof of a girl’s skillful and industrious nature; qualities which would get her a good husband” (

(Those bags look heavy, feel free to drop your feminist rhetoric and “I’m a man so how does this apply to me?” here, and enjoy the ride into common denominator land.)

I ask you to consider viewing ‘recovery’ as a marriage covenant with ones past present and future self to “love, honor and protect”. In that vein, welcome to the concept of creating your very own Hope Chest.

How to Create a Hope Chest a Step-by-Step Guide

1. Pick a container. This can be a cardboard box that you decorate, or don’t. A plastic bin with clear sides so you can ‘see’ what it contains, a basket, a paper bag, or whatever you have on hand. It’s your Hope Chest, after all.

2. Add a picture of yourself, that you like. Sometimes it helps to use a picture of your ‘little’ self as it is easier to have compassion for our younger selves. If that is uncomfortable for you, no worries, use a picture of anything that triggers your “Aww that’s so cute’ response. Most humans are hard wired to be visually cued as ‘more forgiving/tolerant/protective’ towards young children, puppies, kitties etc. Label your picture “Me”.

“Me” (the baby ‘elephant in the room’)

3. Write yourself best- and worst-case scenario greeting cards to be opened as needed. Label the. Examples you may want to include....

· Congratulations: “Congratulations you just made it two weeks without booze or drugs, I

bet you didn’t think you’d make it this far!”

· Relapse “You got this, pick yourself up dust off and carry on, you are worth fighting for.”

· Depression “I know it feels hard right now…”

· Cravings “These are the reasons you don’t want to go back…”

· Bad Day “You have my support…”

· I love you “I love you because….”

· I’m sorry for your loss…

4. Write a “Dear John” breakup letter to your drug of choice.

5. Add an ‘in case of emergency’ mini pity party care package to include some of your favorite treats and a party hat, listen to your favorite sad song on repeat, allow yourself to be in the moment. Finish off the party with your favorite motivational/high energy/ song, dance it off.

6. Add a notebook, write down anything you want to say without editing yourself, date the entry. Use this as a ‘self-barometer’, it’s hard to see how far one has come without also noting where one started. This will be the beginning or your roadmap to your ‘self’. You can write anything from a list of your favorite foods to your moods (all of them, not just the pretty ones), things you want, things you hate, what the weather is outside.

7. Keep adding to your hope chest, just like you, it is a living, breathing, learning, growing, failing, getting back up, moving forward, validating, trying, recovering, box of ‘Hope’.

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