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18 Items I Keep in My ‘Recovery Box’


Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

When I had my last crisis intervention, something recommended to me was to make myself a “recovery box.” With the help of the nurse who was visiting me at home, I managed to make one for myself in the space of a week or two. When I posted about it in a support group I am part of on Facebook, people seemed interested in it and my post explaining it became quite popular. However, due to the group being closed and having strong privacy settings to protect the members, I was unable to make the post shareable, despite requests for me to do so. So, I thought I would write about it somewhere that can be accessed more readily!

So, what is a recovery box?

To put it simply, it’s a box filled with things that can help somebody deal with urges or provide distractions and support. For me, it is filled with things I know will be effective in cheering me up or distracting me long enough for me to work through the urges and hopefully have them pass. It has been invaluable to me more than once and helped me avoid incidents many times!

My personal recovery box is an old Doc Martin shoebox — my favorite shoes — and it contains:

1. Sixteen photographs of friends, family or pets.

I did not need 16, nor was I aiming for 16, but I couldn’t choose between them and I enjoy the ability to flick through each of them and have 16 memories to keep me company.

2. The leaflet for my old crisis intervention team.

Even though I am no longer under their care, they made sure to tell me before I was discharged that I could still phone them if I ever needed to, and the leaflet also contains other numbers for various organizations and helplines I may use.

3. My spare car key.

This is so I always know I am never trapped; I can get in my car and escape if I need to. I can get myself out of any situation, just as I can get myself out of the current emotion I am struggling with. (It is also helpful because I know exactly where it is, so I won’t lose it!)

4. My “bride” sash from my hen party.

My hen party was an incredible experience with my closest friends and wonderful sister whom I was so lucky to have. I keep the sash to remind me of those incredible relationships I will forever be grateful to have and helps me to remember that, regardless of what my mind is telling me, I do have friends and family who love me.

5. A face mask.

Self-care is sometimes very hard for me if I am in a bad place, but it is something I always enjoy doing when I finally get around to it, especially something like a face mask which is lots of fun. It is also helpful to have the 10-minute (or more) waiting time to help me wait the urges out.

6. A bead bracelet.

I used to be a support worker and one of the absolutely fantastic people I used to support loved to make bracelets with beads. She made them for me every time I was on shift with her. She managed to brighten my day no matter how bad I was feeling. The bracelet never fails to put a smile on my face as I remember all of the amazing times I had and people I met while I was working in that sector.

7. Some threads.

My sister taught me years ago how to make thread bracelets by using lots of knots over and over again and, though I never really take the time to make them anymore, they take a really long time to do and I do enjoy doing them, so they are a helpful addition to my box.

8. Hand sanitizer.

I don’t know why I love hand sanitizer so much, but I really, really do, it’s one of my favorite things. It also makes me feel very safe and clean which I find most helpful if I am dealing with traumatic memories.

9. A scented candle.

One of the things helpful for bringing myself out of a state of dissociation is strong or out of place scents, so the candle works perfectly. I also just really love scented candles!

10. A pack of coloring pencils, a sharpener and a mindfulness coloring book.

The pencil sharpener is one that is enclosed so I cannot see the blade — so it is not a temptation. The coloring book and pencils are a wonderful distraction – one that, again, takes quite a while and is something I will actually enjoy. (This is something I tend to do while waiting on my face mask to dry!)

11. Some “as-needed” medication.

While I do not recommend keeping medication in the box just in case of temptation, I do keep some in my box just in case I need it. But, as a means of safeguarding myself, I only keep a couple in at once so that the temptation is not there and, even if it was there, the amount is so few that I would still be within my maximum daily dosage.

12. Nail varnish.

Again, an act of self-care I enjoy. Having my nails painted is something I try to always have done because it makes me feel more like myself. The waiting time for it to dry also, once more, gives me some time and scope to “ride the wave.”

13. A set of measuring spoons.

I love baking and always have; it reminds me of summer days during the school holidays, learning how to bake cakes and scones and trying out new recipes with my mum and my granny when I was in primary school. Baking is something that always makes me feel calm and safe and, quite honestly, being covered in flour is kind of my happy place.

14. A guitar capo.

Another thing I absolutely adore and yet never seem to find enough time for is playing my instruments. Keeping my spare guitar capo in my box reminds me that all of my instruments are waiting for me in the next room. Music is something that feels like home and it is also, perhaps most importantly for this particular instance, something that makes me feel like I have worth and value. It also reminds me of all of the friends I have made through music and the wonderful experiences I have had so far on my journey as a musician. If there are more to come, then I need to ride this feeling out and make it through to see them!

15. A notebook and a pen.

I am the type of person to very much find solace in writing out how it is I am feeling or distracting myself by writing lists or something similar.

16. A spare set of earphones.

As before, music feels like home and listening to music while doing other things in the box seems to amplify the effectiveness.

17. Letters I wrote to myself after my first crisis intervention.

I will not go too much into detail about this as I wrote an article about this already, found here.

18. A list of reasons to stay alive.

I wrote this following a therapy session when I was 18 and in my first year at university. Sometimes, I add to it. Sometimes, I just read it over and over. But it is there and tangible and full of everything I can think of as a reason to go on (and, turns out, when you think about it hard enough, there are actually an awful lot of reasons!)

I hope this proves to be helpful to anybody thinking about recovery boxes as a way of coping, or just a way of helping themselves out during a rough patch.

I had a good idea what to put in my box because I had heard of recovery boxes before, through my wonderful friend Megan, who founded and ran The Recovery Shoebox Project — an incredible project that can be found here.

For those who are perhaps still a bit stuck as to what to put in their own box, or are not currently in a position to make one for themselves, The Recovery Shoebox Project is an absolutely amazing project that provides them free of charge. I cannot recommend them enough, and I will be forever proud and honored to have known Megan for all she has done for the mental health community through this wonderful idea. If you, like me, feel like recovery boxes are a fantastic idea and believe many others should have access to them, please consider donating on their website to help boxes reach those who need them!

Photo by Jernej Graj on Unsplash