Let’s face it: In early sobriety, it can be unbelievably difficult to find the comfort and relaxation that you can no longer get from sitting down with a full glass of booze. 

When I first stopped drinking, this had me — to put it lightly — pretty keyed up. Meditation became my duct tape. Whether I was sad or anxious, angry or bored, I held myself together with meditation. And when I got worn out on just counting breaths during my meditation practice, these visualizations were the result. 

For each visualization, I’ll tell you why I find it so powerful, give you a loose script to get started and tell you how I use it in my everyday life. 

Whether I was sad or anxious, angry or bored, I held myself together with meditation. And when I got worn out on just counting breaths during my meditation practice, these visualizations were the result. 

First, the basics: All these visualizations can be done either lying on your back or in a seated meditation position. Start by closing your eyes, relaxing your body, and taking ten deep breaths. Then, commence visualizing. It may feel weird or silly at first but just roll with it. The more you can lose yourself to the images, the more you can get a handle on feelings that are out of control. Once you’re familiar with them, you can call up these visualizations any time.

Visualization 1: You are water.

In this exercise, you’ll imagine that you are water. You ARE water. Know why? Because water doesn’t care. 

Start as a lake, become a cloud, fall back to the ground, rise back to the sky, freeze and float to the ground, melt, and do it again. Think water-you is upset by all this change? Does water-you view this as good or bad? Nope and nope. Water-you doesn’t give a single f*ck about any of that.

Get so much dirt in yourself, you’re basically mud?  Do other people throw garbage at you? Leak their toxic chemicals into your body? Get so hot you literally boil? Water-you does not give a damn. You are water, and nothing can faze you. 

You’ll want different water visualizations based on the seasons, so here’s how to do it: 

Autumn: You are standing next to a beautiful, still lake. Mountains reach to the sky in the distance. The trees around you blaze with reds, oranges, and yellows. Leaves gently float down on a breeze and land lightly on the water’s surface. 

You feel your body slowly melt, and you become water. You seep down through the earth and into the lake. You are aware of the activity around you and in you. Fish swim through you. Frogs hop into you. Snakes slither on top of you. Leaves drift down and pile up in your bed. 

You are water. You observe and remain unaffected.

Winter: You freeze solid at your surface. Ice crystals swirl in your depths. The wind whips snow into drifts on top of you. 

You are water, and you observe unaffected.

Spring: Ice melts. Your banks flood. Your waters teem with tadpoles that dart around fallen branches. Storms arrive. Sheets of rainfall and churn you into a muddy soup. 

You are water, and you observe unaffected.

Summer: The sun burns overhead. Pieces of you rise as steam toward the sky. Much of you disappears, transformed into clouds and dew and mist and rain.

You are water, and you observe unaffected.

Continue this cycle as many times as you like. Follow the water that becomes clouds. Fall into the ocean and become part of a tidal wave. Let everything around you happen as it happens, and assume the indifferent, observant quality of water.

Use this visualization when: 

  • You’re lying in bed at night, feeling overwhelmed and stressed, especially if you’ve woken in the middle of the night.
  • You catch yourself getting too emotionally caught up in what’s happening. Just repeat the mantra to yourself: “I am water and I observe, unaffected.” Make your muscles go slack like water.

Visualization 2: A beacon of kindness. 

When I first quit drinking, I was pretty pissed and feeling sorry for myself. “Why me! Woe is me! is this really for me?!” and all that. 

Also, I don’t know if you’re going to believe this, but I sometimes still feel mad and sad and pathetic, even as I sit here in my amazing sober life on my lovely couch, surrounded by my gorgeous family. For all those pity party times, then and now, gratitude and kindness are what pull me back into the reality of how good things are.

Here’s how to do this one with a focus on incoming kindness: Imagine that you are radiating kindness, that it’s rolling off of you in waves. Picture one of those black radar screens where a bright green line sweeps clockwise around a circle and picks up dots which are normally enemy fighters or some such, but in this case, the dot is you. 

Basically, you’re projecting so much kindness that other people are picking it up on their radar. The enlisted person inside their brain is monitoring the dashboard and is yelling, “CAPTAIN! THERE IS SOMETHING REALLY BIG ON THE RADAR!” And the captain of their mind is running over and saying, “HOLY SHIT, THAT IS THE BIGGEST MASS OF KINDNESS I’VE EVER SEEN, SOLDIER!”

Your kindness is at critical mass. Focus on giving so much of it off that other people can sense it and feel comforted by it.

Here’s how to do this one with a focus on kindness ripples: You’re familiar with what it looks like when you throw a stone into a still pond, right? Ripples spread out in concentric circles from the point where the stone went in. Imagine that you are spreading ripples of kindness in that way, starting from where you are and spreading out in every direction. They bend the carpet, the pavement, the linoleum, the dirt or whatever is beneath you as they pass through, and every person they pass under feels the warmth and a sense of calm. Send out your kindness ripples and imagine them easing pain and offering to understand to everyone they contact.

Use this visualization when: 

  • You’re doing a regular meditation practice any time of day.
  • You’re around a bunch of people and you’re not doing anything, like waiting in traffic or standing in line or sitting in a staff meeting.
  • You’re around someone that you have a negative emotional reaction toward, like the colleague that’s not pulling his weight or the gal that’s talking on speakerphone in the middle of Starbucks.

Visualization 3: In the river of energy. 

When I was still drinking and I had to work late, I’d pour a giant glass of wine and settle in for a couple of hours of heavy duty work. After I wasn’t drinking, I needed a replacement for that. A sign that meant I could get relaxed and creative and let the words flow. Inspired by all the delightfully woo stuff I was reading at the time about how to deal with my issues, I came up with this visualization.

Here’s how to do it: Imagine that energy flows around you all the time; creative energy, healing energy, positive energy. We can let it flow through us and bring all its power to our mindset and actions. To capture more of it, we just have to head to the places where it’s most concentrated and open our bodies to receive it. 

Imagine a spirit version of yourself that can move through any substance and travel anywhere without any mundane physical constraints like gravity, solid matter, breathing or worrying about whether its period is about to start. Then continue with one of the versions below.

Version 1, Drop down: Let your spirit body grow heavy and sink into the floor and through the earth until it arrives in an underground river of energy. Bathe in the river and float along with its current. Allow the energy to seep into your skin and diffuse into your body. Acknowledge that you are now in a flow state. Feel the flow opening your mind and removing doubts about whether you can or can’t do something. Know it is carrying you exactly where you are meant to go, and that by letting go and floating along, you’ll get there sooner than if you try to fight the current. 

Version 2, Float up: Let your spirit body grow light and airy and float up effortlessly through your roof and the sky and into space. In space, there is a vein of energy flowing at least a half mile wide. It shines with golden light and looks so inviting that you place yourself directly in its middle. Put yourself in contact with as much energy as possible by flattening and expanding your spirit-body until you reach the edges of the vein. Feel the energy flowing through you and energizing your cells. Bask in it and let it fill you up with what you need: health, creativity, gratitude, high-frequency thoughts. You are recharging your batteries.

Get practiced at both these energy visualizations, and at times, you may even feel a tingling sensation throughout your body.

Use this visualization when: 

  • You get up in the morning to set an amazing tone for the rest of your day.
  • You’re about to do some mentally demanding work or you feel creatively blocked (concentrate on creative energy).
  • You feel sick (concentrate on healing energy).
  • You feel negative or cranky (concentrate on positive energy).

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If your meditation practice needs a little something new, then these visualizations may just do the trick. Try these out and they may just help you through those early (and later) days of sobriety. Just remember: You have full editorial control over what you visualize. To find success, focus on the images that help you the most, and shape these into the version that works best for you.