Many have heard the time-worn expression, “relapse is the rule and not the exception.” Relapse is always lurking somewhere. It is only as close as the next drink or that next line of cocaine tempting us with its seductive white line.
There is a difference between a “slip” and a “relapse.” A slip, considered less serious than a relapse, is often spontaneous and not a calculated event. Slips occur when people pick up alcohol or drugs after a period of sobriety but stop almost immediately. As soon as they achieve sobriety, they return to abstinence.
A relapse (“fall again”) is far more serious, indicating that the individual has returned to their former addiction. This relapse may last for extended periods of time, signaling that recovery attempts have been completely abandoned.
“If you relapse, don’t view it as the ultimate failure,” says Donna M. White. “It is this type of thinking that will keep you sick. If you were able to stay clean and sober before, you will be able to do it again. Reach out to others and seek help. Begin working your recovery program again. Process the events and emotions that led to relapse so that they are not repeated. By processing these situations, you can learn from your mistakes. This will only help you in your journey in recovery.”
Recidivism is the tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior. Because of brain development, poor conflict resolution skills and environmental factors that contribute to recidivism, adolescents who enter treatment for alcohol and other substances of abuse, tend to demonstrate a higher incidence of relapse than adults.
Not everyone believes that relapse is a prerequisite and Gerard J. Egan argues against this widespread conviction: “It has been believed that relapse is a part of recovery and that for most people trying to get clean and sober it is just a rite of passage … Those who believe that relapse is a necessary part of recovery need to recognize that there is a universal principle that ‘what we believe is what we conceive and achieve.’ If we think that failure is necessary prior to success then that becomes the proverbial self-fulfilled prophecy…”
Relapse prevention is about “keeping it green” and not becoming too confident, too complacent or too secure in our recovery. Abstinence alone is not enough. Self-discipline and willpower alone will not prevent relapse without profound lifestyle changes.
According to Stanley J. Gross, “A lifestyle change is not easy to make or maintain. Lapses and relapses do occur. Some people relapse several times before new behavior becomes a regular part of their lives. Thus, it is important to learn about and use relapse prevention techniques…”
Changing one’s lifestyle may be the most important recovery strategy. We must commit to a lifestyle of total abstinence surrounded with new people, places and things. (NOTE: Some will argue that total abstinence is not necessary, that some can drink in careful, calculated moderation. That strategy is not one shared by this writer. Still, there is more to recovery than people, places and things. The following is a collection of possible strategies as suggested by associates currently in recovery.
1. Connect with your higher power and your spiritual self, asking for help and guidance. Discover your spiritual self. Use that spirituality as a resource to help free you and deliver you to a higher, nondestructive, place. Pray. Turn it over to God or to your personal Higher Power. “Let go, let God.” It is possibly the most important thing. There is no recovery possible and relapse is a surety if left to our own devices and self-will.
2. Attend a 12-step support meeting and connect with a group. Surround yourself with supportive, caring individuals. The 12-step programs allow those in recovery, or those attempting to begin the process of recovery, to understand the experience of others. Discuss your feelings and urges. Pay attention to those who have just gotten clean. Listen to their struggles and remind yourself of how horrible addiction can be. Utilize the strength, experience and hope that is an integral part of AA, NA and other support groups. They can save your life if you let them.
3. Keep yourself safe. Remove yourself from the temptation. Get rid of the items that are a part of your addiction- drugs, alcohol, paraphernalia, pornography, food, phone numbers, gambling advertisements, etc. Get rid of them if you can. Hide them if that is more practical. Don’t temp yourself and don’t give yourself a green light that communicates that it is okay to see or interact with these very items that may lead you to travel the same destructive path. Do not share space with these items symbolic of your weakness, your vulnerability, your addiction. You do not need them in your view nor in your life.
4. One day at a time. That concept may work for many but for others a 24-hour period is far too long. For some a five or ten-minute period of total abstinence may be all you are currently capable of attaining. Work on that to perfection and then extend that period of time, longer and longer, as you begin to take control of your life and your recovery.
5. Dispute. As Albert Ellis stated in his Rational Emotive Therapy, you need to dispute your thinking. Ellis called it the most powerful cognitive method ever invented. Don’t believe your past ideas and conclusions. Develop a new way of thinking and new conclusions based on confidence and positive energies gleaned from your ongoing recovery process.
6. Create a safe place. Design an environment where you are supported, protected and totally free from your addiction. That safe environment may include a support group, sponsor, network of positive friends and all of the tools that you have developed to begin your road to recovery. Experience and celebrate the warmth of your personal safe harbor.
7. Celebrate choice. We ultimately have control of our destiny. That control is all about exercising our choice of basking in the healing sunshine or in the toxic darkness. We always have a choice of either doing something to enhance our recovery or furthering our self-destruction. Choice is a powerful action steeped in positive philosophy, energies and empowerment.
8. Exercise. Go for a walk, jog, climb mountains, exert yourself. Do something physical as a means of diverting negative focus
to another place. Connect with all of the powerful natural highs surrounding us. Physical movement stimulates the neurotransmitters, flooding the central nervous system with healthy natural agents.
9. Learn to relax. Meditate. Feel the serenity. Listen to the stilled voice within. Experience the peace and tranquility, feel the calming of the cravings and search to satisfy your addiction. That is your real self, the one free of fear, competition, frenetic pace and all the other ills of the world.
10. Transform. Allow yourself to transform into the safe, beautiful individual that you are, an individual who will experience rebirth and the joy of healing. Witness the shifting of power from the addiction to abstinence as your life regains balance and stability. Born into this world, it becomes our quest to discover our place in the universe as we learn, grow and evolve into spiritual completeness.
Maxim W. Furek, MA, CADC, ICADC has a rich background that in-cludes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book Sheppton: The Myth, Miracle & Music blends facets of the psychological, miraculous and supernatural in a true ordeal of survival. Learn more at shepptonmyth.com
References Provided Upon Request