Avoiding Relapse During the Holidays

  • By Aaron Mills
  • 21 Nov, 2017

Let's face it. For many of us, the holidays are a tough time. 

Relapse is not a stage in the forward progress of recovery, but a regression into the addiction. Addicts may relapse from any stage of motivation for a variety of reasons.

Internationally known addiction and relapse expert Terry Gorski suggests that this is an inside-out process with changes in internal thinking leading to external lapses. At times, great upheaval in the outside world may also contribute to the process. The truth is that addictions are baffling and cunning; nothing and everything may be the cause.

Another truth, however, is that most people are very simple in their relapse; it is usually the same people, places, and things that lead to relapses. Along the way, each addict develops his or her own unique way to relapse. Noting this and then discovering what that pattern looks like  is a great way to avoid it.

Know your own patterns

A subconscious cognition makes a behavior which causes a thought. To break that down, our cognitive process comes from two places. It is both our upbringing, but also our genetics. That is why two people can have the exact same parenting and childhood upbringing, but because of their different genetics, one may develop trust issues while the other does not. 

You see it's tricky, and it's not the same across the board for everyone. We all have our own individual patterns to contend with. 
Relapse isn't something that just magically happens on its own. Even though most people who relapse feel like it came out of nowhere, there was a process led to the relapse moment itself.

If you are actively working a program, you are examining your own patterns. When you dig into the underlying behaviors, you find triggers that manifest negative thoughts. We can work on changing those behaviors to interrupt the patterns. 

What that pattern looks like can be different for every individual, but the same tools can be used to keep from making the decision to relapse. We take action to reverse-engineer our ways of thinking to break the patterns of negative emotions. 

The action we take is to ask why and process what is happening with a therapist, counselor, or our sponsor. 

Initial in-patient treatment is not enough according to Gorski. Having a long-term plan for continued group sessions and therapy is needed to make a lasting change.  

We change over time. It's not something that happens in an instant.
That is why attending groups and getting individual counseling for the first few years of sobriety is critical to success. 

Have a plan for the holidays not to relapse

Some good steps to creating your plan

  1. Rehearse hard-to-answer or awkward questions. If this is your first time spending the holidays sober it can be a good idea to practice answering awkward questions in the mirror or with a friend like a sponsor or therapist.  Some of the questions you might get could sound harsh, and some might be completely innocent from family and friends who genuinely care. Also remember, you don't have to answer questions you don't want to. 

  2. Get support. Plan on attending a couple of extra meetings, to make extra calls with your sponsor, or to spend some extra time with your therapist. There is no shame in needing support. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. This is the very purpose of having a community of sober friends. They have been through this, and they will understand.

  3. Don't spend the holidays alone. If you are going to be by yourself for the holidays, make some plans. Get together with other AA or NA people from meetings you attend. Reach out to friends and family that you know would like to get together, and if that fails plan to going somewhere with people. The mall or the movies are always an idea. 

  4. Have a backup plan. Are you going to attend a holiday party or a get-together? Make sure you have an exit planned. This might mean attending the party with a friend who understands that you want to leave early. It could be as simple as making sure you have Uber ready on your phone to bail out if it becomes uncomfortable. Don't feel like you have to stay in any situation that you feel could trigger you into a relapse. Having an exit plan beforehand will make this easier and keep you reminded that you can leave at any time.

  5. Find an a non-alcoholic drink to call your own. Ginger ale with a lime is not going to raise any eyebrows if you are in a room full of people drinking. Likewise, you can simply drink an ice water with a straw, or something else you really enjoy. If someone does offer you an alcoholic drink just let them know, "Sorry, I don't drink." That should be the end of the conversation in most cases. 

  6. Some things you can say if you want to keep your sobriety private
    • I am not drinking tonight.
    • I am on medication and cannot have alcohol.
    • I am the designated driver tonight.

Let's be honest about the real issue

Many people view "having just one drink" as though it is a magical time bomb that will drag any sober person directly into a full blown relapse. In many ways this is a silly idea. Of course a relapse can start with just one drink, just one pill, just one snort, etc. But the bigger issue addicts face during the holidays is not just the availability and culture of alcohol. 

Relapses don't ensue just because drugs and alcohol are available. Anyone who wants drugs and alcohol could seek them out. A relapse often has a lot more to do with being lonely, depressed, and sad. The holidays often re-introduce family dynamics, memories, and situations with old friends that lead people into the same old patterns and behaviors. 

A safe bet to staying sober is to not put yourself in a situation where you have the access to drugs and alcohol. An even safer bet is to not put yourself in a situation where you are also dealing with an emotional struggle alone, and without the toolset you have developed while learning to be sober. 

The problem is not that someone offered you that one drink, and you say, "What the hell. It's just one drink." 

That is a cop-out.

The problem is that you allowed yourself to get into the pattern that put you into a situation where you are using a substance to feel OK again / cope with your emotions / suppress your pain / interrupt your life / control your behaviors / insert your reason for using here. 

Decide to stay sober, and not to relapse

We all have the power to say no and to make the decision not to relapse. Just like everything else in life, being an addict takes hard work . As an analogy, if you wanted to play soccer in a city league you would need to first research when and where to sign up. You would need to get a uniform, and make plans to attend practices and games. You would probably want to practice some on your own, or do other workouts to help stay in shape. You would never find yourself on a soccer field playing in a game surrounded by other players and using teamwork to make goals without a lot of effort and planning. 

Relapses take effort and hard work, just like anything else in life. You have to first flirt with the idea, take it out to dinner, and eventually make the decision. 

The great news is that you can spend that effort making the decision and creating the situation that will keep you sober instead. 

The risk of the relapse

Where people land after relapse depends on a lot of factors:

  • where they are in the recovery process
  • how they and others handle the relapse
  • the extent to which the relapse has damaged hope, expectations, and faith

With the incredibly high number of overdoses killing people today, and the vast number of drunk drivers taking other people's lives during the holidays. Relapse can be a life-or-death matter. This may be your last opportunity to stay sober. This might be the only chance at life and hope that you have. 

Nothing is worth losing your life or taking the life of an innocent person. When you make the decision to stay sober this holiday season, it could be your own life you're saving. it could also be the life of a complete stranger. That is something worth doing!

Some people will relapse and turn that into a positive afterward, when it finally gets them on the right track and they learn something that helps prevent a future relapse. Relapse can be a stepping stone, if care is taken to build hope, to learn and move on.

The best course of action though, is to make the decision before you relapse, not to do it. 

This article was written by Paul Henry and Aaron Mills and may not reflect the official positions of Desert Rose Recovery. 

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By Jenny Hunt 22 Jan, 2018
So often I talk about the big blessings of sobriety – great job, great life, great friends, great relationship with my family, and that feeling of inner peace and contentment. Sometimes I forget about the little things. Little things that were so out of my reach in addiction, I didn’t even believe they were possible. So here are some of those things, in no particular order:
By Jodi MacNeal 22 Jan, 2018
By Aaron Mills 20 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 20 Jan, 2018
Two days after the 1986 NBA draft, No. 2 pick Len Bias was dead of cardiac arrest after of a cocaine overdose.

Len Bias: Best player Maryland had ever seen (maybe the best Maryland player ever, depending on how you feel about Juan Dixon). The future of the Celtics. About to sign an endorsement deal with Reebok. Life was perfect.

Cocaine killed that. He was 22.

Bias hadn’t left home to play college ball; he was a home-grown talent who came up just outside D.C. and played ball in Maryland so he wouldn’t have to leave his family. He had a future as wide-open and promising as any kid, ever. Already a star, a freak of athletic power and poise, he might have changed the world of professional basketball. He’d fueled the dreams of a thousand city kids who wanted to play like him, be him. He swaggered, Len Bias did. His opponents couldn’t fathom him: “He’d jump and his knees would be in my teeth.” He dunked on guys, whether he needed to or not, just because he could. Len Bias could fly.

And then cocaine ended him.

Here’s how it went down: Bias and three buddies were snorting coke in a dorm room, suite 1103 in Washington Hall. Bias did a line, tried to get up, fell back on the bad and lapsed into seizure. One guy held his legs. Another one put the handle of a pair of scissors in Bias’s mouth, to keep him from biting his own tongue. The third somehow called 911 and mumbled, over and over, that his friend was in trouble. Kept saying his friend’s name, even when the emergency operator told him it didn’t matter. “This is Len Bias. You have to get him back to life. There’s no way he can die.”

But drugs don’t differentiate. Substance use, abuse and addiction have attacked athletes across the spectrum of sport.

By Emily Johanson 18 Jan, 2018
If a stranger in a gas station parking lot asks this question, it’s easy to assume what’s going on.

“Nope. I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yep, thanks.”

After working a full day, then sitting through a 4-hour class, the last thing I was in the mood for was to be pestered by a drug dealer at 11 p.m. All I wanted was to get my Marlboro Smooths and go home.

As I got into my car, annoyed by the fact that I had to start it with pliers (broken car keys aren’t worth the $200 replacement), something told me to stop.

I reversed, and rolled down my window next to the mysterious black Toyota.

“What are you selling?”

He told me that he had whatever I needed: Weed, percs, Xanax, heroin, flakka, oxies, you name it.

Addiction was too close to home to keep from speaking up.

“Do you realize what you’re doing? Do you realize what you’re selling?”

He was silent for a minute, staring at me. After what felt like eternity looking into this man’s eyes, I decided that I had the freedom to continue. What else do I say? I began to tell some of my story. I served him my heart on a silver platter.

“You don’t have to do this. There are other ways to make money.”

He looked down in shame. I encouraged him to take a few of my Desert Rose company cards in case he knew someone who needed help. He got out of his car, took the cards from my hand and stood there, shaking his head. With tears in his eyes, he said, “They’re for me.”

I sat there with this guy for 45 minutes while he poured out his heart and story.

Gary told me he’s 49 years old, works on classic cars by day, and sells drugs by night for extra money. He has a beautiful son who he loves with all of his heart. When he removed his hat and pulled his shirt collar aside, his bald head and IV port revealed his personal nightmare: Gary was also fighting stage four colon cancer. He made it clear that his cancer was not an excuse for his behavior, or for his personal drug use.

I was caught off guard when Gary squeezed my hands and began to pray. He prayed against forces of the enemy. He prayed for blessing over my life. He prayed protection and favor over his son. For himself, he prayed for wisdom and strength to do the next right thing.

As he walked back to his car, he turned around and said, “It’s time for me to go home and kiss my son good night. Thank you for reminding me of what’s important.”

Every day, we pass people by, like they’re just part of the scenery. We have absolutely no clue what kind of story, beauty, and pain lie beneath the surface.

If you're in pain, please know we understand and we're ready to help. Call us today at (844) 338-5587. 
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 18 Jan, 2018
By Jodi MacNeal 16 Jan, 2018
How do you carry your recovery into the world? Do you pin it on daily, like a badge of honor? Do you bring it out just for special occasions, or do you keep it well and truly hidden?

Last month, a longtime acquaintance told me (in slightly hushed tones) that he’s in recovery. 

I was glad that I didn't hear any traces of shame or guilt in his voice. His long-ago drinking and drug use? It’s just the life he was living at the time. He’s not afraid of being judged, or of any stigma attached to substance abuse and recovery.

It’s just that he’s moved on. He’s private about being in recovery and it’s not particularly relevant to the life he's achieved – husband, father, business owner, artist, athlete. He sponsors people, even quietly mentions that he’s a former addict when he thinks it might help somebody. He probably won’t bring it up with his kids unless they ask him point-blank, once they’re old enough to understand. It’s a crazy-healthy way to be.

For some people, declaring their recovery to the world is a part of staying clean. It gives them a sense of identity and a tribe – their own #MeToo community. They’re vocal, active, engaged. These are the folks going into the prisons, leading the meetings, talking to groups of high school students and their parents. Walking though recovery means talking about recovery. They have no secrets.

Then there are others who’ve closed and locked the door. The subject is not open for discussion, and if you happen to touch upon it, everybody’s going to feel a little uncomfortable for a while. This happened to me not long ago, with a pastor friend. Trying to find a way to refuse a glass of prosecco I offered, he made a joke about being an overachiever in everything – including, at one time, drinking. He made his point in a way that made it clear that was all he was planning to say on the matter. His right, and I respect that.

It seems to me that there are a million ways to navigate long-term recovery. What’s your way?
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