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.
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.
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.
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.
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.