Complacency is the number one culprit in a relapse happening. What is complacency you might ask? Complacency is when you begin to neglect things in your recovery life. It is what happens when we feel like we are “good” and don’t need as many meetings, or that we can take a chill break from our stepwork. Complacency is believing that “I’ve got this,” and that no more support is needed. We will revisit this a little later in this article.
In this article we will walk through the pre-relapse process, some key elements of having a relapse prevention plan in place, and things that can help get us back on track if relapse does, in fact, happen.
What Really Is A Relapse?
The Merriam-Webster 2016 print edition has three definitions that I feel exemplify this term in the way that we are using it here:
1. To slip and fall backwards to a previous state.
2. The act or process of backsliding or worsening.
3. The occurrence of an illness after a period of improvement.
In layman’s terms, we, as addicts and alcoholics are ill and the programs of recovery that we participate in, is our chemo. Along with this, we must do other things to help keep our other aspects healthy as well. It is when we neglect the things that keep us well and healthy on a spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical level that the process of relapse begins.
Here we will go over the 3 ‘types’ of relapses:
Emotional, mental, and physical.
An emotional relapse is when our state of emotion has reverted back to that of an ornery teenager who does not get what he/she wants. In this type of relapse, we may get angry quick or our irritability level becomes uncharacteristically high. There are others who become sensitive and become emotional at the drop of a feather. Anxiety will probably be oh heightened alert right now. Now, you may be one of those who say, “I am like that all of the time”, and you very well may be. If this is the case, please just take a few moments each day to sit with yourself and examine where it is coming from. Is it something that needs to be looked at further? Or are you just at that place where stuff is getting under your skin.
This is just what it says. During a mental relapse, your central nervous system and all of your emotions are at an all time high. Mentally, you are glorifying that drink or drug. You are already telling yourself that it is fine, you’ll be fine to take just one drink. This is the point where it may get difficult to say “no” to everything you’ve said no to prior. There may still be a bit of recovery left inside you at this point, however, you may be struggling for dear life because your disease wants you dead, crazy or miserable. It is at this point that ‘Life or Death’ once again becomes real.
This is when the actual relapse happens. But a lot happens in this level before you pick up that drink or drug. This is that point where you may not be making the wisest choice, a choice that you haven’t made in quite a while. By this point you may have lost a job, or have been on the verge of losing it. You may be avoiding talking to family because you have had using thoughts, and the desire to follow through with them. Now you’re okay with feeling that.
You’ve made the decision, you’ve got what you need to follow through. You’ve gotten your head wrapped around the knowledge that you are going to lose everything that you love, but it doesn’t seem as bad as it did when you were working a program, and you still go ahead and do it. You have now officially thrown away everything that you worked for, everything that you love. All of it. Gone. The heartbreak and self loathing, that are to be yours everyday, have rushed into you like they were racing to get to you first.
This is your relapse.
The Ten Stages Of Relapse
We just went over the 3 TYPES, which was pretty intense, right? Well now, with these ten stages, it becomes a little more clear how the relapse works. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40-60% of people who recover experience a relapse at some point in their recovery. While this is an unfortunate part of some folks’ recovery process, it doesn’t have to be yours.
For the remainder of this article I am going to share with you things that I have learned throughout my time in recovery, and, unfortunately, my times of relapse. I do this in hopes that I will help you from making the same mistakes as I did. Hopefully this will help you to see more clearly the early signs of relapse and you can get the help you need to not have to start at day one again.
- Denial: Nothing is wrong. Im fine.
- Avoidance and defensive behavior: Refuses to look at own problems while drastically oversizing those of others.
- Crisis building: Stuck in the negative thoughts and patterns.
- Immobilization: Pessimism and lack of action.
- Confusion and overreaction: Irritable hostile. “Mountains out of molehills”, cognitive confusion.
- Depression: I’m pretty sure that we know what this one looks like. Lack of interest in things we enjoy-Sad-Emotional, Etc.
- Behavioral Loss of Control: Deeper depression, cutting back on support groups or whatever other support you do, refuses help when offered.
- Recognition of Loss of Control: Lies, stuck in self pity, negative all of the time. Poor me.
- Option Reduction: Unnecessarily resentful, emptiness, stressed out, life is spiraling out of control.
- Using that drug/drink: By this point, you’ve convinced yourself that what you’re doing is ok. You had your blinders on for so long that you didn’t stand a chance.
So, what’s Next?
The remainder of this article will be focused on things to do to create your relapse prevention plan, as well as helpful and happy positive coping mechanisms. These will aid your process if the prevention plan need arises.
The best way to ensure the greatness of your present and future, is to take an honest look at your past. These habits, patterns, things that worked and things that did not. Below are some steps to guide and walk you through the process.
Step 1. Assess your history. This is important because looking at old patterns will help break the cycle moving forward. People, Places, Things, Thoughts during previous relapses.
Step 2. Identify Red Flags that have lead to relapse, either directly or indirectly. Everything is interconnected.
Step 3. Create a safety plan using what you have come up with from this so far.
The Toolbox of Prevention
There are any number of things that will help people stay on their path, some specific to the person, and some more generalized that will work well for everyone. Below are a few that have worked for me when I apply them:
– Find out what your healthy coping skills consist of.
– Make a list of the negative consequences if you were to relapse.
– Journal about what is in your head at the exact moment the thoughts arise.
– Keep awareness of your behaviors and thought processes
– Check your motives with everything that you do.
– Find a support group that works for you.
No one likes a relapse and all of the baggage that comes with it. Having the awareness to catch things in the beginning or at least early enough to be able to prevent relapse from happening. Remember, The relapse starts long before the relapse actually occurs.