The Blessing of Relapse? Really. Yes, really. Let’s say Joe has been using alcohol and pot since he was 13. At 29 he’s tired of being exhausted, broke, fighting with his girlfriend, having his parents upset with him. He’s done. Joe starts attending AA/NA 12 step meetings. But, he doesn’t do the 90 meetings in 90 days as suggested. He doesn’t get a sponsor. H’s doing ok. Four long sober months go by and the stresses of every day life are getting to him. He may be romancing the feeling that a beer or a toke will give him. His cravings come up especially when he’s struggling to pay the bills or his girlfriend is on his case about there not being enough money. Joe’s thinking about using to solve his problems becomes a daily thing. He’s still going to meetings, but he’s not talking about what he’s thinking or feeling. You know what happens…. Joe stops by his friend Don’s on the way home from work – like hs used to. He gets high. He’s off and running for the weekend. He’s relapsed.
What are the steps that brought Joe to relapse? According to Terence Gorski and Merlene Miller, Relapse Specialists, there are warning signs that show up before the first drink or use.
Here are 5:
1) You aren’t attending meetings or meeting with your sponsor as much as you were before – you’re slacking off.
2) Stress level is building: This could be from a major change – job, family financial or the daily build up of problems, mood swings or bigger emotional ups and downs.
3) Denial: You might start thinking “I didn’t have that big of a problem.” “It wasn’t so bad.”
4) Behavior Change: Your healthy, sober daily routine slips back to old behavior – not getting up on time, not staying honest with yourself, overworking again or not thinking things through.
5) Social: You make excuses not to socialize, stop hanging around sober friends or withdraw from family.
Following these 5 steps you have set up the perfect scenarios for drinking or using again.
I love this quote by Terence Gorski: “Abstinence from alcohol and other drugs is only the beginning of sobriety. It’s the ticket to get into the theatre, not the movie we are going to see.”
Relapse Prevention Recipe: (Gorski)
1) Write up list of personal warning signs. For example Joe’s could include: Less attendance at meetings, stress building up or conflict with girlfriend.
2) Warning sign management – what to do with stress: Write, journal, talk to sponsor or other 12 step friends, exercise, get enough sleep.
3) Stay away from risky enviroments – bars, old using friends. Don’t let others pressure you to drink/use. Hang out with new sober friends.
4) Pay attention to how you feel – angry, sad, afraid, guilty – write or acknowledge and breathe. Talk about at meetings.
5) Work to change negative thinking – catch the negative thoughts early – Use image of a BIG RED STOP SIGN or Cancel Cancel words and replace with opposite or more positive words.
The blessing of relapse is when the experience and process leads back to more stable recovery. Recovery as every one says is a process. What’s one change you’ll make today to prevent relapse?