Keeping an Eye on Yourself to Avoid RelapseAnna Ciulla
“We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” –The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 10
Getting sober from chemical addiction is rough. Staying sober can be even harder. Long after you’re rid of immediate physical cravings, temptations to relapse may ambush you when least expected:
- You’re under an unusual amount of stress, and you remember the days when your nerves were calmed by one sip from a bottle.
- You’re at a party when someone starts circulating with a cocktail tray. Or you’re at a festival and a beer vendor passes by.
- You pass a billboard advertising your former favorite liquor.
- You pass a franchise of the store/restaurant where you always bought beer. Or you pass the park where you used to share cocaine with your buddies.
- An old “friend” actively tries to needle you into taking “just a little.”
While the risk of relapse is greatest in the first 6–12 months of sobriety, there are cases of people who hadn’t taken a drug in ten years, thought they were clear for “just one” dose, and found themselves experiencing full withdrawal symptoms the day after.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty: the best relapse insurance is to stay alert and quickly adjust your course if you start to drift into relapse-trigger territory.
KNOW YOUR PERSONAL WEAK SPOTS
Never mind how many people in your sobriety support group can work until 9 p.m. without ever thinking of a drink, who even find work a useful distraction from temptation. If your brain associates extra work with stress that needs a chemical relaxant, it’s a dangerous position for you to be in. Commit yourself to some other evening activity, preferably one you can do with other sober people, or one that energizes your creative side.
KEEP A JOURNAL
Take written inventory of your challenges and victories at least once a week, and a longer one at least once a month. When you spot an area where you seem to be getting careless, or when you catch yourself reminiscing about the “good old days” when you were free to use a chemical crutch, make immediate notes on plans to correct that, and share the situation with a support partner. Most relapses start in the emotions and the mind long before that new dose is physically taken.
Keeping a written record of your sobriety journey has another advantage: when you start feeling you’ll never make it or no one ever had a struggle like this, reviewing old notes will provide encouraging reminders of battles you’ve won, struggles others have shared, and everything you have to stay sober for.
STAY ACTIVE IN YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
If you don’t want to join a formal 12-Step group or its equivalent, at least commit yourself to meeting with trustworthy and supportive friends on a regular basis. Attend regular therapy sessions, too, and make sure your immediate family knows to alert you if you seem to be slipping. You may think you’re doing fine and don’t have time for long talks, but too much self-sufficiency will set you up for serious trouble when temptation catches you without anyone to turn to for support.
DON’T GIVE UP IF YOU DO RELAPSE
Although it’s always better to stay completely abstinent—many people say the second detox is worse than the first—relapse isn’t a sign you’ve failed and will be actively addicted the rest of your life. Relapse isn’t even all that unusual: you’ll be in good company if you do slip. Including the company of many people who went on to demonstrate the truth of the old maxim: “Success is getting up one more time than you fall down.”
To recover from a relapse, follow all the above advice and:
- Check back with your doctor or detox center to see if you need medical help getting clean again.
- Have a long talk with your support partners and another with your therapist. Set up accountability to keep your slip from turning into a slippery slope.
- Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people.
- Don’t let yourself start blaming yourself or anyone else. Focus on the future, not the past.
- Reaffirm your strengths and past victories.
- Believe that though you may have lost a battle, you will win the war.