Staying Sober While Rebounding from a Major Life DisruptionMicah Robbins
When you’ve finally gotten comfortable with the “new normal” of consistent sober living, that’s among the worst times to be hit with a major shock. Nonetheless, no one is guaranteed immunity against natural disaster or sudden tragedy. After your world is turned upside down just when it seemed you could finally relax a bit, you may be in significant danger of letting exhaustion, despair or anger tempt you into relapse.
AFTERMATH OF DISASTER
Few people have relapse problems in the thick of actual disaster. When a tornado or wildfire is coming straight at you, there’s no time to think about anything except getting clear in one piece. And if a hurricane has shut down half the city and turned your neighborhood into a temporary Venice of flooded roadways, chances are that even if addictive substances seem newly tempting, there isn’t much opportunity to go out and buy any.
It’s after the worst is over that the threat of stress-triggered relapse can get serious—and having escaped direct damage doesn’t guarantee you’ll escape temptation. If anything, surviving untouched can make temptation worse: you’re ready and eager to get back to normal, but
- Your favorite stores and restaurants are closed for repairs.
- The commute routes you’re used to taking are also closed off—or seriously overcrowded from being among the few still-drivable roads.
- Meetings you always attend are suspended while other members clean up what’s left of their homes (which may also trigger guilt over their having suffered more than you).
- Even your employer may have suspended operations—or, worst-case scenario, been forced to close down and let its staff go.
You’re left relatively free, and highly frustrated—a dangerous combination for anyone who harbors recent memories of using chemical means to soothe stress.
Besides reviewing techniques for reducing frustration, try to use this time as an opportunity for productive activities:
- Do something creative: paint, bake, assemble a model, write a poem
- Put together a jigsaw puzzle
- Work crosswords or Sudoku
- Walk a nature trail
- Read the classics
- Take up a musical instrument
- Make a list of your most audacious, “impossible” goals—and pick one to start working on
- Volunteer to help someone with worse post-disaster problems
Of course, stay in touch with your support network throughout—especially your “call in case of temptation” partner(s). If a large-scale disaster has affected the location or schedule of your support-group meetings, call a hotline or the organization’s national headquarters. They can help you find a substitute meeting to attend until your regular one resumes.
You might even invite some of your fellow support-group members to an “unofficial” gathering in your home or a coffee shop.
With a life shock that affects only you and a few others, your regular support resources won’t be affected as they might in a community-wide disaster. Keep attending support-group meetings and therapy sessions: or if physical impairment, temporary relocation or the need to supervise damage control keep you away, find an alternate meeting schedule and/or a way of keeping in touch with your network. Even if it takes extra effort, never let formal support slide off your schedule—you need it more than ever right now.
In any situation where you have significant “cleaning up” to do, seek additional support in your specific area of concern:
- Grief support groups
- Career/vocational coaches
- Therapists specializing in post-traumatic stress
- Nonprofit or religious groups specializing in home repair and restoration (you may want to hire professionals for damage repair, but the advantage of “grassroots” help is that workers are more likely to interact with you and show personal concern for what you’ve gone through)
FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED
Ideally, plan for the possibility of a major life disruption from the beginning of your recovery. A sobriety plan with “just in case” coping strategies is a huge help when you find yourself under greater than normal stress.
Here are a few things that belong in the “in case of emergency” file:
- Information on alternative support resources
- Plans for heading off severe frustration or depression
- Emergency phone numbers for therapists and/or counseling hotlines
- “Plan B’s” for any regular health or leisure activities that could be disrupted (this also comes in handy for “ordinary” times when you find familiarity breeding boredom)
Odds are you’ll get through the post-detox period without major life disruptions, so don’t stress out worrying about the possibility. But if serious trouble does occur, you’ll be much less likely to add relapse to your problems if yo