Though not often mentioned in the context of recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, the event of relapse is very common. It is estimated that up to ninety percent of those in recovery will experience some instance of relapse. The process of recovery tends to follow a curvature pattern, with temptations to use the substance getting stronger before they eventually fade.
The secret to successfully navigating this period is knowing that relapse is not the end of the journey. Instead, it can be viewed as a step along the path of further growth. You may, in fact, find it to be the case that your experiments with old coping mechanisms no longer bring you the ignorant bliss that they once did. This new you is equipped with knowledge and insight that the old, addicted, you did not possess. Such knowledge and insight can be tested during times of relapse, with you emerging as the victor. In order for this to be the case, it is important to understand the mechanisms behind the experience.
Facing Your Triggers
The concept of “triggers” has become popularized in our culture, with folks using the term to describe everything from their tendency to become annoyed to their inability to control their actions. The term arises from discoveries made in the field of behavioral psychology. It has been found that certain sights, smells, feelings, and interactions become associated – in our minds – with certain behaviors. We can become animalistic in our instincts toward stimuli. Just as a dog can start salivating at the sound of the rustling food bag, we can be tempted toward behaving in our former patterns of drug use during certain conditions.
Part of the usefulness of entering a drug rehab program is that we have the opportunity to be separated from the triggers which our minds have associated with the substance use. A treatment center provides the space to learn new ways of reacting to novel situations, through creating a virtual oasis of support and positivity. The idea behind it is that you will take these new ways of thinking and behaving back into your realm of every day life.
The true test of your resolve comes when you insert yourself back into your home environment. It is here where our existence as creatures of habit become most apparent. Interactions with friends and family can ignite old emotions and desires. The presence of work or family stress can tempt us toward familiar patterns of escapism. While giving in to these temptations is not ideal, experimenting with ideas of going back to one’s old ways of doing things is not uncommon.
Think about stories which involve heroes. How many of those heroes became such through doing things perfectly, the whole way through? Most hero stories involve a resolve to do something noble, followed by several struggles and failures. It is only due to the overcoming of these obstacles that the hero emerges victorious. Experiences of relapses are like battles with a dragon. You may come out with injuries, but the quest requires that you slay that particular dragon, pick yourself up, and continue onward.
Winning the Battle For Your Mind
It is often said that we are our own worst enemy. The initial journey of recovery is typically plagued by self-defeating thoughts, and at no time are those condemning voices louder than during experiences of relapse. You may be tempted to entertain thoughts that you have failed; that you are incapable of staying sober; or that all of your efforts are down the drain. These types of thoughts do nothing but seek to lead us down a path of misery, guilt, and hopelessness. It is important that you learn to recognize them as enemies to your wellbeing, and learn to turn your thoughts toward the hope which inspired you to get sober.
Overcoming negative thought patterns is not a quest for the faint of heart. Entire fields of psychology are devoted to this process, and you may find it useful to visit a skilled mental health provider for guidance in how to accomplish it. Many of our self-defeating thoughts have been with us since childhood, and these same negative thoughts often drive our journey into addiction, in the first place.
A new path of sobriety requires that a new way of viewing both ourselves, and the world around us, be implemented in our home territory. The first step is learning to be kind to ourselves, even if those around us don’t understand. Combat your negative thoughts by replacing them with positive, self-affirming, admonitions, and use them to keep moving forward.
Educating Family and Friends
It is a relief to be around professionals who understand relapse as being a part of the process, rather than being a sign of a failed attempt. Our friends and family, however, are often another story. Their emotional investment – and many years of worrying – can result in a gut reaction of panic when faced with the possibility that you may be giving up your resolve of recovery. As part of your own self-care and advocacy, it is important that you eventually help them to come to realize that falling off of the sobriety horse doesn’t mean you’ve given up riding.
As most of us eventually come to understand, our words don’t mean as much as our actions do. Attempts at verbally convincing those around us that we are still on course, following a relapse, may prove a difficult task. Their fear that we are going to be recaptured by addiction is likely to cause them to be highly skeptical, and they may react to your relapse as if it is the end of all hope. It is important that you rely on your own determination, resolve, and knowledge at this point, and let your continued progress toward recovery shine forth. Overcoming the expression of disappointment from loved ones is just one more way that you are growing as a person, and your eventual victory over temptations to use will be its own testimony of your strength.