Recovery Relapse Prevention
It is definitely possible to stop and stay stopped using chemicals or other addictive and/or co-dependent behavior from the onset by feeling, sensing, telling the absolute truth about what happens, more time than not, when one uses chemicals, pathological gambling, compulsive spending, love relationships, sex, work, exercise etc., in a dependent or addictive way. If there are continuing and growing problems in any area of the person’s life directly related to their use of the addictive behavior, this would be addictive.
The ones who remain abstinent throughout their lives appear to have many things in common. Mainly they consistently remain true to themselves by telling the truth about themselves & their biology, when it comes to the thought of using the addictive chemical, behavior or co-dependent response thought process. They accept this fact and simply stop their debate about it and move into embracing their lives. The initial hurdle is over.
After 40 years of being in recovery from a variety of addictive behaviors and being a therapist in the addiction recovery field I’ve noticed many aspects of behavior, thought processes and beliefs that seem to create a foundation for and pave the way to living a successful drug, alcohol, process addiction free life, where the individual is able to find ways to successfully manage, embrace, incorporate, release, reframe the painful effects of childhood trauma and/or incest, abuse, war, murder, terrorism etc. trauma, unresolved grief, from death or non-death related losses like abandonment, voice (expression), co-dependency (losing one’s relationship to self), anxiety, fears, phobias, identity, innocence, dysfunctional relationships and more.
Any process which offers support in developing and maintaining a new life, that the person is willing to interact with, will do.
A most talked about process is one of the 150 or so 12 step type groups, all taken from Alcoholics Anonymous. This philosophy or program for living has many dynamic and powerful tools like self-honesty, belief in something more powerful than the problem that can sustain and empower self. Developing reliance on this unseen power for guidance into an honest look at the most important relationship one will ever have in life, one’s self. Once an honest self-appraisal is done then it is immediately shared with someone the person can trust and patterns of behavior are discovered along with the part the person played in the destruction of their own life, all without judgment or shame. Again, this is possible through reliance on some type of personal relationship with a higher power that is meaningful to the person doing the work.
Next the person who has identified specific destructive patterns of behavior is encouraged to work with their concept of a Higher Power to get the strength to decide to have these misgivings removed. Then with the faith they have birthed ask that the patterns of thought, behavior and acting be removed. This puts them in a position to identify and do their part to heal their relationships with people in the past. Remembering that it is OK to heal but not at the other persons expense (the Golden Rule). The ongoing spiritual growth steps encourage continuing to acknowledge and correct present day mistakes asking for help along the way. A very important aspect is to, with regularity, pausing to enter into a 2 way communication with their power source asking for guidance and strength to hear and take action on the guidance freely given. As a direct result of the aforementioned work, a personality change takes place cutting the final attachments to the problem or the condition and the person shares their experiences with interested others in need and practices the principals learned in all aspects of their lives.
Another very powerful recovery program is Self-Management Recovery Training (SMART). It offers an efficient method which helps the addict/co-dependent challenge and changes their negative self-defeating core beliefs. Simply put, if ones’ positive resourceful sense of self has not been developed and boundaries are not in place it is difficult to maintain an addiction free life. What we think about is what we bring about. In SMART there is no spirituality discussed, no mention of fellowship, life-long meetings to attend and no steps to work. Just a simple process to help the person identify and shatter the foundation they have based their lives on and rebuild it to include an honest healthy relationship with self and others. Go to www.smartrecovery.org for more information about this organization.
The following is a list of potential red flags that can be used to stimulate the person in recovery to look closer at the recovery program they are working so they can continue to remain on the recovery path. It is possible to use what appears to be a problem to motive the person into a solution, once they accept that there is a solution for every problem in life.
The steps to a relapse are actually changes in attitudes, feelings and behaviors that gradually lead to the final step— picking up a drink.
Attitudes, Feelings and Behaviors
In 1982, researchers Terence T. Gorski and Merlene Miller identified a set of warning signs or steps that typically lead up to a relapse. Over the years, additional research has confirmed that the steps described in the Gorski and Miller study are "Reliable And Valid" predictors of alcohol and drug relapses.
If you are trying to obtain long-term recovery and avoid having a relapse along the way, it is important to recognize the following warning signs and take action to keep them from progressing into a full-blown relapse.
11 Steps to a Relapse
Change in Attitude - For some reason you decide that participating in your recovery program is just not as important as it was. You may begin to return to what some call "Stinking Thinking" or unhealthy or addictive thinking. Basically, you are not working the program as you did previously. You feel something is wrong, but can't identify exactly what it is.
Elevated Stress - An increase in stress in your life can be due to a major change in circumstances or just little things building up. Returning to the "Real World" after a stint in residential treatment can present many stressful situations. The danger is if you begin over-reacting to those situations. Be careful if you begin to have mood swings and exaggerated positive or negative feelings.
Reactivation of Denial - This is not denial that you have a drug or alcohol problem, its denial that the stress is getting to you. You try to convince yourself that everything is OK, but it's not. You may be scared or worried, but you dismiss those feelings and you stop sharing those feelings with others. This is dangerous because this denial is very similar to denial of drug addiction or abuse.
Recurrence of Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms - Anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and memory loss can continue long after you quit drinking or doing drugs. Known as Post-Acute withdrawal; these symptoms can return during times of stress. They are dangerous because you may be tempted to self-medicate them with alcohol/drugs co-dependent or process addiction behavior.
Behavior Change - You may begin to change the daily routine that you developed in early recovery that helped you replace your compulsive behaviors with healthy alternatives. You might begin to practice avoidance or become defensive in situations that call for an honest evaluation of your behavior. You could begin using poor judgment and causing yourself problems due to impulsive behavior without thinking things through.
Social Breakdown - You may begin feeling uncomfortable around others and making excuses not to socialize. You stop hanging around clean/sober/addiction and co-dependent recovery friends or you withdraw from family members. You stop going to your support group meetings or you cut way back on the number of meetings you attend. You begin to isolate yourself.
Loss of Structure - You begin to completely abandon the daily routine or schedule that you developed in early recovery. You may begin sleeping late, ignoring personal hygiene or skipping meals. You stop making constructive plans and when the plans you do make don't work out, you overreact. You begin focusing on one small part of life to the exclusion of everything else.
Loss of Judgment - You begin to have trouble making decisions or you make unhealthy decisions. You may experience difficulty in managing your feelings and emotions. It may be hard to think clearly and you become confused easily. You may feel overwhelmed for no apparent reason or not being able to relax. You may become annoyed or angry easily.
Loss of Control - You make irrational choices and are unable to interrupt or alter those choices. You begin to actively cut off people who can help you. You begin to think that you can return to social drinking, recreational drug use, behaviors associated with your co-dependent or process addiction and that you can control them. You may begin to believe there is no hope. You lose confidence in your ability to manage your life.
Loss of Options - You begin to limit your options. You stop attending all meetings with counselors and your support groups and discontinue any pharmacotherapy treatments. You may feel loneliness, frustration, anger, resentment and tension. You might feel helpless and desperate. You come to believe that there are only three ways out: Insanity, suicide, or self-medication with alcohol or drugs.
Relapse - You attempt controlled, "social" or short-term alcohol or drug use, engagement in your process addiction or co-dependent behavior but you are disappointed at the results and immediately experience shame and guilt. You quickly lose control and your addictive behavior spirals further out of control. This causes you increasing problems with relationships, jobs, money, mental and physical health. You need help getting addiction/co-dependent free again.
Relapse Is Preventable
Relapse following treatment for drug and alcohol does occur, but it is also very preventable. Knowing the warning signs and steps that lead up to a relapse can help you make healthy choices and take healthy recovery action.
If a relapse does happen, it is not the end of the world. If it happens, it is important that you get back up on the path to recovery. It is equally important to remember that there is no guarantee you will return to treatment as death, jail and remaining in the addictive behavior may happen as well.
Michael Yeager B.A, LCDC, C.Ht, CAS, LMT
Therapist, and in recovery since 12/13/73
The Council on Holistic Healing and Recovery www.holisticouncil.org
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