Addiction, Relapse, and Recovery

Addiction’s bitch. Alcohol, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and even self harm are only some subjects of addiction. I have shared about my alcoholism on this blog in the past (links at bottom). At the time I am writing this I have been sober for three years, three months, and fourteen days. There are still times when I have cravings, and times when these cravings are disguised. I’ll think, I have better control now and can stop if I drink again. Maybe that would be the case, but it’s more likely that I would end up crushed under the hand of addiction.
In early recovery, relapse is common. Not counting the times I tried to become sober on my own, I relapsed three or more times in the year I went from IOP to IOP to rehab. These relapses were not only hard on me, but they were hard on my husband as well. He was at a ropes end with my drinking. I knew this, and instead of making it easier to be sober, it made it harder. I felt guilty for having let him down and that guilt led to thoughts of drinking, which led to actual drinking. This realization is a case of when hindsite can be 20/20.
In treatment I learned about the three stages of relapse (the link has a helpful worksheet with the stages).
Stage 1: Emotional – you feel sad, anxious, irritable, guilty, etc.
Stage 2: Mental relapse – thinking about using, glorifying using, rationalizing using, etc.
Stage 3: Physical relapse – using
Stage one is tough to identify because it is so simple. Feeling unwanted emotions is a part of life, especially with those living with addiction (where a large percent of the population has at least one other mental health diagnosis). Because of the normalcy of these feelings, it is important to recognize and respect your emotions. If you are feeling emotionally bad, do something that will make you feel better, talk to someone, or go to a meeting if that is helpful for you. (If AA or NA are not for you, I wrote about alternatives). In my opinion, going to counseling in early recovery is vital, so if your finances and location allow it, make an appointment; if possible with someone who has experience with or specializes in addiction.
Stage two is easier to identify if you allow yourself to be aware and critical of thoughts involving harmful substances, particularly your drug of choice. Once you are aware you are having a craving or thoughts of use you should take steps to not follow thought.
I have found three things to be helpful when I’m in stage two.

  1. The first is to tell on myself. You can call a friend, loved one, or sponser and tell them you are thinking about using.
  2. The second thing I do, as taught by my therapist, is to recognize all of the places I can stop myself from using. Every action on the way to the substance is a decision. Just because I want a drink and have a plan to get that drink, does not mean I have to drink. I can stop myself from getting in the car, from turning down the road with the bar I was planning to visit, I can stop myself from parking at that bar, I can stop myself from ordering, and I can even stop from taking a sip.
  3. The last thing I do is bargain with myself. I say that if I don’t drink today, but still want a drink this badly the next day, I can do so without guilt. Making it through the acute craving makes it easier to put it off the next day too.

Stage three is the physical relapse. This final stage can be really hard to deal with and can also be really self perpetuating. Guilt about relapse can lead to more relapses. In early recovery relapse is fairly common. A lot of people seem to have a few hiccups in the road to recovery in the beginning, and it’s important to not let it make you feel like a failure.
Addiction is a family disease, and as hard as it is for family and friends to see their loved one relapse, it is important for everyone to know that it is neither the fault of the addict nor the fault of the loved one. The disease of addiction is to blame. Participating in AA/NA (for the addict) and Alanon (for the family), going to educational events, and seeking individual therapy can be helpful.
Like I said in the beginning, addiction’s a bitch. Part of recovery from addiction often includes relapse 1, 2, 10 times. As disappointing as a relapse is, it’s important to forgive yourself so you can start again. Sobriety is worth the fight; so, as they say, “get back on the horse” and try, try again.

Previous posts about my recovery experience:

3 Years Sober and A Look Back At Rehab

2 Years Sober

Medication and Addiction Recover

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