Relapse starts before addicting. It starts with allowing the conditions for addiction to arise by living unskillfully or ineffectively managing the inevitable pain of life. You “BUTA.”—Build Up to Addict. People lapse every day. They experience unhelpful experiences, thoughts, and actions. No one lives life perfectly. We make mistakes. Things happen, often beyond our control. You will experience pain. Often relapse starts with feeling bad, even before addict thoughts arise. Or, something else triggers addicting. This is why relapse prevention requires daily lapse management to take care of yourself and keep yourself on track. This is why you work your recovery daily.
Be vigilant to detect when you lapse so you can address the lapse before it progresses into a slip or full-blown relapse. Several red flags signal you are off track:
- Stinking thinking, including negative ruminations and resentments.
- Destructive emotions.
- Avoidance of accountability. Making excuses or blaming others. Acting irresponsibility. Not following through or keeping commitments.
- Lying or otherwise being dishonest.
- Keeping secrets.
- Isolating or otherwise disengaging from others.
- Breaking the rules or otherwise acting without integrity.
- Losing the healthy fear of relapse; allowing complacency to set in.
- Romancing the addiction; remembering the good times while forgetting the bad.
These symptoms indicate you’re not right with Life. Correct what’s off to get back in alignment with Life.
Recovery requires that you change your lifestyle. Develop a new sober social network. End toxic relationships. It helps in early recovery to get a new phone number or block calls and texts from drug dealers and others who can trigger relapse. Shut down toxic social media sites. You may be lonely in early recovery, with no healthy social supports. If so, develop new, healthy friendships and mature recovery supports. Go to meetings. Make positive connections. Do positive things.
Love requires boundaries, both psychological and physical. Put up boundaries with harmful people to protect yourself. Maybe you cannot attend a family get together with a drug-abusing brother or sister. Perhaps the most contact you can have with a judgmental, critical and unloving parent is to send them a birthday card once a year. Take an inventory of all your relationships. Decide which ones you will end and which ones you will modify to protect yourself. Develop new friendships with people without addiction or people stable in their recoveries.
It generally takes three to five years to establish a stable recovery. Socializing with people with less than this amount of time puts you at risk of relapse. They say, “You are who you run with.” “Run” with those you admire.
Many people struggle with shame, low self-esteem and poorly developed self-care habits. They hate themselves, when they need to love themselves. Self-hatred and poor self-care can trigger cravings and relapse by leading to unnecessary stress. You may work too much to please your boss or to make more money—a material substitute for self-worth. You may have difficulties setting limits on others’ requests, finding yourself sacrificing your well-being for the sake of preserving unhealthy relationships. Perhaps others make requests with no intention of harm. Though your salvation comes in living for something greater than yourself, first take care of yourself. Minimize stress by avoiding unnecessary stress at work. Avoid chaos, drama, and conflict in your relationships. Live simply and with balance. Claim the right to have your needs met and assert yourself. If you do this, you will reduce the experience of cravings.
Learn to recognize when cravings first arise. Ask yourself what triggered them. Then resolve the root of the craving instead of addicting. Nip cravings in the bud before they take over. Since practice makes perfect, you succeed by practicing the trigger and craving management techniques in my previous blogs.