How to end the revolving door of relapse

A friend of mine died yesterday.  I met her in recovery about 8 years ago.  She was tall and thin with big brown eyes and a delightful smile.  She had a beautiful heart, an old and wise soul.  She was free from judgment and loved people for who they were at any given moment.  She was generous and kind.  She was fun to talk with.  She could make you feel valued.  She was a mother to four beautiful kids.  And, she was an addict – in and out of recovery several times.

While we won’t know the cause of her death for a little while, she died in jail, shortly after having been arrested.  Knowing her history and drugs of choice…it can be speculated that she died of a meth binge or an alcoholic seizure.

Relapse was a large part of her story.  Her last relapse killed her.  Her children no longer have their mother.  Her family and friends are devastated.

Relapse is a part of my story.  I was sober for 7 years when I had my first relapse.  This lead to about four years of a revolving door: getting sober; working steps 1, 2 & 3; drinking again…over and over.  It was exhausting for myself, my family and friends, my employers, and everyone else in my life.

Reflection on relapse prevention

Today, I can look back and see where my mistakes were made.  I can share my experience with others and hope that they can learn from it and avoid some of the pain I had to experience (or death) in order to get and stay sober.

Relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your story.  I know a lot of people who have been sober for a long time and never had a relapse.  I have talked with some of these people and have the following suggestions from our discussions on staying sober without relapse.

  1. Stay connected.  Stay connected to your recovery on a daily basis.  Making connections with people who are in recovery, making friendships and having healthy relationships with sober people can help you build a safety net.

Going to regular recovery meetings and getting to know the others who attend is a great way to begin to build friendships in recovery.  You can meet these people on common ground.  You can hear their honesty.  When you connect in this way, there is safety.  You begin to understand that you can count on these people to help you walk through each day without using.

Staying connected to your recovery in other ways is also necessary.  Starting each day out with a short meditation, motivational reading and prayer are what keeps me connected on a daily basis.  I am reminded every morning that I want to stay sober more than I want to use.  In this way, I am accountable to myself and take responsibility for my own sobriety.

  1. Get real about your addiction. Addiction is deadly.  People are dying from their addictions every day.  If you don’t already know someone who has died from their addiction, chances are high that you will at some point in your life.  Get real with yourself about this.  That ‘one last time’ could be your last time.  Addicts and alcoholics are not immune to the consequences of their drug or drink of choice – or any other consequence.

Write about the reality of your addiction.  I know that for myself, there were plenty of horrible things that arose out of my using.  They are ugly.  They are embarrassing.  My using affected other people.  I know that I never want to have to go through any of this again.

  1. Honesty with myself and others. In sobriety, you are going to have rough days.  You are going to have days that are challenging.  I have learned that I must be honest with myself about how I am feeling.  Certain things in life can be a trigger.  Sometimes it can simply be a beautiful day outside…or, a change or loss of a job, the words someone says, or something you remember.

It’s important to know that when you are feeling triggered, you must reach out to someone in your support group and talk about it.  Thinking that you can deal with it on your own can be fatal.  Reach out.  Talk to others.  Be honest.  Get real.  Take the power out of the trigger by talking about it.

  1. Create a safety plan. Creating a safety plan can be a list of things that you commit to doing every day to stay grounded and focused on a life in recovery.  You can also make a list of things that you can and will do if and when you feel like using.

Make sure that you have the phone numbers of five people that you can call if you feel like using, or even if you feel a little ‘off’ for the day.  Commit to them that you will call.  Tell them what your plan is and why it’s important to you.  Tell them how they can help you if you call them during a time of stress.

Know where you can go if you feel like you need a safe place to be for a little while.  When traveling, I can designate a café or diner as a safe place if that’s all I can find.  And, when I’m there, I can call people on my list and be honest with them about what’s going on.

You can make a list of 10 things you will do when you feel triggered:

  1. Pray
  2. Read (recovery related is even better!)
  3. Listen to an inspirational recording
  4. Call the people on my phone list
  5. Meditate on the blessings I have in life today
  6. Work on my gratitude list
  7. Write in a journal
  8. A.L.T. – am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired? If so, address it!
  9. Get somewhere safe
  10. Tell someone – get honest

Taking responsibility for my own recovery, having and using a relapse prevention plan and getting honest with myself and others have given me the gift of sobriety.  I haven’t had a relapse since I committed to myself and a few other people that I won’t relapse – no matter what!

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