Relapse is an unfortunately common problem for addicts and alcoholics new in recovery. Our disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and sometimes the temptation can overtake us. Relapse is not failure, you will always be welcomed back with open arms.
As with lots of challenges alcoholics and addicts face in all stages of recovery, there are useful strategies to avoid relapse. In this article, we will explore ways you can avoid falling into the temptation of relapse.
Relapse Triggers and Warning Signs
Relapse is rarely a sudden thing with no outside circumstances leading to it, there is usually a chain of events that ultimately leads to relapse. In my years in the program, I have seen many people go out, some people new in sobriety and some people with years in sobriety. While their specific circumstances are obviously different, there are usually a few consistent threads between them:
Stop Going to Meetings
There’s a reason “you only need to go to meetings maybe once a week if you feel like it” isn’t a cliched statement, while “meeting makers make it” is. Meetings are a great place to listen to the experience, strength and hope of other addicts and alcoholics, and is a great place to be listened to. The sense of community that is gained in meetings can’t be overstated, and to step away from that community is to inch closer to forgetting why you stopped drinking/using.
Drift Away from their support network
Related to the first one. Having less and less contact with your fellow alcoholics, drifting away from your sponsor, and neglecting involvement in your program can inch you closer and closer to a relapse.
“I’ve got this”
Pride cometh before the fall. If you get too confident in your ability to remain sober, you may become more confident in your ability to drink and use like normal people. If you are an alcoholic/addict, you can’t drink or use like normal people. When this happens, you may enter situations with lots of triggers to drink or use, and you may be vulnerable to temptation.
While there are no foolproof methods, there are ways (or I guess you could all them, steps) you can take to insure against relapse in early recovery.
Avoid Triggering People/Places/Things When Possible
If you used to drink and use all night at nightclubs, maybe avoid nightclubs. If you used to hang out in bars and drink, avoid that for a while. If you used to sit in the Timbers Army section and get drunk during games, maybe watch a game from a different section of Providence Park or watch from home. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to quit these things for the rest of time, just until you have a stable enough footing in your program to feel confident that you’ll avoid temptations to drink/use.
Get a sponsor and work the steps
A sponsor is someone you can reach out to at any time, bounce ideas off, and talk openly and honestly about your past. They are a great person to reach out to if you are thinking about taking that first drink.
The phone list is your friend
There’s a reason phone lists get passed around at meetings. If you are thinking of relapsing, try reaching out to someone on the phone list. Don’t be afraid of surprising them with a phone call, they literally put their names on the phone list so other addicts/alcoholics could reach out to them.
Build a sober community
When you spend more time with people who are no longer drinking or using, it’s easier to stay sober. Meetings are full of people who have one very important thing in common, the desire to quit drinking/using. Our disease is partially a disease of isolation, the shared goal forms a natural bond among addicts and alcoholics.
The Big Book describes it better than I could: “there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table … The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.” (Big Book, pg. 17)
Build sober routines
When we’re in our addiction, we have a routine. Unfortunately, it’s a routine centered around using which ultimately leads us to the pits of despair. Our routine is one of the things that must change, and if we have a good recovery routine that works for us, we can continue making positive changes.
A good friend of mine likes to say “remember, alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful. What’s the most important word? Cunning? No. Baffling? No. Powerful? No. “Remember” Our alcoholic/addict brains are good at forgetting just how bad things were when we came in. Now, “remember” doesn’t mean “beat yourself up over the past”. It simply means that we don’t forget why we stopped drinking or using. When we forget, we are without defense against the first drink.
What to do if a relapse happens
Even with prevention strategies in place, relapse sometimes happens. The first thing you need to do is be honest, no matter how hard that can be. The great thing about AA and NA is that we all understand and do not judge when anyone relapses. We know from first-hand experience how crazy our addict/alcoholic brains can be.
The first person you want to tell is your sponsor, they will give you advice on what steps to take after the relapse. You will likely start working through the steps again. If you speak or get called on during a meeting, be open and honest about your relapse. Take notes of what you did proceeding with the relapse, what lead to the relapse, and what you plan to do differently.
One of the most important things to remember after a relapse is: don’t be afraid to come back. No one in any meeting is going to judge you for relapse, we will welcome you and be grateful you came back. A relapse doesn’t mean your journey is over. I know plenty of people who have relapsed and returned to their rooms. A close friend of mine in the program relapsed five times in two years and is now quickly approaching four years of sobriety.
Oregon Trail Recovery Can Help
Oregon Trail Recovery can help you get a strong foothold in recovery and help you implement all of the relapse prevention strategies listed above. Let us help you get started on the road to recovery.