Relapse sucks. Point-blank, period. The truth of the matter stands that it is a part of many addict and alcoholics stories, myself included. For me, I was a perpetual relapser. My road to recovery took two long years, and several very short bouts of sobriety; probably capping off at three weeks at a time. I drove myself insane because in my heart, I truly DID want to remain clean, just the same an inevitable relapse was always looming. Time after time I asked myself why and continued to torment my family along the way. Why can I not just stay clean? Why do I keep doing this to myself and my loved ones? It wasn’t until present day that I realized I was ignorant to all the warning signs, and never did a thing about them.
While yes, relapse is serious and should not be taken lightly, it is not the end of the world. Crystal wrote her first blog on this topic, and it eased my mind, and my families mind greatly. My perception of relapse was ultimate failure. I figured since I did it once, it’s time for another couple months run at it. But that does not need to be the case. I have learned in the event of a relapse, you do not fail, you learn. Now this is not an excuse to just relapse and claim “Oh well I am ‘learning’ so it’s okay!” Not at all, that is more like a cop-out. It is a learning experience for the addict who “slips up” in active recovery, and immediately gets back on track.
Yet what if we could prevent relapse altogether? If I had simply opened my mind to the advice and counsel of those around me trying to help, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache, and a lot of money. I want to have an informed conversation with you, not as a licensed therapist or addiction professional, but addict to addict. Inviting you to learn from my mistakes, and to remain neutral to what you may read. I know your family may not understand you, or a therapist may not either. But someone who has truly been in your shoes, felt the pain of desperation and the agony of relapse, absolutely relates.
So that being said, now what do we do? While in treatment we learned about identifying the precursors to relapse, as well as relapse prone situations. Now there are an infinite amount of personal circumstances that can happen to an individual; however, they all seem to fall into the same four simple categories. We learned the acronym, H.A.L.T. That stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. No matter what the details of the circumstance are, they are almost always rooted in these four feelings. It is within these feelings, when I look back, that I relapsed, every single time. So let’s break them down, shall we? Afterwards I will suggest what to do to prevent another relapse.
Your immediate thought might be to watch out when you are hungry for some food, and you’d be correct some of the time. However, this more often than not deals with a much deeper hunger. To use a synonym of it, one might say “craving.” Not necessarily the craving for drugs or alcohol either. This can be the hunger for sex, attention, love, excitement and so on. The hunger illustrated here is the mental “need” to fill a void in ourselves, and what better way to do that for addicts and alcoholics, than going back to our first love? Our drug.
Though some people may exhibit this behavior quite a bit, I’d venture to say no one really enjoys being angry. Anger is a secondary emotion, typically with fear lying underneath and fueling it. No matter the cause, every human gets angry, and it can be a perfectly healthy emotion, when handled correctly. This category for me, though, was my biggest downfall. I had a difficult time accepting that I was an angry person. I longed to be happy-go-lucky without a care in the world, yet at the drop of a hat I’d use anger. Many times after a conflict with my wife or parents, I ran to the bathroom and popped a couple of pills. This was mainly so I could calm down, because I did not want to be this angry person. Other times, I would relapse out of spite! Oh you made me mad? Well watch this! I’ll show you! When in actuality it was a total excuse to go use again. I used in a futile attempt to suppress my anger, only ever making it worse.
We never felt completely alone when we had our “best friend” by our side. And by best friend, I mean our drug of choice. In the quiet moments it offered us false comfort, whispering “it will all be okay as long as you have me.” For fifteen minutes. Then strip that away in recovery, and we really do feel lost. Personally, I have a tremendously difficult time handling boredom. Second to anger, boredom was my “go to” reason for relapse. In those lonely and bored moments, an addicts first thought is often to revert backwards towards what they think is instant fun. Among my peers, being lonely or bored is the biggest trigger for a relapse.
One of the biggest frustrations of mine is not being able to crack open a beer, or smoke a joint at the end of an exhausting day. For a long time, I cursed those who could. I like being tired to being sick as well. When I physically feel drained, I just want that little pick me up to help me get through. All the while knowing that little pick me up will very quickly turn into a perpetual put me down. This is also akin to pain. Some suffer from chronic pain, and they justify something to take the edge off, and relapse. Only an addict can justify a shot of whiskey for a stubbed toe! (I sadly bring that example from true experience.) The mind of an addict will make plenty of excuses in the process of justification.
All of these four things have one thing in common: we feel the mental or physical need to change how we feel; to feel better. Being addicts and alcoholics we seek the instant gratification response. I want it and I want it now! However, with a small amount of effort put forth, we CAN find a solution to these problems in a healthy and long-lasting way. For as much time spent in active addiction, picking up the drug of choice again was always the answer, for any excuse we had. It will take time and effort to create healthy new patterns and different answers to your problems, and if they were as easy as relapsing, than everyone would do it. They may seem difficult, but they are worth it.
My “go to” whenever I am feeling the H.A.L.T factor is always to talk to another addict or alcoholic. That’s what we are here for! I cannot recall how many times my sponsor or another friend in recovery has listened to me whine about my problems, only to remind me that it really isn’t as big of a deal as I am making it out to be. Talking it out always makes me feel better. There is true power in picking up the phone and calling someone RIGHT AWAY to talk about your issues with. Every addict in recovery knows in that situation the key is to listen, let you vent and watch the problem dissolve and/or the solution present itself. I even go as far to tell them that this makes me want to get high or drunk, or in other words I tell on myself and stay accountable in doing so. Then, they are there to remind you of the consequences of relapse, and talk you off the ledge.
The next tool that works very well for me is the saying: move a muscle, change a thought! Simply put, go do something! When you crave, go do something you love to do, maybe a hobby. When you are angry, do some push-ups or go for a walk. When you are lonely, make some plans for that night with friends. And when you are tired, you can just go to bed! Whatever that looks like for you, you need to get out and do something. Otherwise you will sit and ruminate on your thoughts, and in our minds we can always justify a relapse. Recovery means action in all areas of life, one minute, one hour, one day at a time.
These were things I knew, yet did not apply in my life. There were no changes made in how I handled these factors, I just didn’t get high for a few weeks until I inevitably did. I implore the addict and alcoholic reading this, learn from my mistakes! We are a stubborn people, I know. I genuinely hope you find it within yourself to try these methods if you really want to live a life worth living. Before you can utilize these solutions, you need to identify the problems. Which of these makes you most prone to relapse? Keep them in the forefront of your mind, write them down, remind yourself, or tell someone close to you. You always have another relapse in you, but you may not have another recovery. Again, I encourage you to remain teachable and learn new coping skills, they may possibly save your life and you’re worth it.
Written By Jared Schappert
Edited By Crystal Champ