by Mark G. (Sullivan)
To experience active addition and find release in recovery once was a blessing, but to do it twice is a miracle.
There is so much more to recovery than just attending meetings and staying clean and sober. It truly is a way of life and a path to living, not existing. Through my experience I have learned that all bottoms have trap doors, that words have meaning and that they were right when they said, “If it hasn’t happened yet, it will” if one returns to using.
After 25 years of active addition I finally reached out for help. I didn’t want to live that life anymore, with all those feelings that go along with using: the fear, loneliness, anger, resentments and stress. I wanted release, I really did. I was willing to do anything. I went to meetings, reading – no, dissecting – the books and literature, did step work many times, became a sponsor and held lots of service positions. I was willing to go to any length for recovery. The obsession to use was removed and I was released from active addition.
On the outside it looked liked it was all working but my family life was falling apart. I was still demanding and judgmental. Sure life was good, money was good, material achievement was good – but I still could not give up control. My problem was that I used the God of my understanding as a consultant. “God, please can you help me” and the help came, but I always had a better idea and would not follow through. Not a very good foundation in a spiritual program of recovery. I was still running the show.
What I have learned in doing inventories is that it is easy to identify the pile of crap on top of the cement of the soul, but once that is cleared the cement cracks and it is what is underneath that starts to seep through. The stuff that is buried so deep it has never seen the sunlight of the spirit. Memories and emotions from years, decades past came back to haunt and control my life. These emotions were triggered by rejection – thus causing fear, leading me to exert more control.
Then the inevitable happened. After five years of being clean and sober I started using – to induce serenity, to take the stress and fears of life away. I had convinced myself that I could use successfully and not go back to the place I once was. It went that way for a while but the problem is I’m an addict and one is too many and a thousand is not enough.
It didn’t take long for things to escalate to the point where I was causing emotional and spiritual pain for my wife and children. I put the drugs before the welfare of my family, myself, my job, my friends, everything. Insanity personified in all areas of my life. I was oozing self-pity and the drugs became harder and using was a full-time job.
I sought treatment, but it was just a place where I could lock myself away for a while so I would not use and maybe, just maybe, turn the corner. I wasn’t ready, as I was still running the show. I continued on in this odyssey for another year in and out of the rooms.
I look back on it now and I know for a fact – not maybe, but a fact – that God was with me and doing for me what I could not do for myself. My trap door opened and he was letting me spin right out of control so I could reach the place of true surrender. That place where everything was gone, the wife, the kids, the money, stripped bare down to my soul by the broken cement to the point that death is preferable to life. It was at this point that he picked me up in his loving hands and whispered to me, “Are you ready now? For I have loved you since you were born and you are special to me.” Touched by the Master’s hand, I was now ready, I surrendered.
This time the growth has been slow and very painful, emotionally and spiritually. I was shown that I just didn’t have dependency on the drugs but on people, places and things. I had to become dependent on God only and leave the rest. Spiritual principles for a spiritual program.
The rebuilding of my life over the past few years has been nothing short of a miracle. I had been through the steps many times before but now I am living, truly living, the steps. No more 1, 2, 3 shuffle, 4 and 5 beat myself up. True change comes from steps 6 and 7, courage from 8 and 9, reflection in 10. I love step 11 and try as best I can to live in 12.
As God loves me it has allowed me to love others, to be a father to my children as he is to me and a friend to my ex-wife, and to grow to be a man who finds true freedom by not living in illusions anymore.
A gem from our TGIF vault, originally published in April 2014.
by Dr. Steven Melemis
Relapse is a process, it’s not an event. In order to understand relapse prevention you have to understand the stages of relapse. Relapse starts weeks or even months before the event of physical relapse. In this article you will learn how to use specific relapse prevention techniques for each stage of relapse. There are three stages of relapse:
- Emotional relapse
- Mental relapse
- Physical relapse
In emotional relapse, you’re not thinking about using. But your emotions and behaviors are setting you up for a possible relapse in the future.
The signs of emotional relapse are:
- Mood swings
- Not asking for help
- Not going to meetings
- Poor eating habits
- Poor sleep habits
The signs of emotional relapse are also the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal. If you understand post-acute withdrawal it’s easier to avoid relapse, because the early stage of relapse is easiest to pull back from. In the later stages the pull of relapse gets stronger and the sequence of events moves faster.
Early Relapse Prevention Relapse prevention at this stage means recognizing that you’re in emotional relapse and changing your behavior. Recognize that you’re isolating and remind yourself to ask for help. Recognize that you’re anxious and practice relaxation techniques. Recognize that your sleep and eating habits are slipping and practice self-care.
If you don’t change your behavior at this stage and you live too long in the stage of emotional relapse you’ll become exhausted, and when you’re exhausted you will want to escape, which will move you into mental relapse.
Practice self-care. The most important thing you can do to prevent relapse at this stage is take better care of yourself. Think about why you use. You use drugs or alcohol to escape, relax, or reward yourself. Therefore you relapse when you don’t take care of yourself and create situations that are mentally and emotionally draining that make you want to escape.
For example, if you don’t take care of yourself and eat poorly or have poor sleep habits, you’ll feel exhausted and want to escape. If you don’t let go of your resentments and fears through some form of relaxation, they will build to the point where you’ll feel uncomfortable in your own skin. If you don’t ask for help, you’ll feel isolated. If any of those situations continues for too long, you will begin to think about using. But if you practice self-care, you can avoid those feelings from growing and avoid relapse.
In mental relapse there’s a war going on in your mind. Part of you wants to use, but part of you doesn’t. In the early phase of mental relapse you’re just idly thinking about using. But in the later phase you’re definitely thinking about using.
The signs of mental relapse are:
- Thinking about people, places, and things you used with
- Glamorizing your past use
- Hanging out with old using friends
- Fantasizing about using
- Thinking about relapsing
- Planning your relapse around other people’s schedules
It gets harder to make the right choices as the pull of addiction gets stronger.
Techniques for Dealing with Mental Urges:
Play the tape through. When you think about using, the fantasy is that you’ll be able to control your use this time. You’ll just have one drink. But play the tape through. One drink usually leads to more drinks. You’ll wake up the next day feeling disappointed in yourself. You may not be able to stop the next day, and you’ll get caught in the same vicious cycle. When you play that tape through to its logical conclusion, using doesn’t seem so appealing.
A common mental urge is that you can get away with using, because no one will know if you relapse. Perhaps your spouse is away for the weekend, or you’re away on a trip. That’s when your addiction will try to convince you that you don’t have a big problem, and that you’re really doing your recovery to please your spouse or your work. Play the tape through. Remind yourself of the negative consequences you’ve already suffered, and the potential consequences that lie around the corner if you relapse again. If you could control your use, you would have done it by now.
Tell someone that you’re having urges to use. Call a friend, a support, or someone in recovery. Share with them what you’re going through. The magic of sharing is that the minute you start to talk about what you’re thinking and feeling, your urges begin to disappear. They don’t seem quite as big and you don’t feel as alone.
Distract yourself. When you think about using, do something to occupy yourself. Call a friend. Go to a meeting. Get up and go for a walk. If you just sit there with your urge and don’t do anything, you’re giving your mental relapse room to grow.
Wait for 30 minutes. Most urges usually last for less than 15 to 30 minutes. When you’re in an urge, it feels like an eternity. But if you can keep yourself busy and do the things you’re supposed to do, it’ll quickly be gone.
Do your recovery one day at a time. Don’t think about whether you can stay abstinent forever. That’s a paralyzing thought. It’s overwhelming even for people who’ve been in recovery for a long time.
One day at a time, means you should match your goals to your emotional strength. When you feel strong and you’re motivated to not use, then tell yourself that you won’t use for the next week or the next month. But when you’re struggling and having lots of urges, and those times will happen often, tell yourself that you won’t use for today or for the next 30 minutes. Do your recovery in bite-sized chunks and don’t sabotage yourself by thinking too far ahead.
Make relaxation part of your recovery. Relaxation is an important part of relapse prevention, because when you’re tense you tend to do what’s familiar and wrong, instead of what’s new and right. When you’re tense you tend to repeat the same mistakes you made before. When you’re relaxed you are more open to change.
Once you start thinking about relapse, if you don’t use some of the techniques mentioned above, it doesn’t take long to go from there to physical relapse. Driving to the liquor store. Driving to your dealer.
It’s hard to stop the process of relapse at that point. That’s not where you should focus your efforts in recovery. That’s achieving abstinence through brute force. But it is not recovery. If you recognize the early warning signs of relapse, and understand the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal, you’ll be able to catch yourself before it’s too late.
Reprinted by kind permission of the author. His website can be found at www.addictionsandrecovery.org.
In times of high stress, high alertness, worry, difficult times or mood disorders like depression or anxiety, people are completely vulnerable to going back to their drug of choice. This is why we need to know where we’re at and learn practical ways of keeping our bodies, our minds and our environments in a healthy routine.