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Relapse Prevention

Susanne Johnson
| April 17, 2015

Relapse prevention is a critical component to maintain the long-term success of recovery. In order to understand relapse prevention, you need to understand its stages. It is a process, not an event. In each stage your recovery is at risk and you need to take certain steps to protect it. Being mindful of your own well-being is essential in recovery, as well as a good relationship with people who look at you from a different angle, able to notice any change (i.e. your family, spouse, and sponsor). Relapse prevention plans are easy to make and a great tool, especially in the first couple years of recovery. If you would like to read more about making your own, please follow this link to a free e-book about this subject.

The stages of relapse are:

– Emotional relapse
– Mental relapse
– Physical relapse

Emotional relapse
In this stage you are not drinking or using, but your mindset is working towards a future relapse. You might feel anxiety, anger or frequent mood swings. Your normal sleeping, working and eating habits might change and you start to not go to meetings, or at least reduce your attendance. It is fairly easy to go back to a sustained recovery from this stage. If you notice it, stop any isolation, return to meetings, and practice good self-care. Avoid H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) and ask for help. Something in your lifestyle is out of balance and needs your attention. It is time to refresh your recovery and get that stability back, a topic I have written about before.

Mental relapse
In mental relapse you feel that angel and devil fighting on your shoulders. You want to drink or use, but you don’t, both at the same time. You might catch yourself looking at bottles in a liquor store or driving by old using places. You start digging out phone numbers of old-time friends who you avoided in your sobriety. You think that, “One drink won’t hurt me,” or, “One last time,” and you plan on how you could get away with that without anybody knowing. To get out of this dangerous place ask immediately for help, call your sponsor frequently, call your treatment center’s support line for alumni, make more contact to others in recovery, and ask for help. Increase your time at meetings, and maybe get a counselor or therapist to help you through this time. Often this mental relapse happens on a short term only, like when you are on a business trip or your spouse is out of town. “Play the tape through,” is a common expression for those moments. Think of the negative consequences that will occur if you would drink or use again (and not only for a day, since that won’t be the truth). Don’t let your guard down and avoid any places where people drink or use.

Physical Relapse
If you don’t catch it in one of the two earlier stages mentioned above, you end up sooner or later with a bottle in your hand or at your dealer’s home. At this point it’s very difficult to stop the process. Call someone and ask for help. Ask that somebody pick you up immediately and take you to a meeting.
If all your prevention tools didn’t work and you end up drinking or using again, please get help immediately today, not tomorrow, not in a couple hours, not next week. Odds are that you won’t be able to stop on your own. If you went through any treatment, call their helpline immediately and reach out to them. They are very understanding. Nobody will judge you or shout at you, you will receive help. If you go to 12-step meetings, go right away to one. Discard any leftover alcohol or drugs (if there is ever such thing in an addict’s place) and call your sponsor or anyone from your fellowship. Even relapse must not and should not end your recovery journey; it’s not the end of the world. There is no failure unless you stop trying.

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher

In case you read this today because you feel a relapse heading your way, use the skills above. If you relapsed in your recovery and you would not mind sharing your story and how you came to it, please contact me. I would love to put your story of relapse and recovery on this website for others to learn from your experience. Our stories are our language, and the best way to learn is from each other. Please send me an email with your story of how you managed to get through these stages and back to sobriety to I will contact you right back.

Stay focused, your sobriety is the highest gift.

Susanne Johnson

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