Preventing Relapse When You Leave Treatment
Relapse is a dirty little word with a million wriggly worms of fear, shame and loathing growing out from the core of its simple two syllables. It gets bandied about whenever people talk about addiction and alcoholism and is probably the single greatest genuine fear that people, on the eve of graduating from treatment programs, share no matter where in the world they are or what type of facility they are in. And it’s not just the addicts and alcoholics that fear it but their families and loved ones too, sometimes even more so. Counsellors and therapists help you make prevention plans, whole group sessions take it as a subject and people talk about it …. A lot.
This might be a short snappy word but the path walked towards the big ‘R’ is frequently a long one speckled with an unwillingness to change and liberally smattered with the acne of old behaviour, people, places and things. Usually relapse doesn’t just happen; you don’t suddenly find yourself sitting in a dealer’s house with a spike in your vein or stotting down the booze aisle of your local supermarket with bottles of vodka stashed under your cornflakes. It might feel, at the time, that your legs and hands have acted entirely of their own accord or that the car has driven itself to that deadly familiar door, but invariably you have walked back down the road of powerlessness so far, that undefended against this chronic and progressive disease, there has been no choice but to pick up. So, here are a few simple suggestions to help you put one foot into front of the other in the right direction:
Understand Your Warning Signs
Treatment will have introduced you to your disease in a whole new way, gifting you a level of self-awareness and a whole riot of ways you think and behave insanely. Being vigilant about these and checking in with your motives and attitudes around different situations is absolutely essential. One recovering addict observed: ‘When I stop making my bed, I know I’m in trouble’. This sounds, to all intents and purposes, paranoid, crazy and just fricking right over the top; millions of people have messy beds and don’t go out and pick up a drug over it but the bed is really not the problem. It’s the attitude that manifests in a tumble of sheets, the lack of self-care, the defiance or the nihilism. Another classic, red-light, pre-relapse sport is ‘duvet diving’ which is essentially isolating and feeling sorry for yourself. The warning signs vary depending on the addict and can take the form of blaming people, getting frustrated over nothing, denying your addiction or just not talking about your feelings. Get to know how these things work for you and be vigilant about how you think and how you feel.
Starting to live life without the crutch of drugs and alcohol is undeniably overwhelming and even if you leave rehab floating on the legendary pink cloud of fabulousness your emotions are still going to pinball wildly. Being raw, oversensitive, out of kilter and a stranger to your own skin is totally normal at this stage of the game, so sit with it and give it time to level out because even though it feels like it won’t, it will.
Stick to a Plan
One of the ways to combat the warning signs and stay focused is to have a plan of how you are going to schedule your time when you leave rehab. Just the fact of getting through each day having achieved what you set out to do means that you build your self-esteem. Each day clean is a day won and don’t get overexcited with insane expectations of what you can achieve. Empires of recovery were not built in a day.
Recovery is an ongoing process and it shouldn’t stop the minute that you are released back into the world. You have to retrain your brain and your body to function in a way that is completely out of what has been ordinary and that takes practice. Stay connected to the people who know what you are going through and keep them on speed dial.
Don’t ‘Test’ Yourself
Overconfidence, ego, the desire to help old using cronies, loneliness and a whole heap of other factors and crazy half formed thoughts can lead you down the road of wanting to visit old haunts and using friends. Quite simply, just don’t, there is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost.
In a Nutshell
In one humble, artless phrase: Just don’t pick up a substance no matter what happens and remember that the grateful addict won’t use.
Knocked Down? Get Back Up
Please don’t think for a minute that relapsing is a good idea or necessary as part of your journey but the naked fact is that many people do. Picking up a drink or a drug is never going to be pretty because of the progressive nature of the disease and the tragic fact is that some people just don’t survive. Out there in the trenches of war, it just gets worse, the mud of shame and guilt gets thicker, the smoke of denial chokes lungs and deadens eyes and the gun fire of the wicked inner critic will set about a great war of attrition in an attempt to keep you there. Don’t let these worms of failure and self-loathing pull you back down into the quagmire you have just extracted yourself from. Reach out, ask for help, do the things that helped you onto the path of recovery the last time and learn from your mistakes. Getting back up takes courage.