Relapse prevention is a serious component for anyone in recovery, as lapse and relapse can feel like taking 10 steps backwards. Many people fear that relapse means they’re weak or that they’ve failed, and this certainly isn’t true. In fact, relapse is considered a normal part of recovery and should be taken as a lesson learned – of course, there are still strategies you can take to help prevent it from happening. Men are unique in their experiences of addiction recovery because of societal pressures, thought patterns, and behavioral tendencies. Since men and women think and respond to different situations/emotions differently, these differences must be recognized in order to work through relapse prevention in the best way possible.
Bucky Sinister, author of the book Get Up: A 12 Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos, put it this way: “Your best days are ahead of you. The movie starts when the guy gets sober and puts his life back together; it doesn’t end there.”
Sobriety can feel like the end, and in a way, it is – it’s the end of a life of addiction. It’s also a beginning, however, and that beginning starts with you finding yourself and creating a path towards health, happiness, and fulfillment in life.
It All Starts with Creating a Plan
If you’re in a recovery program, you’ll want to work closely with your healthcare team to construct a plan that you can put into action if triggers arise. Triggers can appear out of nowhere, or they may be sparked by a particular person, place, instance, thought, or feeling. Typically, it’s when you least expect it; something gets the best of you – and that’s when you become most vulnerable to using substances again. The following are some major components that need to be part of your game plan:
The Basics (with some examples to spark some thought, of course):
- Who are you going to call? A sponsor? Recovery leader? Peer in your program?
- What are you going to do? Leave the situation? Tell someone ‘no’? Turn off the commercial that’s triggering you?
- When are you going to do it? As soon as you recognize that you’ve been triggered, right?
- Where are you going to go? Do you have a safe “getaway” plan?
- Why are you going to do this? Can you remind yourself of the reasons why sobriety is important to you in this instance? Can you recall all of the pain, misery, and devastation that addiction brought to you and those around you?
Write your plan down and put it in your wallet if you need to, as a gentle reminder if something comes up. In the moment you’re triggered, it might harder to remember some of these steps – having an action plan set beforehand will make it that much easier to implement.
Getting Deeper into Thought
A more advanced tool used in recovery is called cognitive restructuring, and this is where you essentially talk yourself “out of” the initial triggering thought that you had. You reason with yourself and provide some logic to those emotions that are trying so desperately to convince you that you’re lonely, angry, hurt, depressed, etc. Here are some examples:
Instead of: “Nobody loves me. I must be worthless.”
You say this: “Yeah, I’m feeling pretty lonely right now. But I just met a new friend in group the other day, and he seemed pretty cool. I think I’ll check in with him in a bit.”
Instead of: “I can’t believe she/he just said that to me. I’m about to lose it.”
You say this: “I can’t control what other people say or do, but I can control my actions. What’s going to benefit me the most right now?”
It’s a different way of thinking, but it’s effective. It takes time and practice, and you’re not always going to feel comfortable with changing your thoughts to something that’s more beneficial for your recovery – that’s because you’re not used to it. Over time, we train our mind on certain thinking patterns, and for most of us, that involves some form of negativity. We may not always be able to “get rid of” those negative thoughts, but we can restructure them if they arise – and this could really help you in those moments where you’re about to be triggered.
Finding Something Outside of Yourself
The most common emphasis of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is spirituality. Addiction is considered a disease that disturbs the mind, body, and spirit, and finding something outside of yourself is what can help ground you. Many people have found spirituality to be an incredibly powerful tool in their recovery, because God (or a Higher Power) takes that control that we so desperately try to grasp and gives us a lesson of acceptance and faith. We can’t predict what’s going to happen in our recovery, and while we can prepare for it the best that we can, we have to know that everything is going to be okay.
We have to trust that we’re exactly where we’re meant to be – and that by doing the best we can, with what we have, where we are, we’re succeeding in recovery. Relapse prevention is an important part of your path, but it all boils down to taking things day by day, one step at a time.
Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-campus, we are made up of 2 twelve-step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers, and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.
Call us today at 1-800-646-9998 to take the next step towards your happiness and health.