Relapse Prevention

“We all have another drunk left in us but we don't know if we have another recovery in us" - Unknown

Someone once told me that I never had to drink or drug again once I’d decided I was done with it for good. It didn’t take me long to come up with a mental response. “Wow, really? Why don’t you take that golden nugget of wisdom and shove it up your ass because that’s a really easy thing to say if you already have a bunch of time sober. If it’s true and we never have to drink or drug again, then why do so many people relapse?”

The truth is, as I knew even then, is that it isn’t as easy as saying 'I'm done for good' - we have to back up those words with some action. We never completely beat our addiction; recovery is all about staying on top of it and if we do, we get a daily reprieve. To draw a clearer analogy, I think of my disease like a sleeping tiger: patient, cunning and deadly. Even though we’re no longer putting our drug of choice in our bodies, it lays quiet and still, waiting until we become exposed. Its patience is unrelenting, because it doesn’t care how long it takes; it can wait days, months, even years. But sooner or later, it will see a weakness that makes us vulnerable. That vulnerability can manifest itself in a number of ways, but it usually includes being hungry, angry, lonely, tired (H.A.L.T.) or restless, irritable and discontent (the R.I.D.'s) - more on these later in the book.

Our disease knows when we are feeling any of these emotions and starts to plant ideas in our heads (the mental part of our problem). It tells us that we deserve to go out and have some fun, or that our drinking wasn’t as bad as we thought it was. Surely, it says, we can have one drink and then stop? The disease knows our Achilles heel, and it preys on that knowledge that it’s the obsession of every alcoholic to control our drinking. Before we know it, the tiger is stirring. It’s awake and pacing obsessively, in our minds, round and around in a circle. The hunt is on because the obsession has begun. The disease has its prey within reach. All it needs to do is wait and our minds will take care of the rest.

This is what many call ‘the jumping-off point.’ It’s where we either jump and relapse, or choose to fight. For me, the best way that I could fight against another relapse was in the form of a solid recovery program. I had jumped every time things had become difficult in the past. I had no protection from the disease; I was left wide open. Trying to stop drinking or drugging using willpower alone might work for a while, but our enemy knows our weaknesses and this defense will not last. One of my good friends in recovery, Mark S., says it best, “Remember that our disease is our enemy and it wants us dead – but it will settle for having us drunk or high.”

A recovery program gives us tools to use, the idea being to use them before we get to the point where the tiger is stirring and the disease is awake. Having a system in place allows us to recognize negative feelings and protect ourselves, by becoming mentally and spiritually fit. That way, when we inevitably let our guard down, we have taken preventive measures and our back-up is already in place. These defensive tactics include: having sober friends we can talk to, recovery meetings we can go to, a higher power to turn to, twelve steps we can work and recovery books we can read. If we do these things along with keeping our distance from people, places and things that push our buttons (especially in early recovery) the chance of a relapse significantly decreases.

If however, you do relapse, it's very important that you get back on the horse right away, dust yourself off and get on with your recovery. If you balk and decide to wait until you've used or drank some more, just know that there's a very good chance that you might not live to regret it. Some people go out and never make it back. Don't let that be you - think about what you weren't doing before it happened - did you stop going to meetings? Did you stop hanging out with sober people and start going to old hang outs? Recognize what happened, learn from it and move on. Remember that the best defense is a good offense, and that’s what a recovery program is. While it’s true that relapse may be a very real possibility, it doesn’t have to become a reality.

For me the proof is in the pudding; since working on my sobriety in a structured recovery program and not relying on sheer willpower, I have gone from chronic relapses (using every two to three months) to over two continuous years in recovery. And for this drunk, that’s nothing short of a miracle.

(Excerpt from 'Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down'.)

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