Relapse is a tricky subject; it can be a little bit like talking about the bogeyman. But we have to confront the possibility head-on and be prepared with contingency plans in case we start to slip if we want to enjoy a successful recovery.
The stages of relapse
If you’re trying to prevent relapse, then it is important to understand that there are actually 3 stages to it.
Relapse is not just the moment when you take that drink (or drug). The actual relapse happens at an earlier point in time, probably several days or even weeks before you actually pick up and use a drink or drug.
1) Emotional relapse – This is the first stage of relapse, and it can be very subtle, so much so that you will probably miss it unless you have purposely increased your awareness and are watching out for it.
Emotional relapse occurs with things such as isolation, anxiety, or irritability. You’re not thinking about using yet, but your behaviors and emotions are setting you up to start down that path if you don’t do something.
2) Mental relapse – This is when you’re actually thinking about the drugs and alcohol. It might be more subtle than blatant thoughts of “I want to get drunk or high.” It might be reminiscing about old times when you used, glamorizing, and so on. If it continues you will eventually have a back-and-forth argument in your head of wanting to use versus wanting to stay clean and sober.
3) Physical relapse – This is when you actually ingest the drugs or alcohol.
Now obviously if you are already fighting with yourself mentally about wanting to use drugs or alcohol, then you’re very close to a physical relapse, and you should take immediate and drastic action in order to prevent anything further. Those would be things like:
* Going to a meeting and sharing about how you want to use
* Calling a sponsor or friend in recovery and telling them how you feel like using
And so on. If you’ve mentally relapsed, then you need drastic and immediate action.
The question is, what can you do if you’ve relapsed emotionally to prevent yourself from sliding further down the scale, closer to a physical relapse?
1) First of all, you must raise your awareness so that you can tell when you have relapsed emotionally. Your friends and peers in recovery can help you with this, as you can help them. Noticing when peers are isolating, anxious, irritable, and so on allows us to help each other out.
2) Second, you can take immediate action to counteract whatever “symptom” of emotional relapse you might be showing. If you’re irritable and tired, get more sleep. If you’re isolating, force yourself to interact with others in recovery, get to a meeting, and so on. Treat your symptoms.
3) Third, prevent emotional relapse from occurring at all by living a balanced, creative life in recovery. A holistic approach is key to preventing emotional relapse, because the emotional relapse can be brought on through so many different angels. Therefore, your “defenses” need to be broad enough to prevent these attacks from any angle. For example:
* Getting regular exercise so that you stay healthier and get better sleep, preventing anxiety and irritability.
* Avoid anxiety by practicing meditation or relaxation techniques
* Maintain gratitude by working with newcomers in recovery
The creative life in recovery advocates approaching relapse prevention from a holistic standpoint. It is finding balance in your life so that you can remain stable on all fronts in the face of potential relapse.