Fighting the War Against Relapse in Addiction

Fighting the War Against Relapse in Addiction

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Muay Tha for recovering alcoholics

For most people, overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction is absolutely the toughest thing they have ever had to do. So drawing an analogy with “fighting a war” is not inappropriate. Consider also that the timeline for overcoming an addiction is much longer than most people realize at first. Some of us believe that you can simply check into a 28 day inpatient rehab, jump through certain hoops there, and emerge fully cured from alcoholism and drug addiction. This is not a realistic viewpoint and it completely misses the real struggle that you will have to go through. A more accurate way to say it would be to acknowledge the fact that the real battle doesn’t even begin until you leave that 28 day program–that is when the real challenge starts. The “war” that you fight lasts for the rest of your life. And you have to be smart about the battle plan.

In fact, having a plan at all is critical to success in recovery. Some people believe that if they just “do the next right thing” that they will remain clean and sober based on that principle alone. But in the real world such a strategy doesn’t seem to work out so well. You need a plan.

Why do we need a plan to recover? It’s simple–addicts use. Alcoholics drink. That is the default mode of operation. Any alcoholic will eventually return to alcohol as their solution unless they take massive action to correct this tendency. In other words, if you aren’t actively working on “not drinking” then you are bound to drink again at some point. That is what alcoholics do. This should not really surprise anyone.

Now I am not saying that it is hopeless, or that an alcoholic cannot recover. What I am saying is that every drug addict and every alcoholic is certain to relapse at some point unless they have a deliberate plan of action. You can’t just float through recovery and not have any sort of plan and expect to get lucky and magically stay sober. It doesn’t work that way. Just like in a vicious war, no general can just randomly march around a country without any real organization and expect to win any battles. You have to be focused, you have to have clear goals, you have to specific avenues of support for yourself in this battle against addiction. Without a clear plan, you are headed for relapse….simple as that.

So that said, we need a way to get a plan.

How to wage war on your addiction when you don’t even know how to begin the fight

If you don’t even know how to get started in recovery, then I have a simple and powerful suggestion for you:

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Ask for help.

Now that can be a bit of a broad suggestion so I am going to further clarify that for you. You need to ask for help from the right people. It does no good to ask for help from someone who believes that more alcohol or more drugs is the solution.

Therefore you should ask for help from someone who specializes in helping alcoholics and drug addicts. There are places that do exactly that, and they call them “treatment centers” or “rehabs.” You should seek these places out, call them on the phone, and ask them what you need to do in order to come in and get the help that you need. Likely that means securing funding in some way, or clearing insurance, or getting placed at the right treatment center that matches up with your particular situation. It is important to take the initiative here, get on the phone, and start asking questions. If you don’t get on the phone and start pushing for treatment then it will probably never happen.

This is the solution. It may not be a surefire cure (nothing is), but it is still the solution. It is the beginning of your new life in recovery, if you want it to be. Many people don’t want to go to rehab for a variety of reasons–they are ashamed, they don’t want the stigma of being an alcoholic or an addict, they don’t think they really need that much help, and so on. But this is the solution, and nearly everyone who finally breaks through their denial will eventually become willing to attend treatment.

Many people never do, though. Up to 90 percent of those who need the help never seek out treatment. This is unfortunate, for their only outcomes are jails, institutions, or death. Those poor souls never learn the joy and peace and contentment that you can enjoy in recovery. If they had only sought out treatment. If they had only been willing to ask for help.

This is the only real suggestion that makes any sense to someone who is struggling badly with alcoholism or drug addiction. Sure, there are alternatives out there. But none of them are nearly as good as a trip to inpatient rehab. When you go to treatment, you arrest the disease for 28 days. At least that gives you a fighting chance. At least that gives you a month to clean up, to get a (somewhat) clear head, to start to realize what you really want to do with your life. Do you want to keep wasting it by chasing a high that you can never fully achieve again? Do you want to go back to the madness and chaos of addiction, chasing after a happiness that you once had but that remains elusive now? Or are you willing to take that plunge into recovery, to see what might be on the other side, to see what will happen when you face your fear of sobriety head on? That is the choice that you get to make when you attend treatment. It is not a cure by any means, it is an opportunity. If you want to get clean and sober and start a new life of freedom, you can have that. All you have to do is make the calls, ask some questions, and get yourself checked in somewhere. Get to treatment. That is the solution. That is the beginning of the solution. It is one path, a very strong path, to a new life in sobriety. There are other ways, but I wouldn’t recommend any of them over this particular path.

Enlisting the help of others is critical in early recovery

You can’t do this thing alone. You cannot recover by yourself. If you could, you would not need treatment centers, there would be no such thing as AA, and there would not be an army of counselors and therapists out there who work with people in addiction.

But no, you cannot do this alone. Recovery requires social interaction. This was very annoying to me when I was struggling to get sober myself. It was not that I was anti-social or did not like people, because that was not the case at all. It was more that I was afraid to speak in front of a group, that I had a certain amount of social anxiety. I was afraid of being in AA meetings and having to speak. Of course you can avoid speaking by saying “I’m just here to listen today,” but I was still too nervous to even want to say that. I did not want to have to announce that in an AA meeting and have everyone look at me when I said it. That was the anxiety that was preventing me from embracing AA meetings.

But the fact remained, I could not do it alone. And neither can you. So I had to find a way to reach out to other people in my early recovery, I had to find a way to make those connections so that I could gain strength in my early journey.

You may be wondering: Why do we need this at all? Why do we need to reach out to others, what benefit does that have for us?

Allow me to explain. I did not understand these principles until I had gone through early sobriety myself and could look back and realize how certain things worked.

The first reason that we need others in recovery is due to the idea of relating to others. And by “relating” we really mean identifying with them.

So what does it mean to “identify with others?”

Here is what happens. You are caught up in addiction or alcoholism and you are fighting the battle by yourself. You try to control the drug or alcohol intake all by yourself and you are losing that particular battle. Your thoughts are trying to overcome the problem. “Maybe if I switch from liquor to beer for a few days….” That kind of thing. And of course, none of it works. So your spiral further out of control in your addiction and you are trapped in your own head. You feel as if you are going crazy. You feel as if you are insane. Because the rest of the world appears to be functioning normally. Other people are not going crazy in their own heads due to drugs or alcohol, at least not that you can observe. So you feel as if you are the only one in the world who is going crazy. And it is all because of your drug or alcohol problem.

That feeling of going crazy is one of the worst things in the world. You need a way to overcome that feeling so that you can move forward and be healthier.

We do that through identifying with others. So you go to an AA meeting and you tell them that this is your very first AA meeting ever. When you do that, they will have a special “first step meeting” for you, in which everyone there will tell their personal story of “what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.” In listening to these stories of addiction, you will realize that you are not alone in this battle, that you are not the only one who feels like they are going crazy. And you will relate to many people in that first AA meeting who tell their story to you, you will hear bits and pieces in those stories that sound exactly like yourself. And in doing so you will identify with others, you will say to yourself “wow, they are just like me in that way!”

This identification will give you hope. You will realize that if they can recover, then you can recover too. This is probably the most important aspect of AA for the newcomer. It is the hope that you get when you realize that you are not alone.

Second of all is the instruction that you get from other people in recovery. We need others to recover, and the second reason we need them is for the information they can give us. We need to reach out to people so that we can learn how to live a sober life in recovery.

How do you live a sober life? “Just don’t drink alcohol or take drugs” is not a full solution. For the real alcoholic or drug addict, that is only the tip of the iceberg. If it were really that simple, we wouldn’t need recovery programs.

So in order to recover you need new information. And that means you need people. You can get some information out of books, such as through reading the big book of AA, but that is not going to give you everything that you need to recover. Why not?

The reason that books cannot give you everything that you need is because our situations in recovery are dynamic. They are ever changing. And so when you go to AA meetings or you interact with others in recovery, you are talking to people, telling them your specific problems and issues, and you are getting pinpoint feedback that addresses your situation exactly. Reading a book doesn’t help with this. The only way to get the information that you really need is to talk to live humans, to interact with them, to tell your story and be heard and get feedback and advice. That is how we recover. We have to reach out and get specific advice for ourselves, then we need to follow through on that advice and take action in our lives. Reading a book is not quite enough to get to that level of direction. The book can give us general guidelines for how to recover, but it can’t give specific advice. Therefore we need people to help us recover.

How to transition out of early recovery and into long term sobriety

In order to win the battle against addiction you have to change and evolve in your recovery journey.

There is one popular school of thought that says there are two distinct stages in recovery: early recovery and long term sobriety. I would tend to agree with this idea and I think it makes sense. I also believe that it has several implications for the recovering alcoholic.

In early recovery you need extreme focus. Your number one goal each day is not to drink or take drugs no matter what. This is your number one focus in life. You do this by going to rehab, by going to AA meetings, by going to therapy or counseling or outpatient groups, you do this by reaching out to others in recovery, by working with a sponsor, by working the steps. It is intense focus that gets you through this period of your sobriety.

In long term sobriety, those things don’t work any more. After you have several years sober, you don’t rely on those same tactics to remain sober. No, you have evolved beyond those ideas. Now it is about balance. You have to seek some sort of balance in your life. You can’t just go to meetings every day and keep hammering away at the basics for the next several decades. That doesn’t make sense. There has to be some evolution, you have to learn and to grow in your recovery.

In long term sobriety your overall health becomes more important. Now you have a foundation of sobriety, you need to start taking care of yourself in other ways. Has your sleep improved? What about your nutrition? Your physical health? Your fitness level? What about your spiritual health, has that evolved? Are you more grateful today? Are you reaching out and working with others on a regular basis? Are emotionally stable on a day to day basis?

These questions and more represent the holistic approach to recovery. It is more than just not drinking, and it is more than just going to AA or therapy in order to maintain sobriety. Instead it is about taking care of yourself in all of these different ways (physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, spiritually) on a daily basis. If you are not taking care of yourself in all of those different ways then you open the door to possible problems in the future. Specifically, people have relapsed because they dropped the ball in one or more of those areas.

Let me give you an example. I have had peers in long term recovery that have relapsed because they got sick. Physically ill. They got sick, and it spiraled out of control, and it wore them down over time to the point that it led them back to the bottle. They had been spiritually fit going into this illness. But their physical health was poor, they were not eating right, they were not taking care of their physical body very well, and they continued to smoke cigarettes. However they had been sober from alcohol and other drugs and they were spiritually doing well.

And yet they still relapsed. They relapsed because they were not taking care of themselves holistically. They dropped the ball in one area of their life, and it came back to bite them. It led to relapse.

The same thing has happened to countless peers of mine who did the same thing in the area of relationships. They were doing well otherwise; they had their physical health, they were practicing the principles of the program, they were going to meetings and making gratitude lists and working with a sponsor. But they got into a romantic relationship fairly early in their recovery journey, and this eventually led them to relapse. When things go south and it doesn’t work out, the pain is always much greater than what you can anticipate. And so that is when you self medicate, that is when you relapse. So these peers of mine were healthy in so many ways, and yet they neglected this one area of their overall health (social and emotional) and it eventually led them to relapse.

This is why the battle in recovery is a holistic one, a war that must be waged on all possible fronts. You can’t just work on your spirituality alone. That is not enough. Relapse is going to attack you from every possible direction, and you have to be prepared for it. And this is what makes the holistic approach so important to long term sobriety.

The final war: fighting complacency

The last battle that everyone fights in recovery is against complacency.

When we get complacent in our journey it simply means that we have stopped challenging ourselves to grow, to learn, and to change.

We must never get complacent in recovery. This leads to relapse.

The way to overcome this is to assume that it is a problem in your life, and to act accordingly.

Therefore you can push yourself and challenge yourself on a daily basis, saying “what can I do for my recovery today? How can I push myself to become a better person today?”

If you are not driven like that, you need to find a way to motivate yourself so that you can keep moving forward.

How are you doing in the war against addiction? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!

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