How do you repair your recovery and say goodbye to relapse forever? How do you know what work to do in order to be sure that you maintain sobriety?
In order to answer these questions you first have to diagnose your recovery program.
People talk about “working a strong program of recovery.” But what does that actually mean? How can we know if we are doing the right things?
What is wrong with your recovery? How to diagnose your potential for relapse
Your recovery is basically as strong as your relapse prevention efforts.
Now this is a little tricky because there is more to sobriety then just physical abstinence. You have probably heard of “dry drunk syndrome.” That is when an alcoholic is not physically drinking or taking drugs, but they also are not working any sort of program in their life either. So they are generally pretty miserable even though they don’t physically relapse. They aren’t really “working on recovery” at all, and it shows.
So we want to do two things. One, we want to prevent relapse at all costs. Two, we want to be working on some sort of recovery so that we are not a dry drunk and we don’t end up miserable.
So the first question is, how can you tell if you are in danger of falling by the wayside in your recovery journey?
Two obvious checks are your sobriety itself and whether or not you are miserable.
If you are clean and sober, there is no real problem. If you are genuinely happy, peaceful, and content then again….there is no problem.
If you are drinking alcohol (or feel like you are close to drinking) then that is a problem. If you are unhappy on a daily basis in your recovery then that is a problem too. You may be unhappy for a while but eventually it will probably lead to relapse. Or you may just remain miserable and continue to white knuckle your recovery. Either option is no good; there is a better way.
If you think that you have potential to relapse or become miserable in your recovery then you need to take action and correct course.
If you do “relapse prevention” correctly then it will not only keep you sober but it will also lead you to peace, contentment, and happiness.
So how do we implement relapse prevention?
Relapse prevention done right is a daily maintenance and a daily practice
In order to do relapse prevention correctly you have to have some sort of daily practice.
In other words, you don’t just do some work on yourself on the weekend and then forget all about your sobriety the rest of the time. That’s not how it works.
Or rather, that is not how it works well. If you want to stay sober by just doing your recovery in short little bursts, that might actually work….I’m really not sure. But I know that in order to really get the full benefits of recovery you need to change the way you are living on a day to day basis. You need to implement a daily practice that works for you.
So what is the daily practice like? What does it consist of?
The answer to that may vary from person to person. For me, the daily practice consists of things like:
* Getting plenty of sleep.
* Eating healthy foods.
* Exercise every single day. Either jogging or weight training.
* Some sort of quiet reflection time.
* Writing about addiction and recovery.
* Interacting with people in recovery and trying to help them. Often I do this on the forum here.
* Working to improve myself.
* Working to improve my relationships with others.
Those are just some things that I do each day off the top of my head, there may be others too, and there may be some things that I have not yet discovered yet.
For example, during the first few years of my sobriety, I did not exercise. I tried a few times, but for the most part I simply did not exercise.
And I remained sober of course, this did not cause to me relapse. But after I discovered exercise and started doing it daily, I would say that it has improved my recovery a great deal. It has become part of my daily practice, part of what I do in order to take good care of myself.
The idea of the daily practice is to find the habits that you can use every day in order to take good care of yourself.
If you stop taking care of yourself then relapse becomes a real option.
On the other hand, if you are taking really good care of yourself in all of these ways and you are feeling pretty good about yourself then it is really unlikely that you would relapse.
The moment of relapse has to do with low self esteem. If your self esteem is very low then you become vulnerable to relapse in that moment. If your self esteem remains high then you are not very likely to relapse at all. Taking good care of yourself is one way to force your self esteem to be higher.
Also realize that this should be a holistic approach when it comes to taking good care of yourself. So we are not talking about just your physical health. Instead, you want to take care of yourself in all of these ways: Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. If you neglect one of those areas for too long then you are opening the door to a possible relapse. In order to remain vigilant you want to come up with a daily practice that helps you to take care of yourself in all of those 5 areas.
Bad habits into good habits
Recovery is essentially about taking a set of bad habits in your life and replacing them with good habits.
The way to go about doing that is to first eliminate the bad habits completely. I recommend that you go to inpatient rehab in order to do that.
The reason that I recommend inpatient treatment is because it worked for me. I got clean and sober by attending treatment.
Now we all know that simply going to rehab is not a cure for alcoholism or drug addiction. It would be nice if it were a sure fire cure but alas, it doesn’t work that way.
However, it is still the best choice for most people who may be struggling to get sober. This is because when you check into rehab it becomes very easy to break your old habits while you are there. Of course the moment you are released back into the real world you are faced with a great deal of challenge and temptation, but while you are in the protection and care of an inpatient facility you are safe. It is easy to be sober in rehab. That’s the whole point.
When you are in rehab you eliminate the bad habits. They don’t exist in rehab because it is a controlled environment. Bad habits can’t happen there because they don’t allow drugs or alcohol to be brought in.
When you leave rehab you have to live your life in a such a way that you maintain your sobriety. In order to do that you have to create a new set of habits, lest you return to your old way of living.
This is a really important point: If you don’t do something different when you leave treatment, you are going to eventually return to your old pattern of living. And that will mean relapse.
We are creatures of habit. And we do what works for us. Before you went to rehab, drinking alcohol or using drugs was what worked for you. It may not have worked perfectly, and there may have been lots of negative side effects, but it worked. It medicated your feelings, your emotions. Whatever your reasons were, drugs and alcohol were your solution. And that solution will always be there for you in the future, if you don’t do the work of rebuilding your life in recovery.
So you leave rehab and you are faced with a challenge: Can you rebuild your life in such a way so as to not go back to your old habits?
This takes deliberate effort. Lots of suggestions exist to try to smooth this transition out. One popular suggestion is to go to 90 AA meetings in the next 90 days. This gives you something to do other than using drugs and alcohol. In at least some regard, going to a meeting every single day gives you a life. You have some purpose. It is better than nothing, and it might help you to remain sober. It may not be a perfect solution for everyone but it is better than doing nothing and falling back into your old routine.
Remember, if you do nothing then nothing will change! Pretty obvious, I know. But how many people leave rehab and then basically don’t make any massive changes? Answer: Nearly everyone! Taking massive action after treatment is actually pretty rare. Most people just don’t want to do the work.
Sobriety is nothing if not change. You either change your whole life, or you go back to the old ways of living. It is one or the other.
And the insane part is that we try to convince ourselves that there is a middle road here. There is no middle road. You are either working on recovery or you are working on a relapse. If you try to hug the middle ground on this one then you fail, you relapse, you slide back into your old ways.
This is because it takes a great deal of momentum in order to change your whole life.
“The only thing you have to change is everything.” You may have heard that one before. It is absolutely true. You do have to change everything if you want to overcome your addiction and maintain long term sobriety.
The problem is that you cannot go from being drunk and miserable to being happy, joyous, and free without a whole lot of work in the middle. That work that you have to do can only be described as being “massive action.” In other words, it is a lot of work. It is a whole lot of self honesty, introspection, getting honest with yourself, digging for answers to tough questions about yourself, and so on. Most people avoid this work because it makes them uncomfortable. Ultimately it scares them. The other group of people who fail lack the motivation to do the work. They may not be afraid, but they just don’t have the motivation that is necessary to do the work in early recovery. Either way, if you fail to take action and do the work then you will eventually relapse, become miserable, or possibly both. And honestly, you don’t want either of those things. We would much prefer to be happy and content in sobriety, even if that requires self honesty and the challenge of self growth.
Weaving gratitude into your life
If you really want to repair your recovery then my suggestion to you is to make sure gratitude is part of your daily practice.
Gratitude is powerful because it is an attitude, it is way of looking at the world, at situations.
If something “bad” happens in your life, do you use that as an excuse to go drink alcohol? Hopefully not.
If you are in the practice of gratitude every day, then when something “bad” happens you automatically start looking to find the “good” part of that event.
The idea is that every situation, even if it is “bad” or “evil,” still has some sort of silver lining, some sort of lesson within it.
In other words, if you can learn something from a “bad” situation then that experience is no longer entirely “bad.” You learned from it and you improved your life as a result and something positive came out of it.
This is an attitude. It is also a mental practice, it is something that you have to consciously work at every single day. You don’t just accidentally practice gratitude. You don’t just get lucky and then become grateful all of a sudden. Instead, being grateful is a deliberate choice, it takes work, and you have to work at it the hardest when you want to do it the least.
Think about it: When it is really easy to be grateful, how helpful is it to be aware of your push to be more grateful? It is actually pretty worthless right then.
In other words, when things are going good in your life and you are happy and everything is perfect, it is really easy to be grateful, right?
But we all go through those moments. We all have natural ups and downs in our lives. So at some point, every person will feel like everything is right in their world, like they are truly grateful, and they feel like they will be grateful forever because that one moment in time is so perfect.
But then a month later, a week later, a year later, a decade later….that person is no longer grateful. Circumstances have changed. Something “bad” has come up. And suddenly it is not so easy to be grateful any more. Suddenly it is much easier to be upset, to be demanding of the universe, to be selfish even. Suddenly, a drink might be sounding pretty good.
Now if you can return to gratitude in that moment then you have protection from relapse. If you can find a way to be grateful in spite of the “bad situation” then you have the power to resist relapse.
The question then becomes: How can we be grateful even during those times when it is really tough to do so? How can we maintain gratitude even when the chips are down?
And the answer is that we have to turn it into a daily practice. We have to practice gratitude every single day.
So we practice gratitude on the good days, and we practice it on the bad days too. We practice it every day.
How do we do that?
One way is by writing out a gratitude list. Simply write down the things that you are grateful for. Most people try to write down 50 things.
My suggestion would be that you do this every single day, and then tear up your list after it is made.
Why tear it up? Because you are going to make a new one tomorrow. And because you are just practicing!
That’s right, we want to practice gratitude every single day. And to do that, we have to work on that muscle in our brain that thinks of what to be grateful for.
If you exercise that gratitude muscle then it will get stronger and stronger.
I can prove it to you:
Get out paper and pen right now and make a list of 50 things you are grateful for. Time yourself with a stopwatch. Maybe it will take 15 minutes or so, whatever.
Then, do that again every day for the next 30 days. Every day, write out a new list of 50 things you are grateful for.
On the last day, time yourself again with a stopwatch. See how much faster you are.
I can tell you from experience that it is like night and day. After practicing every day for a month, you will become much, much faster at coming up with things to be grateful for.
Why is this important?
Because it will save your life!
If you can come up with reasons to be grateful very quickly, then you can turn your thinking around almost instantly whenever “bad” things happen in your life.
This is very powerful. That is why they focus on gratitude so much in AA. That is why it is the most important spiritual principle that you will ever practice in your life.
Gratitude, all by itself, has the power to prevent relapse. And it can sustain this indefinitely, because you can do it over and over again while maintaining a healthy attitude about life. It is a form of optimism.
Defeating the complacency monster
One last thing you might do in order to repair your recovery is to give some thought to complacency.
This is a special challenge because it can sneak up on any of us.
There is no way to prevent complacency other than to realize that it might be a part of your life. At that point you can take action and defeat complacency by pushing yourself to engage in more personal growth.
People who deny that they are complacent might actually be in trouble. But someone who assumes that complacency might be an issue is someone who is willing to take action and correct it. The solution is self improvement, so what is wrong with assuming that you may need to improve yourself some more?
The final challenge in long term sobriety is to find a way to challenge yourself every day, to find a way to keep learning every day. Once you achieve this lifelong attitude of learning you are well on your way to a bulletproof recovery program. Stay vigilant and always be honest with yourself!