Mike S. has written an article with his aspects and aspirations of recovery. Mike has 31 years sober and has worked with various support programs to strengthen his recovery. Mike now–31 years sober–is going back to his early recovery, and we are combining efforts to tackle the issue of relapse.
Many struggle with relapse, and there are different forms of it. How do we identify when a relapse is coming forth in our early addiction recovery? And what exactly is the mental processing going on before, during, and after a relapse? Mike elaborates on his viewpoint of the term relapse, giving more insight into the struggles, perils, and ideologies behind “relapse.”
Mike S. states:
“Relapse is a symptom of alcoholism; it is a sad fact not everybody who becomes clean and sober manages to stay that way. The fact that relapse is symptomatic causes much bewilderment to those around the alcoholic, and the public in general.
For those suffering the statement that they hear from those around them is often “Just stop.” But, how easy is to just stop? You didn’t “Just start,” did you? As addiction and alcoholism is progressive in nature, most would agree you didn’t just start, so you cannot just stop. Believe us, we would if we could!
It can be difficult for those who will not become addicted to understand why we relapse. We are dealing with a complicated disease which is lying inside us waiting to catch us, out in the open.
Part of the description of alcoholism is that it is progressive. We need to understand what that means for us.
In simple terms, the disease only gets worse over time if we do not make a conscious effort to work on ourselves and recovery, every step of the way!
Think back to your early drinking, these ideas weren’t too much of a problem, and weren’t even (probably) apparent until a few years into your addictions. Go forward a few years and think about what it is/was like. Every part of your life was affected by my drinking/addictions, but it had crept up on you slowly.
It was difficult to find the point where I lost any vestige of control. It’s hard to identify this, and as they say, “Hindsight is 20-20.”
The term progressive, for us, means that the disease is with us for the rest of our lives and quietly progresses even when we are not drinking. This explains, in part, why, if we relapse, everything falls apart more quickly. The addictions/alcoholism has been preparing for the day to jump on you. It’s been waiting to pick a point where you are easily subjective to old people, places, and things. And the, it hits you.
The good news is that we can tackle relapse before it happens.”
So, I ask you: “What’s next?” or “Where do we go from here?” Mike makes good points on the ideals of relapse and its perpetual build up. He also gives a range of different ideologies on addictions and alcoholism that are “so-called” feeding a relapse, as the symptoms build. So, what is the main thing we can do besides being flexible and patient in our recovery? We need to work on ourselves, each and every step of the way! But, how do we do this?
Mike S. elaborates:
“First off, we need to begin to find some insight into what the relapse warning signs are for us.
In early recovery, we are in a phase known as Post Acute Withdrawal. Acute withdrawal is the time that when we have stopped drinking/using–putting alcohol into our bodies–and we are detoxifying. It’s probable you are experiencing this with medical help or the help of friends in support groups.
[Warning! It is life threatening to stop drinking abruptly. There is a risk of fits and seizures and DT’s which can be fatal. There is also the risk of your blood for extreme coagulation after stopping drinking, as alcohol acts as a blood thinning agent while using. More side effects are hallucinations and fatalities through blood clotting and heart/organ issues, too].
Ideally, our detoxifying phase must be monitored in a safe environment where the only alcohol that is given to us is done so in while gradually reducing doses to enable a safe stop. This may take a few days. Similar detoxification protacols occur with other illicit substances (as are not as physically/fatally dangerous as alcohol).
If we are in a treatment facility, Librium [or another diazepam] can often be the safe alternative to alcohol.
Thus the Post Acute Withdrawal phase is that time after you have successfully stopped using. This time may extend over several weeks or months.
It’s important to have continued support and encouragement, as the urge to drink again can be very strong. The symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal can be identified under 6 areas:
(1) Thinking – inability to think clearly; difficulty with concentration
(2) Feelings – a) over reactive; raw feelings, or
- b) numbness; no feelings
(3) Memory – affects short-term memory
(4) Sleep – affects sleep patterns
(5) Stress sensitivity – over-reactive to low stress situations
(6) Physical co-ordination – dizziness; poor hand/eye co-ordination
For some people these symptoms can continue for weeks or months, gradually lessening over time, until they disappear. For others, these scenarios are much milder. Later in recovery these symptoms can recur, often induced by stress.”
Now what? We’ve identified many reasons of post-acute withdrawal and reasons for occurrence of relapses. Now where do we go with this? Now we want to understand the true mentality of the ideal relapse scenario and it’s affects on you, those around you, and experiences given to us by professionals and those who have dealt with it personally. We need a better truth, a better understanding. We need insight and enlightenment. Here is some.
Mike S. continues:
“One thing that has been discovered is that a relapse usually begins in the mind. Relapse usually begins days or weeks before alcohol enters the body.
What happens in this situation is that past patterns of Denial, Isolation, Elevated Stress, and Impaired Judgement reactivate. These can be caused by stressors in addiction recovery we call, “Triggers.” (For more on triggers go here: substanceforyou.com/addiction-triggers/ or substanceforyou.com/coping-with-triggers-in-addiction/).
If the onset of a relapse is not recognized as soon as possible, the danger increases of a relapse into active drinking/addictions. The addictions may incur faster, harder, and more dangerous than before. It can be progressive and fatal if not given attention through the creation of awareness.
While we may not recognize them in ourselves, they will often be obvious to those around us. Listen to the feedback. Although, hearing those around you may be the hardest thing to do, we must become accepting and willing, through the onset of it all. We must become preventative. We must constantly work on ourselves one step at a time!
There is an expert in relapse, Terence Gorski, who identifies a list of some 37 signs of possible relapse. If you want to follow up on this, I would respectfully suggest that you read Gorski’s work for yourself.
(For more on our relapse warning sign’s article go here: substanceforyou.com/relapse-warning-signs)
Another part of the relapse dynamic is the Abstinence Violation Effect. What this means is that, should I relapse, there will be two main responses.
The first response may be the thought “Well I’ve messed up so I might as well make a good job of it!”
The result of that reaction will be that I continue to drink and become a self fulfilling prophesy and go back to alcoholic drinking. You create a self fulfilling prophesy by telling yourself you are bound to do something, you are seeing the reinforcement around you of it, and your mind begins to think, “Maybe I am this? Maybe this is really me?” As, you start to truly feel you were meant for this, when that is simply NOT true!
Whether I can recover from this may well depend on how well I am connected with friends who want to help me. Support is key and having a good safety net or hammock of support to catch you when you fall back, is crucial.
Now, the second reaction may be the thought “Well OK. I’ve had a drink but I can come back from this!” I can ring friends and other recovering people who understand and ask them to help. Help is always there! You must accept that it’s okay to reach out. Create a conversation if there is no need at all. That need will find its way into the conversation, anyways! Trust me!
At that moment I have a good chance of coming back from the brink of disaster, with positive reinforcement created by my own willingness and open mindedness, I can truly embrace and accept my true fate: Being sober and clean.
In reality, for me, I have managed to avoid relapse up to today. I have no sense that I am in danger at this time but I remain watchful and not, in any way, complacent.I keep working on myself, my recovery, and my surroundings! Good things come from good things so I’m continuing to work on all of this every day sober/clean.
Recovery is a hard earned benefit and I have no wish to lose it! I have and am working to hard to lose it now! So, I’m letting you know it can be done!”
To conclude here are strategies and mindsets given by those who have been through it, with inspiration and guidance on the ideas of relapse, with given proof it can be conquered!
Mike S. concludes:
“Around support groups we will hear the term “Slip” applied to a relapse. Somebody once commented that “Slip” could stand for “Sobriety Loses Its Priority”. In other words we begin to put other areas of life ahead of our recovery. It’s a reality that our recovery has to be our first thought on waking. How can I manage my recovery today?
This may sound somewhat selfish but if I lose my sobriety/clean time, then everything else comes tumbling down. In the initial weeks and months, those around us may find this hard to take.
When I was drinking/using, I was not really available. Now that I have stopped, my loved ones, quite rightly, expect my attention. If I am going to a support group most days/evenings, I may be even less available than when I was drinking. This situation needs resolution as it could become a stressor that could lead to a relapse.
There is a great deal of anger and resentment in an alcoholic situation. The alcoholic/addict will be carrying anger, at him/herself; those closest will be angry at the alcoholic/addict but may feel unable to express it in case they cause a relapse.
At some point there needs to be recognition of this anger and a chance provided for it to be expressed in a controlled way. If this is not done the scenario will come out sideways and become another stressor.
As hard as it may be the alcoholic needs to find a way to sit down and allow his family/friends to let him/her know what it was like for them while s/he was drinking. It is important for the alcoholic “take it on the chin” without blowing up or reacting in any other aggressive way.
Part of the recovery is finding a way to make amends to those we damaged and our family/friends are the ones we damaged most so they deserve a chance to let us know what it was like for them.
I had to acknowledge that my memory might not be reliable so, I have to trust the non-drinkers’ memories as being a more accurate record of what I was like – a pain in the butt, at the very least!
The point is that we need to address any area of our drinking life that may become a stressor to our recovery. We can call these triggers, stressors, or just the plain old ups and downs of life. We all react differently to situations, so know your body, but have faith in the ones you trust to help you gauge that, too.
Denial will do its best to minimize our actions and behaviors to let us off the hook. This is not a good idea.
We need to face up to reality and deal with it in an appropriate way.
Others who are further down the line will be a great resource in this process. Again I remind you that “Recovery is a process, not an event”. Be kind to yourself, but do what you need to stay clean and sober.
It has been often said that I may have another drink in me but I may not have another recovery. Look after what you have and life will get better – that’s a promise.”
It gets better! I promise, too! I really, really do!
For more on Mike S. and his story through recovery go to his personal article written here: substanceforyou.com/how-did-you-do-it-1960s-alcoholism-to-31-years-sober/
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