Recovering from an dependence or compulsion, whether it be sex, work, or money, has its rewards as well as challenges. Although relapse prevention may appear to look easy, preventing relapse is as much a process as is getting clean to begin with. Terry Gorski, who specializes in relapse treatment, developed a parallel model that illustrates the progression of the recovery process and the progression of the relapse process as a clean person is always moving towards recovery or relapse. The key word here is “process,” not an event. For example, once someone gets clean, he or she needs to continue to work on their sobriety. Conversely, if someone in recovery relapses, it is usually not just an overnight event, but a process of deterioration away from advancing toward your healing goals. Another way to look at relapse prevention is that once you get clean, you are either moving towards recovery or relapse. The following are some techniques you can do to help yourself prevent relapse on whatever dependence or compulsion that is ailing you.
It should be noted that the following tips assume that you are no longer acting out on the unwanted behavior and looking to keep your new way of life going. Please note that if your compulsion has caused to act out, and you have begun using again, you may need to see a professional to determine if you need a medical help in a hospital before moving on to these other techniques.
- Develop a group of support- It has been studied extensively that people can maintain recovery a lot easier if they have a “connection” with others who are also working to prevent relapse. A support group can be anything from a structured, professionally run therapy group to 12-Step meetings, or even a close group of friends who you can talk to and confide in. In contrast, you may be heading toward relapse if you are the kind of person that resists asking for help or only want to rely on yourself.
- Be open and honest about what you are thinking and feeling- dependence / compulsions breeds in secrets and lies which could be accompanied by internal feelings of guilt, shame, or grandiosity. By “telling on your dependence / compulsions” with the support group mentioned above, you take the power out of the obsessive thinking and craving that is part of the early recovery process. Staying accountable to others in this way, keeps you honest and therefore helps keep you moving toward recovery. Continued minimizing, avoiding feelings, or telling lies to yourself or others could have the opposite effect!
- Track your progress in recovery- Make a list of all the behavioral changes you have made to get sober, aside from not acting on the addiction. For example, what relationships did you have to let go of and what new people did you meet that support your goal of relapse prevention? You can also write down changes you had to make in your schedule, boundaries you have set with others, new ways you have practiced expressing how you feel, and any other lifestyle adjustments you needed to obtain this goal. After the list is made of what you did to get where you are, identify any and all ways that these new behaviors have changed back in the direction of the dependence / compulsions. For example, suppose you decided to avoid going to bars or parties because of possibly feeling triggered, you begin to justify ways of letting up on this boundary such as going out and just drinking soda. Once these “signs of relapse” are identified, you can redirect them back on the positive path to your sobriety.
- Managing cravings- Whether mild or severe, cravings have a way of building itself, especially if they are ignored, minimized or not talked about. It is often helpful to think of a craving as an internal feeling of emptiness that screams to be filled or removed (by the addiction). It is important to not panic if these feelings arise and know that cravings are a natural part of recovering. To that end, after telling people in your support group about your cravings (by phone or in person), gently tell yourself that this is normal and that these feelings will pass. You can also journal about your emotions to help you get out of your head. It is recommended that if you write out your feelings, be sure to include some positive, nurturing statements about the effort you are making to prevent relapse. Another technique is to map out where, when, and how the cravings got started so you can avoid these “triggers” in the future. For example, if you are sexually compulsive, and pass an adult bookstore, you may get a pang of anxiety that sets off obsessive thinking about wanting to act out sexually. Once these feelings are later processed, you can avoid this trigger by not going down the street where the bookstore was located.
- Remind yourself that dependence / compulsiveness is a disease and not a moral failing- By keeping your mindset on how addiction is a disease in the brain that seeks external, instant gratification, it would be counter-productive to expect that cravings, slips, or setbacks won’t happen. This does not mean a person HAS to relapse, but if you do, be sure to get back into doing the clean behaviors that you have already learned. If your mind festers in guilt and self-pity, you can set yourself up for continued acting out. The same brain that says “I don’t want to use” is the same one that says “ok, maybe one more time.” Again, this is why you need other people in your support group that relate to this form of distorted thinking to help you normalize this situation should it occur and thus keep you moving in the direction of recovery. In addition, utilizing self-talk to affirm the efforts you are making to stay clean and following through with setting boundaries not to participate in settings that could trigger obsessive thinking, are a few other examples of moving toward where you want to be.
As you can see moving towards recovery or relapse are two different directions based on what thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors you choose to adopt at the time. It is also important to know that heading in one direction over the other does not mean you are destined to go to either of the two extremes as this metaphorical “road” is constantly moving. In summary, you always want to remain open and honest, talk with others about what is going on with your internal world, and honor your feelings. Recovering from an addiction is one of the hardest, but most rewarding life transformations you may ever have to do. Just remember that the challenges you may be experiencing in moving towards recovery or relapse is not unlike other addicted people working to achieve the same goal.
If you want further information or help in preventing relapse, please contact The Center for Growth and schedule an appointment to see a therapist.