There is a poem by Portia Nelson called, “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.” This poem discusses compulsive behaviors and how we learn to adapt our lives around them, ultimately learning how to avoid them. The poem is about a hole in the sidewalk that is easily fallen into again and again until you learn to see the hole and walk around it, eventually learning to walk down a whole different street.
Relapse is the hole in the sidewalk. When your addiction to alcohol and/or other substances began, you fell into the hole of addiction. You got out of the hole through treatment, but there are times when you might relapse and fall back into the hole. Initially, you may feel like you had no choice, but you did. You always have a choice. However, to make the right choices, you need to know what relapse is, what can trigger it, and how to pull out of it. Ultimately, you need to learn the warning signs of relapse.
Relapse is backsliding into addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease and has changed the way your brain functions. Given the fact that your brain is rewired after years of addiction to alcohol or other substances, relapse can be a part of the recovery process. Relapse is not ideal, but recovery does not occur overnight and is not achieved without problems arising. Overcoming substance use disorder takes time and effort, in addition to a bit of trial and error as you learn the warning signs of relapse and how to best deal with them for yourself.
3 Warning Signs of Relapse
#1. Lack of Belief in Your Ability to Stay Sober
Doubting your ability to stay sober is a warning sign that you are struggling and are close to relapsing. With the mindset that you are unlikely to stay sober, you are self-sabotaging. The moment you doubt your ability to stay sober, you are giving yourself permission to relapse. While thinking happy thoughts does not ensure recovery, thinking accurate thoughts does. You can overcome addiction. Many people have, and you can, too. When you are starting to doubt yourself, go to a 12-Step meeting and call your sponsor. Do not wait until you have relapsed. Be proactive.
#2. Emotional Vulnerability
There are many aspects to feeling emotionally vulnerable. Any emotion that leaves you feeling run down and unable to avoid the use of alcohol and other substances needs to be addressed. While feeling unhappy might make you want to turn to old behaviors, finding a different way of coping will take you further in your recovery and help you avoid relapse.
When you are emotionally not at your best, you are more likely to engage in compulsive behaviors aimed at quickly fixing your problems. Reach out for help from your sponsor, a friend, or a family member. You have options other than succumbing to old behaviors.
#3. Not Taking Care of Yourself Physically
Your body provides you with cues as to what it needs. Your body reminds you when it needs food, water, activity, and rest. If you are not listening to these cues, you deprive your body of what it needs and put yourself at risk of relapse. If you are not physically at your best, you will not be as capable of avoiding self-destructive behaviors.
Seeking Support for Relapse
Relapse happens when multiple systems fail, which is why taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically is key to helping you avoid relapse. Owning your responsibility to your recovery is vital. You cannot expect others to know when you are struggling. Honesty with yourself and vulnerability in communicating with others is key when you find yourself needing help to avoid relapse.
Seeking support is the best thing you can do before a relapse and if you have had one. Recovery is not easy, and sometimes relapse happens. Having a support system in place and a willingness to address problems are the best methods to avoid relapse and get back on track after a relapse has occurred. Do not hesitate to reach out for help.
While relapse may feel like a failure and proof of your inability to avoid alcohol or other substances, relapse indicates that you are not perfect and still have triggers to work on. While relapse is not ideal, it can help you identify holes in your plan and better prepare to avoid relapse in the future. Recovery is a learning experience.
As Portia Nelson explains in her poem, you will eventually know where to expect the hole in the sidewalk and be prepared to walk down another street. Finishing treatment is one stage of recovery; continued sobriety is a lifelong endeavor.
Relapse sometimes happens during the recovery process. The importance of understanding the warning signs of relapse and how to navigate those symptoms is crucial to your success in recovery. While relapse is considered normal in recovery by some people, relapse is easier to manage and avoid if you are aware of your triggers and take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically. At Renaissance Ranch, we take all stages of recovery seriously and understand the risk of relapse. As part of our treatment, we help you identify triggers and develop plans to deal with the warning signs of relapse. We offer clinically driven and gospel-centered treatment for every stage of recovery, including outpatient care and sober living homes. We also provide support beyond treatment through our network of alumni called the Band of Brothers. If you or someone you know needs support, call us at (801) 308-8898 to learn how to prevent relapse today.