from addict 2 advocate

By: C. W. Stratton

Relapse is the return of an illness after a period of improvement.  As we are aware, alcoholism and drug addiction are a disease. Recovery is the improvement. A relapse is returning to active use of substances.  Also, relapse is a return to bad behavior that you had stopped doing. 
Through my years as a professional (clinician) and in my personal recovery, I’ve heard many aspects of relapse.  There are those aspects associated with justification of the actions, minimization of the actions, or just a lack of understanding of relapse all in itself. 

For the purpose of the writing, we will relate relapse to those who are actually engaged in the  recovery process. Before engaging in the conversation about relapse, we must have a clear understanding of addiction; which is compulsive engagement in the use of substances despite its adverse consequences.  Alcoholism and drug addiction creates severe deficits in judgment and bad decisions which negatively impacts some areas of the individual’s life.  After continued exposure to the substance and repeated engagement in the behaviors associated with addiction, it’s as if the person is on “autopilot.” 

Everyday Autopilot

from addict 2 advocate
Think of the regular route you may take from work, home or school.  Consider the times you’re consumed with the travel, but not necessarily the route itself.  How often have you said to yourself, “Wow, I’m here already,” and not remember the attractions you may have passed during that travel.  This is the concept of autopilot.

I’m relating this to addiction because we travel the road of addiction with the main focus of reaching our destination –  the high.  The thinking and behavior become ingrained in us.  As we travel this destructive route and destroy many things in our path, the road becomes narrow. For many of us, when this occurs, there’s a crisis ahead.  A crisis might be:


  • Arrest the leads to incarceration
  • Loss of Employment
  • Loss of Family
  • Medical problems associated with use

If we are fortunate, there’s an interruption in our destructive behaviors. Sometimes it’s an intervention, or we decide that we’re paying too great a cost to continue actively using. We may experience a moment of clarity about our lives and losses.

Go from Autopilot to Aware
With this moment, we’re given time to clean up some of the destruction we have caused through receiving counseling or become involved with one of the many self-help groups made available. After a period of abstinence, we become involved in our personal recovery. We may begin putting some of the pieces of our lives back together.  Many times, the pieces we begin putting in place are external.

  • Employment
  • Family
  • Housing
  • Relationships

Although these external things are important and could give more support for our recovery, we must always acknowledge how we lost these things before.  I was informed many years ago that recovery is an inside job.  We can dress up the outside and gather things to give off the impression that all is well and we have it all together.

But how long can we use this as a protective measure about our recovery? 

There are potential dangers in attempting to use external motivators as the only tool to sustain long-term recovery.  Even in the recovery process, we experience loss.  How will we manage loss when all we have are external motivators?  As I stated before, recovery is an inside job.  We must begin looking within to get internal motivation to sustain us.  The following are valuable internal motivators:

  • Acceptance
  • Compassion (even for self)
  • Fulfillment
  • Genuine wish not return to the destructive patterns
  • Hope
  • Increase Confidence
  • Inner Peace
  • Loving-kindness
  • Open-mindedness
  • Patience
  • Tolerance
  • Willingness to Learn

Autopilot: Automatically Negative?

During our journey/travels we will be challenged on many levels.  Our patience, tolerance and acceptance will be vitally important in overcoming those challenges.  If we allow those internal motivators to be compromised, we can easily hit the autopilot button and return to the negative behaviors without giving it a second thought.

Relapse isn’t an event, it’s a process; it isn’t something that just happens.  There are emotions and events that precede the real use of substances.  There are those instances where we have difficulty identifying what precedes the actions due to our compulsion and focus on using.  Sometimes it’s just too painful for people to look back and find where it all began.  This may be due to:
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Trauma

We may have acted impulsively about a given situation and once we look back  at it, we acknowledge a different course of actions should have been taken.  We allow the autopilot to navigate our direction and responses.  We gave up total control of our decision making and ability to cope.  We succumb to the old thinking and handing stressful situations.  We begin hiding from those who were supportive of our recovery, we re-enter the old world that we desperately wanted to get away from but didn’t know how to.  The tumultuous cycle has such a pull on us that we go into a total defeat mode.

Addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful.  We must protect our recovery at all costs.  There will be tough times in the process, we may want to give up at times, but we must remember the pain attached to the behaviors.  Relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your recovery despite it being an option.  There are those who are blessed to return after a relapse, but remember there are many that never made it back.  Keep fighting because your life actually depends on it.

A Few Relapse Warning Signs:

  • Anger/Resentment
  • Complacency
  • Defensiveness
  • Discontinue going to meetings
  • Feeling stuck
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Isolation
  • Loss of Hope
  • Overconfidence
If you find yourself thinking, acting or feeling any of these warning signs, operating from Spiritual Principles can help you stay on track, be aware, and help you remain in recovery. 

Writing, and recovery heals the heart

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