By: C. W. Stratton
Returning to Active Addiction is a Relapse
“When you can stop you don’t want to, and when you want to stop, you can’t…”―
Before engaging in the conversation about relapse, we must have a clear understanding of addiction, which is compulsive engagement in using substances despite its adverse consequences.
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 the active use of substances. Also, relapse is a return to bad behavior that you had stopped doing.
Excuses We Give for the Relapse
Through my years as a professional (clinician) and in my recovery, I’ve heard many aspects of relapse. Several excuses are given for the relapse:
- Justification of the actions
- Minimization of the behaviors
- Not talking about wanting to use before the relapse
- Lack of understanding about what precedes a relapse
Alcoholism and drug addiction create severe deficits in judgment and bad decisions, which negatively impact an 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.”
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 course 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 that leads to incarceration
- Loss of Employment
- Loss of Family
- Medical problems associated with the 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 engaged in our personal recovery. We may begin putting some of the pieces of our lives back together. Many times, the pieces we start putting in place are external.
Although these external things are essential and could support 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 the impression that all is well and we have it all together.
But how long can we use this as a protective measure of our recovery?
External Only Works for So Long
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 the internal motivation to sustain us. The following are valuable internal motivators:
- Compassion (even for self)
- Genuine wish not to return to the destructive patterns
- Inner Peace
- 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 harmful behaviors without giving them a second thought.
Relapse isn’t an event; it’s a process; it isn’t something that just happens. Some emotions and events precede the actual 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. Some feelings and experiences factor:
We may have acted impulsively about a given situation. Once we look back at it, we acknowledge we should have taken a different course of action instead of allowing the autopilot to navigate our direction and responses. What happens when we’re on autopilot?
- On autopilot, we give up total control of our decision-making and coping ability when we succumbed to the old thinking.
- Friends and family are people we avoid
- The tumultuous cycle has such a pull on us that we go into a total defeat mode.
A Few Relapse Warning Signs
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. Some are blessed to return after a relapse but remember, many never made it back. Keep fighting because your life depends on it.
- Discontinue going to meetings
- Feeling stuck
- Feeling unable to cope
- Loss of Hope
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 remain in recovery.
Writing and recovery heals the heart