You feel like you’ve failed, let everybody—including yourself—down. You were doing so well, attending meetings, staying away from your trigger areas, and exercising and eating well. Then, you suddenly, for whatever reason, take that one drink or drug and everything you’ve worked so hard for has vanished in an instant.
Relapse can happen during recovery. It’s a risk you take for choosing to be sober, but it is not a sign of failure. According to Dr. David Sack in Psychology Today, “Studies suggest that nearly half of all individuals who try to get sober return to heavy use,” with “70 to 90 percent experiencing at least one mild to moderate slip.”
If you’ve had that moderate slip, or if you returned to heavy usage, Think Positive 30 encourages you to do these three things.
Try to Avoid Additional Stressful Situations
As if relapsing from sobriety isn’t stressful enough, additional stressors in your life can trigger you. If you’re returning to work after some time in rehabilitation, or for any other reason, consider how you will handle any sudden increase in stress levels. There is a strong connection between workplace stress and alcohol and drug abuse, so you should have a plan in place to deal with the stress by using your coping skills along with the normal, healthy ways to handle stress: eating well, exercising, and learning how to relax, which are all important aspects of good self-care.
You can also adopt some helpful stress management techniques like these from ZenBusiness to ward off anxiety or impulsive reactions. Try deep breathing, then acknowledge your worries and try to let them go. Take some time to also understand your stressors so you’re better prepared the next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
Get Help Immediately
Perhaps most importantly, contact your sponsor immediately. If you have returned to heavy usage, go to an emergency room. A small slip-up might not be too harmful, and you can probably recover from it. Discuss the situation with your family members, close friends, and others in your support group. Tell them what happened and why you think it did.
Don’t Shame Yourself
Relapses happen. No one in recovery is immune from them, and shaming yourself—or even allowing others to shame you—for doing it contributes nothing toward your goal to stay sober. Instead, focus on what triggered the relapse. Were you feeling anxious after a day at work? Were you at a bar or restaurant that served alcohol? Were you feeling anything else that reminded you of when you used to drink or take drugs?
Being aware of your triggers—regardless of whether they’re feelings or situations—can help prevent a relapse. If that means staying away from any place that serves alcohol, then do it. If that means you should go to more meetings to be around people getting their lives back in order, then attend more of them. Adjust your strategy to focus more on positive things.
Focus on the Positive
You took a huge step when you first entered recovery. Returning to recovery after a relapse is simply the next step. It is easy to feel like you have let yourself and others down, but you are still alive and able to continue recovery. That you recognize your behavior needs to change is a profound realization. Use that recognition to spurn you on to greater well-being.
When you relapse, it’s important to get back on the path to sobriety. When it happens, get professional help, be aware of stress triggers, and don’t shame yourself. Your health and your life depend on it.
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