Unit 2 Relapse Prevention Basics
Relapse is a process too!
So we know that recovery is a process. Some people may have different views as to when that process starts and ends. Some people see it as starting with abstinence. I believe that the seeds are sown even before that with our first thoughts of seeking a better way to deal with life, at the point that we begin to break through denial. Some people believe we are recovered when we have rebuilt our lives and stayed clear of using for whatever period of time. Others believe that it is ongoing and that we are on a continual journey of recovery. Unless we relapse that is! Where it starts and ends or if it ends at all is not the important thing at this point. The important thing is to see it as a process rather than something that just happens one day and can be neglected or forgotten. Recovery takes input from you every step of the way.
Many people see relapse as being something that happens one day, one moment in time. The act of picking up and using a substance or returning to an addictive behaviour – end of story! But is that really the whole story? Far from it, once you have begun to move forwards in recovery relapse doesn’t just “happen”. It is true that a highly traumatic event taking place in early recovery could maybe derail us. But outside of this unlikely circumstance, relapse doesn’t just happen. It’s a process with recognisable stages. The reassuring thing is that the further you are into recovery, the longer the process will take and the more opportunity you will have to recognise it and take action.
We are going to have a look at the stages in a moment but firstly it’s worth noting that there are two aspects of relapse prevention and it’s worth noting the distinction here:
Proactive Realapse Prevention
1) Every thing we do to build and strengthen our recovery in advance of actually seeing signs of relapse. Going to meetings, avoiding people places and things which will lead us back to using and developing healthy structure in our days are all examples of this kind of relapse prevention. These are the things we do to keep relapse at bay. This is Proactive relapse prevention.
Reactive Relapse Prevention
2) When relapse rears it’s ugly head, as it will from time to time at least, even when our recovery is strong and well developed, we need to take effective action to defeat it. This is Reactive relapse prevention.
Before we can react we need to know how to recognise the beginnings of relapse. The sooner we can recognise that it is happening the sooner we can react and prevent it developing and spinning out of control to the point of no return and using.
It’s worth having a quick recap of the stages of recovery here before we move onto the stages of relapse: 1. Stop using drugs, alcohol or engaging in addictive behaviour 2. Replace addiction centered living with recovery focused living – engaging in relapse prevention 3. Tackle addictive and compulsive behaviours 4. Replace addictive thinking with rational sober thinking 5. Learn to identify and manage emotions 6. Change the self-defeating core beliefs about ourselves, others and the world
Stages of Relapse
1: The return of old self-defeating beliefs
The start point of relapse for you will depend upon how far into recovery you are and the experience will vary accordingly. Obviously there is no absolute formula for how relapse occurs though for most people further on in recovery it will begin with a return of the self defeating core beliefs that we began to change in stage 6 above.
This might be accompanied by lowered mood and if you stand back and take an honest look at how you are working your recovery, you might find that you have stopped doing as many positive things as you had been until recently. Maybe you don’t go to meetings as often or talk to people in your support network about your recovery as much. Maybe you have let go of building a solid structure into your day.
There are as many different Warning Signs of relapse as there are people to experience them but there are many common themes and we’ll be looking at as many as possible of them in other relapse prevention units soon. In time you’ll know your own personal warning signs. It’s as well to share them with those around you because sometimes you wont see them happening yourself. In times of relapse denial can kick in and prevent you seeing them for yourself.
2: A return of negative feelings When our old self-defeating beliefs have begun to return and re establish themselves they begin to cause negative feelings. Likelihood is that the presence of denial will serve to derail any feelings management strategies we began to adopt at stage 5. Therefore most likely we’ll repress the bad feelings rather than deal with them in a healthy way. As the pain caused by them gets worse, old addictive ways of thinking and coping will begin to re emerge.
3: We begin to look for ways to dull the pain; thoughts of using may be accompanied by thoughts that recovery is too painful; life was so much better before, we begin to “talk” ourselves back into using.
4: We begin to distance ourselves from others in recovery and our support network that might talk us out of using. Irrational thinking is urging us back to our addictive behaviour. Without some major intervention to set us back on the right path the end result will be returning to using.
I guess the stages of relapse can be seen to pretty well mirror the reverse of the stages of recovery. It’s an undoing of the good work done in recovery. So the good news from this is that you can see that once you have a little time in recovery and you have built some sure foundations, it really does take time to relapse and you do get plenty of warnings – as long as you have taken the time to understand what those warnings look like. Fore warned is fore armed and a good knowlege of relpse prevention and a good relapse prevention plan is your safegaurd.
I hope the last 2 units were useful. They are a fairly good snapshot of process of recovery and the process of relapse. Seeing them as a process is what counts and seeing and knowing where you are within those processes at any given time is the key thing for now.
If you want to get going with a practical activity today, a great way would be to grab your Recovery Journal and list there various things you do to strengthen and maintain your recovery. Put them under 2 headings: 1 Proactive 2 Reactive
Some of them may fit under both. I like to think of these kinds of exercises as helping to build up a recovery tool kit. A list like this helps to map out your recovery landscape and the more familiar you are with the landscape the smoother, safe and more pleasurable your journey will be!
Proactive and Reactive relapse prevention.