By Terence T. Gorski
In sobriety, relapse can sneak up behind us like a phantom in the dark.
There are many warning signs that can lead to relapse. No one thing brings us into recovery and no one thing leads us back into addiction. Recovery is the process of making and then remaking the decision not only to STOP drinking and drugging – but also to start and then maintain a way of life that provides meaning and purpose to us in sobriety. We also need ongoing support for recovery and a willingness to learn new ways of thinking and being. Solutions? Yes! Simple solutions? Don’t I wish!
Relapse is a process that begins long before the first use of alcohol or other drugs. Like an avalanche, the first signs are small and seem insignificant. If ignored the problems leading to relapse keep crashing down hill and growing in strength.
Being alert for the subtle warning signs that lead to relapse is, in my opinion, a critical recovery skill. These relapse warning signs start, not with thoughts or urges to use alcohol or other drugs, but with simple problems and subtle ways of irrational thinking that cause unnecessary pain and problems in recovery. When the pain is severe and the problems overwhelming, addiction sneaks up behind us like a phantom in the dark. The addiction whispers in our ear. It tells us over and over again that the only thing that can stop the pain and solve our problems is using our drug of choice. Then, and only then, comes the addictive thinking and the craving. At that moment, before putting our drug of choice in our bodies, we are in a crisis of sobriety. We are standing hypnotized by the approaching avalanche of addiction. If we don’t awake from the trance in time, we will be crushed.
Simplistic answers to the problem of relapse, in my experience, are comforting but not helpful. We must do the work of learning what this “cunning, baffling, and powerful” disease is doing to us in our sobriety. Once we are sure we have it beat forever, the disease has already won! It is only a matter of time. This is why in my understanding of the 12-Steps, we must work a daily program of rigorous honesty and correct problems as soon as we are aware of them. This early identification and solution of problems is a critical survival skill for those of us who are addicted.