Welcome to another episode of Recovery Talk brought to you by The SHAIR Podcast. The purpose of these episodes is to provide actionable steps on one topic that will empower you to take action immediately. Our topic today is relapse prevention. Today’s topic comes once again from The SHAIR Podcast Facebook private group. This is what our member posted. “Something not so great happened to me this morning. I wanted to go to the liquor store for a few bottles of wine. I had the sense of not wanting to wake up in a hospital again. I took a Valium, my dog’s prescription. It calmed me down enough. I’m not going to call this a relapse. It just made me calm, right?

Here’s the question. Is that a relapse?”

That’s not for me to decide, nor is it for anybody to decide really. It’s for that member to decide. You peel the layers back. You go into the deep recesses of your subconscious mind and you ask yourself the tough question.

  1. How does this sit with me?
  2. What were my motives?
  3. Why didn’t I reach out to the Facebook group?
  4. Why didn’t I make a phone call to my sponsor?
  5. Why didn’t I go to a meeting?

There’s a laundry list of things I could have done and should have done but I didn’t. Instead, I took a pill because I felt that this would fix me even if just for a moment, even to just get me through this tough time but isn’t that something that we’ve said to ourselves many times before? Just one more time, just go get me through. That’s just denial. It’s absolute denial.

A relapse happens way before you take that first drink or do that first drug, weeks, months. It’s just this subtle change in behavior, change in routine. When you first get clean, there are certain things you have to do to develop a foundation:

  1. Going to meetings
  2. Getting a home group
  3. Getting a sponsor
  4. Working the Steps
  5. Getting a service commitment
  6. Develop a relationship with a higher power

It was a tremendous amount of accountability but you get into that year and you’ve worked the Steps or you’ve gotten far along enough in the Steps, you’ve built a foundation, your life has stabilized, things are good and so you stop going to meetings as much.

You stop meeting with your sponsor as much. You let off the gas a little bit and then, time goes by and things start to happen. Life starts to happen and fear sets in, anxiety, uncertainty and is your first course of action to make a phone call, to go to a meeting, to share, or do you start to slowly gravitate towards the things that bring you comfort and instant gratification?

  1. Sugar
  2. Sex
  3. Drugs
  4. Alcohol

There are the magic remedies for instant gratification. They require no effort to consume but require all the effort in the world to stop.

This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful and we cannot do this alone. We absolutely need help. We absolutely need each other. Those of you that are in the private Facebook group, you watch as people try and do it on their own. They don’t have the support of their family. They don’t want to go to meetings. They don’t want to work the Steps. There’s so much resistance to working a program. There’s so much insistence in doing it alone and the pain gets greater and the pain gets greater and it stops being pain and it just becomes suffering, this eternal suffering.

They don’t have the support of their family. They don’t want to go to meetings. They don’t want to work the Steps. There’s so much resistance to working a program. There’s so much insistence in doing it alone and the pain gets greater and the pain gets greater and it stops being pain and it just becomes suffering, this eternal suffering.

They don’t want to go to meetings. They don’t want to work the Steps. There’s so much resistance to working a program. There’s so much insistence in doing it alone and the pain gets greater and the pain gets greater and it stops being pain and it just becomes suffering, this eternal suffering.

They don’t want to work the Steps. There’s so much resistance to working a program. There’s so much insistence in doing it alone and the pain gets greater and the pain gets greater and it stops being pain and it just becomes suffering, this eternal suffering.

There’s so much resistance to working a program. There’s so much insistence in doing it alone and the pain gets greater and the pain gets greater and it stops being pain and it just becomes suffering, this eternal suffering.

There’s so much insistence in doing it alone and the pain gets greater and the pain gets greater and it stops being pain and it just becomes suffering, this eternal suffering.

We all know that pain is unavoidable. It’s part of the growth process but suffering is absolutely optional. When I’m in pain, I reach out. I ask for help. I get suggestions. I get guidance and I get relief. Otherwise, the pain comes in. I don’t call, I don’t reach out, I don’t ask for help, I don’t pray and I suffer in a level of unimaginable hell that, at some points, feels so overwhelming that suicide seems like a logical next step but if I’m willing to entertain the idea of suicide, then I might as well entertain the idea of taking a mood or mind-altering substance. Once that thought process starts, unless you reach out to someone else and ask for help immediately, then chances are you are going to relapse.

What are the actionable steps for preventing a relapse? Well, I would say that first of all, the most important preventative tool for relapse is your community, your support group. I’m clean 14 years now and since the beginning of my recovery, I have had a sponsor. I have developed close relationships with the other members of my 12-Step fellowship and whenever the shit hit the fan, these are the people that I will call. Very early in recovery when I was trying to get my wife back, I found out that she was seeing somebody else and not having any coping skills to deal with something like this, the anger consumed me. I was beside myself with anger and it came on so quick and so fast that I didn’t even have time to process it and so instead, I just reacted.

What I should have done was call my sponsor, go to a meeting, shared about it and surrounded myself with the people in my 12-Step fellowship but instead, I just internalized it. I kept it all in and without any hesitation, I went back to doing exactly what I knew would numb the pain, drugs and alcohol and things quickly went from bad to worse. It was a two-month relapse cycle where I would go back into the rooms, pick up a white chip, stay clean a few more days, go back out. I was tormented and living in hell. I could not stop.

Now, I was one of the lucky ones because at some point, the pain was so great that I went to a meeting, I got a brand new sponsor. I asked him for help. He asked me if I would go to any length. I said yes and then at that point, it was just a matter of, “Here’s what you’re going to do moving forward.” All the decision making was taken away from me.

“90 meetings in 90 days. We’re going to meet once a week. People, places and things, you’re going to stay away from all of your triggers. You’re going to call me every day and we’re going to meet once a week and work Steps and grab that phone list. Pick five people out of that phone list that you can call and you’re going to practice by calling at least one of those people every week.”

Which brings us to suggestion number two. “Of those people in your community and that are part of your support group, pick five of those people that you can feel comfortable calling 24/7 when you’re feeling the urge to relapse and then, call one of those people at least once a week, not because you have the urge to use but to get into the habit of picking up the phone.”

When you’re in a good place, it’s easy to pick up the phone. It’s easy to go to meetings. It’s easy to be in recovery. When the shit hits the fan, the foundation of your recovery becomes paramount because if it’s not there, you’re going to crumble like a house of cards. If you’re not regularly calling people when things are good, then chances are when the shit hits the fan and you get an urge to use, the poor me thoughts start to come in. “Oh, well, I haven’t called them in a few weeks and they’re not going to want to hear from me and it’s not really that big of a deal. You know what, I’m probably not going to pick up. I should probably just go to a meeting. Better yet, I’ll just go to sleep. This will pass. I’ll just go to a meeting tomorrow. It’s no big deal.”

Now, the disease has got you. It’s talking to you in your own voice. You’re starting to believe it and now, making a phone call and connecting with your support group goes right out the window and it’s got you. It’s just a matter of time before you’re picking up again. Keeping that in mind and knowing that at any given moment, you could be triggered and the thought of relapse comes snowballing in.

Suggestion number three would be, make sure that there is absolutely no drugs and no alcohol in your house.  I know for some of you, that’s a no-brainer and because you’ve gotten your drug of choice out of the house, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other dangers looming within your home. Those need to be removed. Any sort of a narcotic, any sort of a mood or a mind altering substance that could be used to numb the pain or dull the pain or get you through whatever, it needs to be gone.

You need to be as far away from a drink or a drug as possible at all times especially in your home. When I say home, I mean everything. I mean all your purses, all your luggage, all your hiding places, your car. Have one of your friends go get it detailed and have them completely vacuum every aspect of that car, the seats, the carpets, the trunk, everything, your locker in the office or at school. Hypervigilance is the only defense against a potential relapse.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody share about having a relapse because they found some shit in their car. If you’re serious about your recovery, then you’ll be serious about relapse prevention.

So to recap the best way to prevent relapse is to:

  1. Have a very strong support group and be part of a recovery community.
  2. Have access to those members. Have at least five people that you can reach out to at any given moment 24/7 when you need them and make it a regular habit to call at least one of those members once a week.
  3. Build a strong foundation. Get yourself a sponsor. Go to regular meetings. Work the Steps. Build a strong recovery foundation. Number four get rid of all the drugs and alcohol in your home, in your cars, at work, in your purses, everywhere.
  4. Get rid of all the drugs and alcohol in your home, in your cars, at work, in your purses, everywhere. Be hyper vigilant. Get rid of everything.
  5. Staying active and connected in the SHAIR Private Facebook Group

Being active and connected in the SHAIR Private Facebook Group is just as valuable because when you post in the group that you’re thinking about relapsing, you’re immediately going to get support 24/7.

But there’s something so special and magical about that physical contact with other human beings.  We need to interact. We need to hug each other. We need to look each other in the face. As human beings, we crave that. We need that. We weren’t designed to be alone and even though we’re connecting online, nothing takes the place of very wholesome and loving hug from somebody who really cares about you and wants nothing more than to see you stay clean.