In order to be successful in long term recovery you need to build a plan for relapse prevention.
This cannot, and should not be, a passive activity.
In other words, you don't just slip and fall and accidentally stay clean and sober for 20 years straight. It takes deliberate planning.
So before we dive into the meat of this thing, let's find out exactly what relapse prevention should entail.
It is important to realize that every addict and alcoholic has been using their drug of choice as their primary solution in life for a long time now.
If we were angry about something, we used our drug of choice. If we were happy and celebrating, we used our drug of choice.
Whatever the situation was, we used our drug of choice. It medicated everything and anything for us.
In short, our drug of choice was our solution for any given problem that life might throw at us. We used it for every situation.
When we get clean and sober, our brain is still wired to think about our drug of choice as being a good solution when life throws a new problem at us.
This is important because life is going to keep throwing new and unique problems in our face as we move through our recovery. In other words, as you remain clean and sober, you are going to have to face new challenges at various times, and during those challenges your brain is going to automatically desire your drug of choice.
This is guaranteed to happen at some point, probably multiple times. Everyone experiences triggers and cravings eventually.
Therefore, you have to be prepared for these triggers. How will you deal with the urge to relapse when it hits?
You may believe that you can arrange your life in such a way that you simply avoid triggers. While this should definitely be a part of your efforts, it should not be the only effort that you make.
Why? Because triggers and stress in recovery is inevitable. We know with certainty that eventually, given enough time in recovery, everyone will be tested at some point. It is certain.
Therefore you need to keep searching for solutions in life.
The right attitude to have in recovery is that of being willing to seek new solutions.
Whatever problems or issues that you may be having right now, you can solve them by asking for advice and help from your support system in recovery. Then, once you get that advice, you must act on it and take positive action. By doing this you can overcome any current problems that you have in life and figure out a path to sobriety. Just for today.
And that is the whole keyjust for today. Meaning that tomorrow, and five years from now, and 20 years from now, you are going to have to keep seeking new solutions.
You may think that all of your problems will one day be magically solved, at which point no new problems could ever possibly surface in your life again.
This is wrong. Of course you will have to deal with new and unexpected problems. That is the nature of life, and of recovery. Life is random and chaotic and even though there are plenty of good things about it and you will no doubt have some unexpected good fortune and positive experiences, you are also going to run into some unfortunate experiences and some bad times.
Therefore we need to plan for the inevitable bad times and make sure that our relapse prevention plan is strong enough so that we can weather this storm.
Now then: What makes up a strong relapse prevention plan?
First is the attitude that you are seeking solutions every day. This requires humility. Always be willing to look for the silver lining and the hidden lesson in life.
Second, you need to be living a healthy life in recovery in order to set yourself up for success. This means that you are deliberately making choices to take better care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Note that you do not have the luxury of ignoring any single one of these areas of your health.
If you do ignore, for example, your physical health, then it will lead to either relapse or death. The same is true with any of those categories. You cannot continue to live a healthy life in recovery if you are completely devoid of emotional health. Or spiritual health. And so on.
Therefore, recovery is a holistic journey and you must be taking care of yourself on all of those different dimensions. This is not optional.
I know people who relapsed and later looked back, saying I screwed up when I let myself get too involved with someone emotionally too early in my recovery.
Or another person: I relapsed because I let my physical health go, and I got sick, couldn't make it to AA meetings for a while, and it just wore me down.
Or another: I relapsed because I let my mental health problems escalate without treating it properly. I became manic and that led me back to my drug of choice.
And so on. If you are not taking care of yourself in all 5 of those areas then you are setting yourself up for failure. Relapse prevention means that you need to take care of your health in all of those categories.
And finally, I would suggest that if you are not working with others in some capacity and trying to help them, then you are in danger of slipping back into your old ways. This is because the number one method of preventing relapse is by working with others in recovery and giving them the knowledge that people once gave to you. In AA they refer to this as doing 12 step work because the twelfth step in AA talks about giving back and helping others. By teaching others we reinforce the lessons that we need to know for ourselves.
The big threat in long term recovery is that of complacency. Meaning that if you get lazy or you stop working on your recovery program, then you are in serious danger of relapsing. Working with newcomers in recovery on a regular basis is a very strong way to insure that you do not become complacent.
Personal growth is the key to long term recovery. If you stop this process and become stagnant and you stop growing then you are in danger of relapse. In order to thrive in recovery you need to maintain an attitude of personal growth and self improvement. The alternative to this is a slow and steady decline into complacency and relapse.
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