Thursday, July 16, 2009

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin

As a kid, I used to love playgrounds. I loved the fresh air blowing in my face as I swung high in the air pumping my legs hoping to get as much height as possible before my huge, perfect 10 dismount (which usually ended up with me landing on my backside). Even better than the swing set was the sliding board! Whew…what a ride!

The swing set was great for several reasons. First, I climbed up the steps and the higher I went the more powerful I felt, a sort of superman-esque feelings. Second, I could see so much more when I got to the top step. I could survey my playground kingdom. Third, there was pre-slide rush. What I loved most was the anticipation, the adrenaline, and the fantasy of a fast descent and a big jump onto my feet with cute girls calling my name. Who wouldn’t want to do that over and over? The problem is; there were hardly ever any cute girls calling my name…it was just usually me and my imagination.

Alcohol and Drugs are kind of like a playground…fun in the beginning but deadly if you don’t respect it; which brings us to our topic this month: Relapse Prevention. The big obsession of every addict is trying to control his/her addiction. Upon an admission of powerlessness, recovery begins and sobriety is achieved.

Then for many addicts, unfortunately, relapse occurs. Dreams are shattered. Guilt is piled high like a skyscraper. Anxiety returns with a vengeance. The playground is no longer any fun. And before you know it, the relapse process starts and it begins with your imagination. Common thoughts include: I wonder what it would feel like if I took just one sip/one pill/one shot, etc.?, Why can’t I use like “normal” people? Why do I have to be boring and sober when everyone else is having fun? What’s wrong with doing something that feels good once in a while?

If you want to stay clean and sober, then you must wrestle with the issue of relapse prevention. Without this column becoming a vocabulary test, let’s take a look at the key terms to gain an understanding and plan to stay clean. First, let’s look at the word ‘relapse’ to understand what it really is: Relapse (verb): To fall or slide back into a former state; to slip back into bad ways. Second, let’s take a look at the root word of ‘prevention’: Prevent (verb): To keep from happening; to anticipate or counter in advance. The first word connotes a descent backwards into self-destructive behavior while the second word implies anticipation, planning, and action. Put together, then relapse prevention is all about anticipating, planning, and acting when the urge to reenter the self-destructive zone arises, as we know it will. How, is the question?

First, understand your triggers (bad feelings, physical fatigue, relationship issues, work, stress, etc.). Second, plan to do something about them when they arise. For example, call someone you trust who is sober, can listen without judgment, and encourage you to continue walking in sobriety. Consider doing a hobby, physical exercise or other stimulating, healthy behaviors. Third, help another addict. Helping someone else always gets you out of your own head and changes your perspective. Fourth, read recovery literature that can challenge your thinking. Fifth, journal your feelings on a daily basis. It is crucial to understand your feelings because many times addicts use because they don’t want to feel a bad feeling. Finally, have fun! The A.A. Big Book says, “we are not a glum lot” for a reason. And remember, you never regret being sober the night before!

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