Relapse prevention is a tricky prospect.
This is because recovery is a life-changing series of events that begins with the ticker-tape parade of treatment and continues in silence and obscurity.
People are cheered-on for getting substance-free; they are rarely applauded for staying substance-free.
So, some tips:
- Know that it is a long journey before you start and as with all journeys, make sure you have companions to accompany you along the way. Recovery cannot be done alone. The best relapse prevention is to have a team (friends, family, work, professionals) who will embark on the journey with you as you start.
- Substance use had many routes; recovery will have to have many strands too. Build on what you did before by adding more and removing the parts that didn’t work. You know your path better than any professional, so don’t hand over your power to others like you did with the substance/behaviour.
- Make goals for your recovery – small and achievable and in the direction you want to go. And then celebrate their achievement. Life without substances/addictive behaviours is rarely a bed of roses, so make sure your expectations for the life you are going to be living is realistic and are not a Disney facsimile of life. There is no ‘lived happily ever after’ but there is ‘lived after’ and it will be happy and sad and angry and regretful and hopeful and delicious and romantic and heart-breaking and, I hope, all the other great emotions too. Recovery is for living life, not existing as a ‘drug-free’ individual.
- Poverty, loneliness and boredom are a reality but need planning. If you are without money, a roof or food, recovery will be compromised. So your plan needs these basics in place. You will be lonely (see point 3) and you will be bored (see point 3 again). But these two need special attention. Your life will change completely with the removal of your addictive behaviours and that will leave you unsure of how to be and who to be; plan for this so that it does not destroy your recovery.
- Recovery is about wanting something new, not being substance free. If being substance-free is the only or main mark of your recovery plan, then you will undoubtedly stumble.
- You are a person in relationships. If you change and your relationships don’t, then you will relapse. Encourage your loved ones to own their part in your addiction; to accept the ways your addiction suited them and how your recovery is uncomfortable for them (such questions might be very confusing for them, so be gentle). If they do some work too, you will be more likely to succeed in achieving your goals.
- Know yourself as deeply as you knew your addiction. This knowledge will keep you safe. You don’t have to go into the depths of your past to get recovery; but you do have to go far enough to make sure it doesn’t have to restart again. So know your triggers; know your emotions and know your supports.
- Be kind to yourself and others; trust but only with those who deserve it; only seek advice from reliable sources. Give something back. Wait awhile, until your recovery is a little bit underway, but then be open to being a ‘wounded healer’. Strangely enough, if you give you get more back.
- Laugh as often as possible; have fun, and laugh some more.
- Slips and lapses happen; they do not have to relapse. So be careful that your language does not ‘encourage’ you to go back to old behaviours.
If you implement these, it will strengthen your recovery.