Relapse is a significant part of my recovery story. I first tried to get sober in AA in late 2006 and since then, have had more 90-day celebrations than I can remember. I’ve had 364 days of sobriety, then 16 months, 2.1 years and at the most 3.6 years. My relapses lasted anywhere from 24 hours to a few weeks, a few months, a few years, and while each one was devastating for one reason or another, they always brought me to a new bottom.
Heading Toward Relapse
Stories of those who, like me, have enjoyed varying lengths of sobriety, relapsed, and made it back tend to begin in the same way. We’ll say we had no intention of drinking that day, and that “it just came out of nowhere.” Yet, upon further reflection, it became clear that the relapse began long before we picked up. It began when we slowly stopped working our program. We came up with excuses to miss a meeting or a workout or whatever program of choice had been keeping us sober. We started to become dishonest with ourselves by leaving some of our thoughts and behaviors out of our own journal. We started thinking about the “good old days,” rather than where they took us. We were in a period of prelapse and heading toward relapse. It could be days, weeks, or months, maybe longer before we’d pick up, but eventually we would pick up.
While relapse isn’t the case for everyone in recovery, it’s more common, than not. Recent statistics estimate that 40-60% of individuals in recovery will relapse at some point. Addiction is a chronic disease and just like other chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, hypertension), it must be treated every day for life. When we stop treating it, we put everything and everyone in our lives at risk.
I don’t think many (if any) people trying to get sober again will tell you their relapse wasn’t that bad or that they’re glad they picked up. If we are fortunate enough to get back at all, it’s usually after we’ve destroyed another relationship(s), had another run-in with the legal system, lost a job; the list goes on. We’re desperate to be sober. We swear we’ve learned from our mistakes and this time we’re going to commit to working our program to the fullest. And we do. And we’re grateful. And our friends and family come around again. And life is good. For many of us it’s when we started feeling good about our lives and confident in our sobriety that we needed to be the most vigilant because this is when our disease began to lead us into prelapse.
When we practice our program (whatever program that might be) honestly and regularly, the likelihood of relapse is significantly reduced. Relapse is avoidable, but my own experience and the experiences of others has taught me that prelapse is unavoidable. It begins as a simple thought. One you may just brush off or even laugh about; but it’s the one you don’t tell anyone. That’s prelapse.
Addiction is a disease of the brain. It wants us to pick up. It will always want that. It will whisper to you to skip the meeting or meditation. It will persuade you to spend more time alone or conversely, to meet your old friends at the bar. You hear the whisper and tell yourself that you’re only going to the bar to catch up with friends. You don’t think it’s necessary to tell any of your sober friends you’re going. Again, that’s prelapse.
Once we begin to work a daily recovery practice, the whispers come less often, but they still come. They always will. It’s therefore critical that we recognize the signs of prelapse early and take immediate action to protect our recovery.
Prelapse can show up at any time in any number of ways. It will be subtle at first. Chances are no one else suspects it, and perhaps we don’t suspect it yet either. Everything is going well. Work is good, I’ve lost some weight, the kids are happy, bills are paid. I got this! Time to sound the alarm!
Today I recognize the whispers for what they are -- the beginning of pain and suffering. When thoughts about how nice it would be to have just one or two glasses of chardonnay, I call a sober friend. When I start getting annoyed at the same people in “my” meetings week after week, I tell my sponsor and I take her advice (although, sometimes still reluctantly). I hit other meetings for a while.
It’s critical for anyone in recovery to remember we have an incurable disease and prelapse is always lurking. If we’re to continue living our best lives, we must recognize prelapse early and take the necessary action(s) to strengthen our recovery. Following are some of the more common signs to watch for:
· Negative thinking
· Impulsive behaviors
· Increased isolation/Losing interest in people and hobbies
· Making questionable decisions
· Putting ourselves in risky situations
· Becoming frequently irritated
· Straying from daily routines
· Increased depression and/or anxiety
· Reduced attendance at (or participation in) meetings
· Losing ambition
· Decreasing productivity
· Increases in dishonest behavior
· Feeling like you’re never good enough
· Looking for reasons to throw it all away
Early signs of prelapse will inevitably lead to more. Left unchecked, they will take us down – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. When these behaviors start to become noticeable to others, it’s likely our prelapse is advanced and a relapse is imminent. At this point, if we’re still unable to ask for help, we can only hope a loved one will call us out and in doing so, save our lives.
Bottom line - Prelapse is our disease convincing us to give up. Until we get honest about what’s going on and share it with supportive friends or counselors, clergy, EAPs, etc., we’re preparing to let our disease take us out. Listen for those whispers and take the right actions immediately. Prelapse is unavoidable, but we can stop it in its tracks and preserve our sobriety – our lives, our loved ones, and our livelihoods.
Anonymous for Life Assurance Recovery