How to avoid a relapse when things seem out of control – Harvard Health Blog
No one will deny that this has been a stressful year. As the Grateful Dead said, “If thunder doesn’t catch you, lightning will.” If you can successfully avoid catching COVID, then you are likely struggling with a mix of financial and childcare stress, the bitter political divisions we see on TV and social media every day, and a universe social restricted. Our society is already suffering from an epidemic of loneliness which has been sorely compounded by the physical distance required to keep the pandemic at bay.
Even people who are not struggling with addiction find their drug and alcohol use on the rise, along with other unhealthy habits. In a perfect world, we would all go get the yoga mat, go for a walk, eat tofu, meditate, and practice mindfulness, but… we’re just humans. Stress can drive us to excel, but it can also lead us to bad habits, whether it’s ice cream or potato chips, or that extra beer we know we don’t need. The additive, multifactorial and relentless stress that the year 2020 has brought would challenge even a Zen master to keep his cool.
For those struggling to recover from drug or alcohol addiction, every day can be a challenge, even on a good day. This is why the saying of Alcoholics Anonymous, “one day at a time,” has stood the test of time and has proven so useful in dealing with the stresses of each day as manageable, without falling back into your numbing crutch. . of choice.
What can you do to keep yourself recovering when the world seems to have gone mad?
People joke on Twitter that 2020 was the longest decade they can remember, but in truth, it’s hard for anyone to keep their cool with this constant flutter of scary news. What can someone do to protect their hard-earned recovery?
The answer to this question hinges on a thorough understanding of what addiction recovery really is. Recovery is not a negative point, the simple absence of drug taking. Rather, recovery is a positive way of being in the world that replaces healthier ways of dealing with problems and interacting with people so that drugs and alcohol don’t really take hold in your life. Recovery is about connecting with others and asking for help when you need it, just like it’s not just about erasing negative feelings with a drug or drink. These are two sides of the same coin. Recovery is about being grateful for what is going well in your life, rather than focusing on what you don’t have, what you did wrong, or what could have been.
It is often said that when a person relapses, taking the drug or drink is the final manifestation of the disruption of their recovery process. In other words, people lose sight of – and stop practicing – the positive ways of being and interacting that have supplanted their drug use. Let the medicine or drink fill the void and take away the pain. For example, you may stop going to meetings, stop seeing other people, and then start to feel lonely and hopeless. Then they look for a fix. Or they may fall out of their exercise routine and, as a result, stop sleeping well, causing their anxiety symptoms to return. Soon they’re miserable enough to say, “forget it, I’ll get some vodka.”
The higher the stress, the more important it is to practice healthy habits
To fight stressful times (which are inevitable in life), we need to get back to our healthy habits. The more stressful the times, the more important or even vital these habits become. It’s essential to check in with yourself every day, to be honest with yourself if you slip up, and to have techniques to get you back on track.
Some of the habits that keep my recovery on track
- Remember to be grateful. In rehab, we had to write a daily gratitude list. Although I’m too lazy to write this down, I make a mental list every morning, and that justifies me because there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
- Daily exercise. Even a short walk a few times a day is good. Exercise reduces stress, improves sleep, and boosts mood.
- Pay attention to your needs. An acronym for things that trigger a relapse is HALT, which stands for “hunger, anger, loneliness, fatigue”. Stay on top of these things, so you don’t become so miserable that you act on impulse.
- Have a mantra that you tell yourself to give you a boost when you’re feeling down. A recovery mantra that I love is “progress, not perfection,” which means you’re doing your best to move in the right direction and no one is perfect.
- Ask for help! There is no shame in it. Imagine a friend of yours, any friend. Now imagine they are alone, in pain, and so miserable that they are about to drink into oblivion. Wouldn’t you want them to call you and ask for help? Of course you would! This is how one of your friends or family would feel if you needed such help as well.
- Volunteer, get involved and help others. When you are helping other people, it is much harder to focus and wallow in your own misery.
- Take breaks for the news. This is a difficult question, because we have an obligation to be informed citizens in these difficult times, but sometimes it is enough. The other day, on my way home from a complicated day in a primary care clinic, I turned off NPR – about the pandemic – and started listening to The Beatles. It was a fantastic choice, and it revolved around my entire day.
Above all, if you’re wrong – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, your diet, your New Years resolution, gambling – don’t worry. Self-compassion is what will help us get through these difficult times. Just ask for the help you need and realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint. By continually focusing on healthy habits, lasting relationships, and ways of being in the world, we will help each other – and we will help each other – through these seemingly impossible times.
Our sincere thanks to