Relapse Triggers in Recovery

Relapse has a predictable course. First there is an emotional component. Then a mental change.  And finally a spiritual decline. I’d like to relate a sample scenario to show this process. I believe many can relate to Josh as not only a parent but one of the millions of people in recovery.The other reason I like this example is it points out the need for honesty in our relationships with our children. I believe families can navigate the path of recovery together.

Josh felt more than thrilled. As he approached his 3rd anniversary, he shared his excitement with his home group. All his dreams had come true when he found out his 12 year old son planned to come back to live with him. He wanted to be available to him and make up for lost time. Perhaps he became overly eager to elevate himself to ‘great father’ status. His conversations with his sponsor lacked depth. He charged ahead in pursuit of perfection.The whispers of ego were barely audible because his heartfelt desire blocked the sound.

Brandon arrived with a mixture of joy and a bundle of nervousness about his new living arrangement with his father. Josh was equally emotional.

Although Josh didn’t say his thoughts out loud, he decided “I want him to think I have it all together” and “I can’t be running off to meetings so much.”  Josh stood on dangerous ground. His meeting attendance dwindled. He reached the point where image trumped the truth. He fell into the mindset which assured him looking good meant more that feeling good. Josh still experienced a tinge of shame that his addiction effected his relationship with his son. He perceived himself as somehow flawed. How could he explain his addiction and recovery to his boy and not diminish his new found self esteem?

The rationalizations crept in.  “He needs me to stay home more,” turned into, “I can’t leave him alone at night.” Josh’s mental state changed. Eventually denial marched in to seal his fate. “I don’t need to go to so many meetings,” became his new stance.

Time passed. Josh squirmed with discontent, but muscled through. His attempts to control and manage his feelings and his attitudes kept him stuck. He did not speak to his sponsor or his friends in the rooms about his situation or his feelings.

He failed to enlarge his spiritual life. What need to rely on a Higher Power? He had his own agenda. He stopped moving forward and began to slide back in his recovery. First a few steps back. Then the inevitable tip toward an intense backslide.

The pressure of parenting without support, the lack of honesty, the mask of pretense combined to convince Josh he needed a little relief. Josh’s relapse took him by surprise. He didn’t see it coming. He wondered how his good intentions landed him in this situation.

All the hopes and wishes for his parenting crumbled as he became more unavailable and less reliable; the very thing he hoped to avoid.

I offer this story to show the cunning nature of addiction. Let us learn a lesson from Josh. Constant vigilance is required to maintain our on-going recovery. If Josh needed dialysis and decided to skip his treatments, he’d get sicker and sicker and become of little use to his child. The same holds true for recovery from addiction.

The strange thing is, more often than not, we think we’re managing well and don’t see what is coming. We ignore our meeting schedule, We forget about our program friends in our efforts to be ‘normal’. We minimize our behavior and shift away from the structure we need to keep our lives in balance. We break the chains of community, camaraderie, and support. We lose the rhythm of our recovery centered way of living.

Relapse is like an oversized blind-spot. The rear view mirror is where we first explore what led up to our situation and learn from it too.  Although unintentional, Josh’s lack of honesty with himself and his child were pronounced.

We often hear the expression to “be on guard for the unguarded moment,” but relapse is rarely a momentary lapse. More often than not, we notice a series of behaviors and decisions have us neglect our need for a 12 step fellowship, detach from our reliance on a Power greater than ourselves, and forget we are people with the disease of addiction.

We need to treat our disease with unwavering regularity in order to keep our sobriety. Practicing the first step is critical to our continuous progress and peace of mind. Certainly honesty is the key spiritual principle of the first step that keeps us grounded and stable in recovery.