The anniversary of our world’s most pressing health crisis – COVID 19 looms ahead making physical and mental sobriety an alarming epidemic in households across the states.
For those struggling to stay free from an alcohol or substance use disorder during the pandemic, connectedness with others is a vital component of recovery.
It’s also important to understand relapse and to stay in touch with your thoughts and feelings.
Being conscious of your own feelings allows you to identify any triggers that may lead to relapse. Being aware of the stages of relapse can also help you to implement measures to prevent triggers escalating to the point where you want to reach for drugs or alcohol.
Fellowship is a vital part of the sobriety process. Usually, physical sober meetings are the foundation that people in recovery can bind to. But, with the social distancing measures in place, this is no longer possible.
People in recovery typically attend several meetings in a week. These meetings are crucial for many as they are an opportunity to share their experiences with others in the same situation and connect with other people.
As the virus continues to spread, self-isolation measures are tightening, meaning that many who are in recovery must shield in place with no contact with the outside world.
Isolation is the enemy of recovery. The worry is that extreme levels of isolation are leaving many vulnerable people without support on their recovery journey and could be triggered to reach for drugs or alcohol.
Technology advances mean people can still stay connected without fear of catching a deadly virus.
12 step meetings are now available online and there are online meetings happening around the world 24 hours a day. So if someone misses a meeting, they can jump onto another one.
There is also a variety of apps that enable people in recovery to connect with others around the world. While many may find the prospect of using technology daunting, once they get used to it they often find that they have increased access to others.
It may not feel the same as sitting shoulder to shoulder with others, but online groups can still help immensely.
A relapse doesn’t begin when you start drinking or taking drugs again, it starts much earlier.
Relapse begins when a person experiences a trigger which initiates an avalanche of negative thoughts which lead to negative emotions.
Emotions are rooted in addiction as we often turn to substances, alcohol or behaviors to escape negative thoughts and feelings.
Relapse occurs in three main stages:
- Emotional relapse
- Mental relapse
- Physical relapse
Once a person has progressed from emotional relapse to mental relapse, they are almost guaranteed to physically relapse. That’s why it’s vital to prevent oneself progressing to mental relapse from emotional relapse.
The key thing to note about emotional relapse is that at this stage you’re not necessarily considering a substance or a drink. You know you don’t want to relapse. But, everything you are doing and your emotions are leading to a relapse.
Denial is a huge factor in relapse as you’re not thinking about using at this stage (although you may be unconsciously). This is why it’s so important to learn the early warning signs of relapse. If you’re aware of your early warning signs you can see if you’re slipping.
Other signs include irritability, not asking for help from others, bottling up emotions, not eating or sleeping, and focusing on others.
All of these signs have a common denominator: poor self-care.
is the essence of emotional relapse. Preventing relapse doesn’t have to be complicated. Implementing self-care practices that you learn in kindergarten are simple things that can help to prevent a relapse such as:
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Eat three meals a day
- Get plenty of exercise
- Ask for help
- Share your feelings
You may also want to address your inner dialogue to see if there is anything subconscious going on. Maybe a new problem has entered your life which is bothering you?
If you live in this stage of relapse for too long, eventually you will start to feel anxious, irritable and restless. When your emotions get this far, this is when you will consider drinking or taking drugs as you want to escape those difficult feelings.
This is when you transition from emotional relapse to mental relapse.
With mental relapse, there’s an inner emotional battle occurring. One part of you doesn’t want to use, the other does. It’s normal for a person in recovery to have fleeting thoughts of using, this doesn’t mean you will relapse. But, it is a warning sign.
At the start of this phase of relapse, thoughts are easy to manage. But, if you stay suspended in this stage for too long, the pull of the addiction will get stronger and stronger.
Signs of relapse can include:
- Thinking about certain people, things, and places associated with your addiction
- Minimizing the consequences of past using and drinking
- Seeing friends you used to drink or use with
Finally, while in this stage you start to plan your relapse. You start to look for opportunities where you can drink or take drugs without getting caught.
What can you do to prevent yourself from relapsing while social isolation is in effect?
First, sit down and think your relapse through. Your addicted brain will be telling you to drink or use drugs. It will tell you that this time it will be different.
But, your addicted brain has been wrong before, and it lies to you. One drink or drug use will never be enough. You know that if you have just one, you’ll want more.
Think of what you could lose if you do relapse. Remember the feelings of hopelessness and despair that using or drinking will bring.
At this time try the following things:
- Change your scenery
- Go for a walk
- Call your sponsor
- Attend an online 12-step meeting
- Try a new sober app
- Don’t give your cravings space to increase
- Tell yourself to wait for 30 minutes
The waiting technique is particularly useful as you learn that cravings are temporary and don’t last for long. But, while you are experiencing a craving it’s particularly challenging as your addicted brain tries to trick you.
It’s important to share with someone that you’re thinking about using. You could ring your sponsor, a trusted friend, or tell someone anonymously in an online group.
Attending an online meeting will put you in touch with people who go through the same struggles as you. These meetings are invaluable as you can be inspired by stories of people who are managing sobriety in much worse circumstances than you.
Remember, if you talk about your cravings they are easier to handle.
When you start to think about using or drinking, challenge your thinking. Think your relapse through. Distract yourself, and talk about your feelings.
Take your recovery one day at a time.
Recovery aims to prevent negative thoughts from gaining momentum. This requires dedication, patience, and perseverance, particularly if a person struggles with mood disorders such as bipolar or generalized anxiety disorders.
A high quality cognitive behavioral therapy program can help a person learn to navigate their emotions during times of stress and upheaval. This type of therapy can also be accessed through technology, it’s not always necessary to be with someone in person to get the right support.
If you don’t practice self-care, talk about your feelings and desire to relapse, your thoughts will get stronger and louder until eventually your addiction is screaming inside your head.
When you don’t understand relapse, you think prevention means saying no just before you pick up a drink or drug. But, that’s focusing on the difficult stage, the final stage. That’s why you relapse.
Instead focus on the earlier stages. Practice self-care and share your feelings with others that understand. There are many online meetings and sober
apps available now so there should be no reason why you can’t access the appropriate support when you need it.
As relapse begins weeks or months before the actual event of drinking or taking drugs, it gives you plenty of time to take action if you’ve managed to identify any early emotional signs of relapse.
If you don’t understand relapse you’d be forgiven for believing that it’s a sudden event. One minute you’re feeling fine and strong in your recovery, the next minute you’re using or drinking again. This can be disheartening and bewildering as you don’t understand how you got there.
Relapse is like a shopping cart rolling down a hill. It builds momentum.
Relapse can start weeks or even months before a person goes back to drinking or taking drugs. It’s important to recognize the triggers and signs as they happen to make sure they don’t escalate to relapse. A good relapse prevention plan will arm you with some good coping skills for managing your life and those stressful situations that can trigger you.
There are three major signs that a relapse is approaching. A change in energy, distancing from support and making excuses to go to places you don’t really need to go to.
A Change in Energy
You might have been strong in your recovery for a long period, but all of a sudden you feel out of sorts and a bit cranky. You don’t feel so inspired about your recovery journey any more and you feel emotionally drained by it. Perhaps you start picking fights with others, even your counselor.
Distancing From Support Networks
You might normally look forward to the support groups, but all of a sudden you find yourself making excuses. This is what the disease does to you, especially if you’ve been strong in your recovery. Addiction is like a lion hunting the gazelle, and it plays the long game.
If you’ve been strong in your recovery, it won’t be enough for your disease to say ‘it’s ok to have just one.’ Instead, it tries another trick which is to separate you and isolate you from the things that help you to keep sober.
You might just need to change your sponsor or try a different online group if you are getting tired. Ultimately, you should keep attending the online groups, even if you’re feeling a little shaky.
Making Excuses To Go To Places
You may not do it consciously, but maybe you start finding reasons to walk past a certain house or store where you might bump into someone. This is a strong sign that you might be at risk of relapse.
If you’re experiencing any of these signs then it’s time to go back to the relapse prevention plan you put in place during your treatment program.
You may also use the pandemic as an excuse to avoid using online support groups. It’s vital to examine this
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that was originally developed specifically for people with bipolar disorder.
This type of therapy is particularly useful for people who are unable to access peer support groups such as 12 step groups and group cognitive behavioral therapy. Dialectical behavior coaches a person to regulate their emotions, cope with stressful situations, maintain decorum, and improve their relationships with others.
Being able to regulate your emotions through stress and triggers is a crucial skill for staying sober while social distancing.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is different from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in that CBT addresses a person’s interactions with others. DBT on the other hand addresses a person’s emotions.
While there are many Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and Narcotics Anonymous meetings online there are a number of apps that are growing in popularity with the recovery community. Here are a few sober apps available to help you to stay on track.
Sober grid is a social media network that connects the recovery community. It also connects people to qualified recovery coaches. The app is available on Android and Apple and resources are available worldwide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
It’s worth giving this a try if you’re getting tired of AA or NA meetings. Using a fresh approach may help your resolve.
The Squirrel Recovery app keeps the recovering person in contact with their peers and loved ones. It was developed by the clinical director of addiction medicine at Ohio University Brad Lander.
This smartphone app focuses on those who are most essential to a person’s successful recovery
– their loved ones.
You can input the names of up to 10 people into the app. The app monitors the person’s moods and tracks the times they’re most at risk of relapse.
If the app suspects any early warning signs of relapse, it sends a notification to the people in the list and prompts them to get in touch to provide support.
This app also features an emergency button, if you’re that close to relapse you can send a message saying, ‘Urgent, I need help now!’
Sober Tool is a tracking app that helps a person to monitor your clean days and money saved. The app sends daily motivational messages and notifications to help maintain focus.
The app also features a journaling section and a game to play when cravings hit.
A neat feature of this app is that when times are challenging, you can enter the word for the emotion that you’re feeling. The search engine will return answers that help you to understand the root causes of this emotion.
This app tailors its responses to you. Whatever emotions you may be experiencing, the app will provide related readings and questionings that are designed to bring your awareness to the present moment.
You can download the app here
AA 12-Step App
The AA 12 step app
has many cool features that can help to distract you and recalibrate your feelings. The many features that complement the 12-step program includes:
- A gratitude tool
- Direct connection to your sponsor or sponsee
- Journal tool
- Moral inventory tool
- Sobriety calendar
This is a great tool to have on your phone as you will carry it with you everywhere you go. Its probably a good idea to download all of the apps to your phone to keep your interest.
Staying resolute through cravings is tough. But, understanding the stages of relapse is the most important element of prevention.
Have a plan in mind for difficult times, and get your support network
lined up for when they arise.
If you need help right away
, call the friendly Renaissance Recovery
team at 866.330.9449 and we’ll help you get back on track.