By Cristina Utti MFA, MA
Staying clean and sober is a life long journey for those in recovery.
After spending years drowning and numbing feelings, and running from life’s problems, a new way of thinking and living must be learned to maintain sobriety. Although everyone is different, as human beings we are all very much the same with similar aspirations, hopes, dreams, and fears. H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired) and resentments are often spoken of in twelve step programs as factors to be mindful of because they are relapse triggers. There are other dangerous relapse triggers also. The top five are:
Dishonesty – Dishonesty comes in many forms. Lying to ourselves is one form of which we are often not aware. For instance, staying in a bad relationship, telling ourselves that things will get better, or that this is okay, is a form of lying to ourselves. Another way we lie to ourselves is telling ourselves that having one drink or getting high one more time is okay. Dishonesty with ourselves can even come in the form of not being able to say ‘no’ to people when we really do not want to do something. Sitting quiet with ourselves in prayer or meditation brings clarity and better enables us to be honest with ourselves.
Lying to others is a whole other animal. The number one form of dishonesty that causes relapse is lying to a significant other. Those that are in recovery often try to fill the empty space with sex and numerous relationships. Lying to people that you sleep with causes emotional drama and in nearly all cases will eventually lead to relapse.
For most people, lying came as second nature when in active addiction. Learning to be honest with yourself and others is not only a better way to live, but will also save your life and soul.
Self-Pity – That old adage “poor me, poor me, pour me a drink” rings true. Feeling sorry for ourselves and seeing the world as doom and gloom can be the recipe for a relapse. Life has its ups and downs. Realizing that everything will not be wonderful all of the time, and that bad times will pass, helps in not getting stuck in self-pity. When people disappoint us, when we have a lot on our plate to handle, and when we have minimal support from others, it can be easy to feel sorry for ourselves. And, our addiction is always there waiting, calling.
Just a few days ago, I began my day having a fine day. I had a half day at work and used the rest of the afternoon getting chores done that I would normally do on the weekend. It was wonderful, I was freeing up my weekend by using my time wisely. Then, my brother called. I am the oldest in my family and the one everyone depends on for making decisions about the estate of my recently deceased father. The call was emotional, but I was still on my square. A few hours later, I had to deal with the father of my children. That conversation put me over the edge. I got stuck in self-pity, feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I took a drive to get a prescription filled for my son who is on medication for Crohn’s disease and parked my car far away from the other cars in the supermarket parking lot so I could just cry my heart out. I was stuck on poor me, poor me. After drying my tears, I headed into the store to drop off his bottle for a refill. Low and behold, there was a coin baggie on the ground in the parking lot. Curious me picked it up and stuck it in my pocket. After dropping off his medicine for a refill, I went back to my car to check out what was in the baggie. I had found a bundle of heroin. Although this is one drug that I had never done, my hands started shaking and my heart was palpitating. I could have easily just thrown it back on the ground. Instead, I held onto it. I ripped open the little bags and looked at it. I called my daughter, then called my sponsor, then flushed it all down the toilet when I returned home.
If there is a higher power, there is a lower power. That experience showed me that as soon as I get stuck feeling sorry for myself, the lower power will be there just waiting, calling. Remaining grateful for what we do have in our life, and staying close with our higher power can overcome any desire to relapse.
Becoming overconfident – Becoming overconfident in our recovery can lead to a relapse. When we feel as though we don’t need meetings any more, or begin to wane away from our sober friends, that is a sign of trouble. As they say, every step away from recovery is a step toward using.
Relationship break-ups – There is a reason that it is suggested that when one comes into drug treatment and recovery that they take the first year for themselves and not get involved in a sexual or intimate relationship. Relationship problems and break-ups cause feelings of despair, loneliness, insecurity, abandonment, and a plethora of other emotions that can lead to a relapse. Having a good solid foundation in recovery first and foremost can get us through a break up unscathed.
Expectations – Having too many expectations of ourselves and of others can lead to feeling bad or resentful. Living a clean and sober life means so much more than just putting down the drink or drug. It is about finding balance in our lives. Piling too much on our plate, expecting ourselves to be able to accomplish a million things at once, and perfectly, can makes us feel overwhelmed. This can easily go right into a case of the f-its, feeling like we cannot do anything right, therefore we do nothing, and use again. Accept that there are only so many hours in a day. Prioritize the essentials. These are good ways to bypass bad feelings about ourselves when we do not meet our own expectations.
Having high expectations of others is often a set up for failure. I personally expect everyone to be like me, which is a fallacy in itself. Learning to accept others as they are, and not placing unrealistic expectations upon them helps bring peace and contentment into our own life.
Realizing that recovery is a process, and being mindful of emotional booby traps puts one on the clean and sober path of life.
Recovery may not be easy all of the time, but the worst day in recovery is always better than the best day when we were using! If you find yourself in any of these situations, get quiet with yourself and your higher power to bring peace back into your heart.