Many of us in recovery know that it is important to have some tools when you feel like relapsing. Especially in the first year of sobriety many people need to have things in place so that they have healthy ways to cope with cravings for drugs or alcohol. I remember in my first year how it took me some time to figure out exactly what these things were. They are still tools that I use to day in times of stress or crisis. Of course these are just what has worked for me and different people might find different things helpful. However, hopefully there is something in here to help you if you feel like you’re on the brink of relapse.
It is important to remember that thinking about relapsing or even relapsing is a part of recovering from addiction. Just like with any other brain disorder, like depression or anxiety, there are times when you are doing well and times when you aren’t. There is no need to beat yourself up if you feel like relapsing. Instead, lean into the solution and do the things you know can help you.
1. Call Your Sponsor
If you feel like relapsing call your sponsor, mentor, therapist, or even just a trusted friend. You do not necessarily need to be in a recovery program and working with someone in order for this tip to apply to you. The point is to not be alone in the craving. Reach out to someone and tell them what is going on with you. Often just saying out loud to another person that we are thinking about relapse takes the power out of it. Other times we want to relapse because of something stressful going on in our lives and we just need someone to talk to about it. Whatever the reason is, you do not need to be alone.
One of the greatest parts about getting into recovery and going to recovery meetings is that it gives you people to lean on in hard times. Often there are phone lists available with phone number of other people who go to that meeting. I remember going to meetings and someone I respected but did not know very well. During really tough times I would find their number on the phone list and give them a call. As awkward as it was at first to call a stranger I was always embraced and I felt better after making the call.
2. Sit and Meditate
If you are feeling a little stronger in your recovery you might not need to reach out to someone else but can look for some ease within yourself. If you feel like relapsing you can try listening to a guided meditation or just sitting and noticing how uncomfortable that feeling is. Meditating can give them mind something else to focus on or it can give us a way to meet that discomfort with compassion.
Many meditation practice offer some suggestions about what to do when you are experiencing suffering. You might try offering yourself some phrases of compassion such as: may I have compassion for this pain or may I care about this suffering. Just saying these phrases to yourself might be enough to diffuse that feeling of wanting to relapse. After doing this many times your mind will learn to naturally respond to your discomfort with compassion rather than anger or anxiety.
3. Get out and Exercise
One great thing you can do for yourself is to get out and exercise if you feel like using. The reason this works so well is that exercise boosts your mood. Often when we are stuck in a mode of wanting to use it is because we are feeling particularly low and we want something to change that. Of course running will not have exactly the same effect as drugs but it does work in the brain in similar ways. Exercise has been shown to increase dopamine and endorphins which are neurotransmitters that are also resealed when someone uses drugs or alcohol.
I personally have never been a huge fan of running but there are many activities you can do to get that same boost. Sometimes even just going outside in the fresh air can be enough. Just taking a walk around the block has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. So even if you aren’t a fan of exercise just a short walk might do the trick.
4. Go to a Meeting
Of course one of the best things you can do if you feel like you’re about to relapse is to go to a recovery meeting. There you will be surrounded by people who have all been through these same craving and might be able to offer advice and support. It is important to share when you are thinking about relapse so that you aren’t hiding it and keeping it in. Sharing in this way will allow other people to reach out to you.
I can think of so many times in my own recovery where I went to a meeting and shared that I was not doing well. I was always met with love and acceptance. Some of the greatest things people did for me were just as small as getting coffee with me after the meeting and talking about what was going on. It was usually hard for me to raise my hand and admit that everything wasn’t perfect, but I was always grateful that I did.
5. Free Write or Journal
Another great way to cope with those feelings of wanting to relapse is to free write. All you need in order to do this is take a piece of paper and write on it whatever thoughts or feelings come to mind. This works because it allows you to get out your feelings so that they don’t have so much power over you anymore. Many of us in recovery have heard the saying “you are only as sick as your secret”. When you write something on paper it can have the effect of feeling like you are getting out your secret. Even if you never read it to anyone else, it can still feel like you aren’t hiding your feelings about wanting to relapse.
6. Wait for it to Pass
There is some research to suggest that cravings do not last very long. Although they are very unpleasant, sometimes it is just a matter of waiting for the craving for drugs or alcohol to pass. When you wait for this craving to pass sometimes the desire to relapse might also pass. Being that these cravings tend to last under a minute, usually only a matter of seconds, you usually do not need to wait long.
In fact, many of these other tools might work just because they give you something to do while the craving passes. However, you can think of an infinite amount of things to do while you wait for the craving to pass. Even just knowing that it will not last long is sometimes enough to get us through it.
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