Slip Sliding Away: What to Do First If You’re Falling into Relapse

Slip Sliding Away: What to Do First If You’re Falling into Relapse

It feels like the most awful thing that’s ever happened to you. Once you find yourself with that sickening gnawing at the pit of your stomach and the blackness starts to descend upon you once again, you know that you’re in danger of falling into relapse. Panic sets in and you flail about, uncertain which way to turn.

Before you rush into doing something incredibly unwise, such as turning back to drugs or alcohol, stop and take some time to think. You do have recourse. You don’t have to fall into relapse. It isn’t a given, regardless of whether or not you’ve been down this road before and succumbed to your past addictive behavior.

What should you do first if you feel you’re falling into relapse? Here are some points to consider.

That Sliding Ground is Only as Real as You Make It

First of all, you have to get hold of yourself. Stop allowing your thoughts to drift into the safe zone of mind-numbing drugs or alcohol. That’s a slippery slope and you’re bound to lose your footing if you keep thinking along those lines.

Maybe you need to look in the mirror to be frightened into reality. That haggard, haunted image staring back at you may just be enough to set you straight.

Instead of allowing yourself to slip away, resolve to take some proactive measures, beginning right now.

Get on the Phone

What time is it? The answer for you is that it’s time to take action. No matter the hour of the day or night, your best friend at this point in your life is your sponsor. Don’t fret that you’re disturbing your sponsor if you pick up the phone and call at three o’clock in the morning. That’s what your sponsor committed to when agreeing to take you on as a sponsee.

After all, each of us in recovery has been through some rough patches. Who doesn’t need a friend to call on that knows what we’re going through? This is especially true when we fear that we’re in danger of relapse.

Of course, what is even better than conversing on the phone is to meet in person. This recommendation, however, is pretty much time dependent. It’s one thing to drag your sponsor out of bed with one eye half open to listen to your woes on the phone. It’s quite another to expect your sponsor to meet up with you in the wee hours.

Not that this is completely out of the realm of possibility. It very much depends on the type of relationship you have with your sponsor. If, for example, your sponsor tells you repeatedly that he or she is there for you, no matter what time of the day or night, you have to believe that this is true. Your sponsor wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t heartfelt.

What to Say

There’s no set dialogue that you should engage in. No one can tell you the right way to begin your conversation. What is on your mind at this point is what matters. If you are afraid that you’re going to pick up that bottle and drain it dry or go out and score drugs or engage in any of your past addictive behavior, what you want most is to get this out of your thoughts and get past the temptation or urge to use.

You could say that you’re afraid you’re going to relapse, or that you’re standing outside the bar and may not be able to stop yourself from going in. Maybe you’ve already begun to pour a drink or laid out a line or opened the bottle of OxyContin or Vicodin. You just want someone to talk you out of what you know is an extremely short trip back into relapse.

Some people break down and cry. Others can barely speak above a whisper. Some may not even be able to find the words. What you say isn’t as important as the fact that you pick up the phone and make the effort to reach out and ask for help.

And help will always be available to you.

If There’s a Meeting, Go to It

With a quick pep talk and words of encouragement from your sponsor, if it’s at all within the realm of possibility and there’s a meeting going on that you can get to, by all means, pull yourself together and hightail it over to the group meeting.

In the rooms is the best place to find the kind of support and encouragement that may very well keep you from falling into relapse. The shared commitment to sobriety is one that is very profound and certainly cannot be underestimated. Right next to you in the room is another individual who may have been on the edge of despair and relapse just days ago.

Old-timers in the room may have some profound words of wisdom, relate stories of how they were able to face down relapse and come out on the other side feeling stronger and more capable of withstanding future periods of stress, tension, overpowering urges and other issues common to early recovery.

Besides, getting out of the confines of your home and being with like-minded people can be the very motivation to help you get past this current rough patch. It is an action that you knowingly take, with the firm intention of benefiting your sobriety and keeping you on the path of recovery.

Make Use of Online Meetings

Look at it this way. If you have access to a computer, there’s always a meeting available, somewhere in the world. It may not be in your time zone, but what does it matter? The point is that recovery is an ongoing journey. It isn’t something that’s only going on during the daytime hours in your part of the country or region of the world. If it’s nighttime here, it’s daytime elsewhere.

Perhaps your sponsor is on his or her way to meet you or is out of town and temporarily out of reach. Maybe you’ve already had a conversation, even gone to a meeting, and now are home and feeling in need of additional support. That’s the beauty of online 12-step meetings. They’re there when you need them.

Don’t be Tempted to Go it Alone

Above all, don’t fall into the common trap of believing that you can go it alone. That’s one of the myths about addiction and recovery that too many fall prey to. The truth is that going it alone is probably what got you in trouble with drugs or alcohol in the first place. You thought you had it all under control, could manage your usage and not suffer any consequences. Look where that got you.

Now that you’re on the path of recovery, why jeopardize it by taxing your inner resources to the breaking point? You’re just in the process of healing. You don’t have enough time in recovery yet to be thoroughly familiar with how all this works. That’s another reason why you need your sponsor to guide you through this turbulent time. No, your sponsor isn’t your therapist or counselor, but he or she certainly knows a thing or two about what relapse feels like, how it comes on and, more importantly, how to get through it and past it when it does come crashing down on you.

None of this is something that you can do for yourself, by yourself. You need the support and encouragement of others, plain and simple.

Maybe More Treatment is a Good Plan

For some, the fear of falling into relapse may be the result of not having enough time in rehab. There’s no absolute when it comes to how long it will take for treatment to “take” or for you to “get it” and be ready to enter recovery with all the necessary tools.

Rehab is just the stepping-stone to recovery. Sometimes, while there are many incredible tools and techniques available to individuals during treatment, the person isn’t able to absorb them all, either because they’re not ready or have too many other issues they need to deal with at the time or for other reasons.

Perhaps a return to treatment or additional therapy or one-on-one counseling is a good plan. You undoubtedly know that if you relapse completely, something’s definitely not right. Going back into treatment may be the only way to get back on your feet. But then again, not every individual requires more time in rehab. Some can benefit from aftercare or continuing care counseling.

See what is available to you as part of your overall treatment plan. If continuing care or aftercare isn’t available, your next step may be to see what other resources in the form of counseling or therapy is available to you. Start with where you completed your treatment in the first place. Get recommendations from them or from your family doctor, maybe ask your sponsor or others in the rooms about peer-support groups or other avenues you can pursue.

Don’t just think that you did your time in treatment and that’s all there is. That’s never all there is. Some of us may need more therapy to get to a point where we feel ready to be fully engaged in recovery. Some of us have medical or psychological issues that need to be addressed before we feel more capable in making good decisions about our recovery – including being able to withstand relapse.

What About Family?

If you have family members who support and encourage your recovery, by all means ask for their help at this time of your need. Don’t be ashamed or afraid that they’ll think poorly of you for asking. After all, these are your family members. They want the best for you, and even if they don’t fully understand what you’re going through, if they are willing to stand by you and help you navigate this tough time, you will be smart to accept their offer to help.

Your spouse or loved one could drive you to a meeting, for example. He or she could attend a meeting for family members that may be going on at the same time or could just wait for you. If you don’t think you’re up to finding an online meeting, a family member might be able to help you out in this area as well.

The point is that when you’re at a low point and in danger of relapse, you need all the help you can get. If that means a loving offer of assistance from someone in your immediate household, that’s more than many in recovery have. Be smart and recognize that your family is a strong asset in your recovery journey. And it’s not only in the tough times but also in the good times.

Got it Licked? Learn from the Situation

Let’s cut to the end of this scenario. Suppose you’ve felt you were falling into relapse, got in touch with your sponsor, went to a meeting, made use of online or family assistance to get through the rough patch and came out victorious on the other side. In other words, you didn’t relapse and now you’re wondering what this all means for your recovery.

In short, use this as a learning experience. Figure out what worked, what resonated for you, whether that was words from your sponsor or someone in the rooms, or a combination of suggestions that others made that you tried out and they seemed to get you past the urge to use again.

While it might seem too fresh and raw for you to make sense of it all, do your best. Surely there’s something that sticks out in your mind. It could be a phrase that was repeated. It could be the confident words of assurance. It could be the feeling of support and acceptance, even the feelings of love that you felt from others. What made the difference for you? Single it out. Write it down. Keep it handy for the next time you may need it.

The point of all this isn’t to add to your workload. In fact, it shouldn’t be regarded as work at all. What it is, is the opportunity to accumulate strategies and techniques to use so that you have a full and effective recovery toolkit.

Be aware, however, that relapse can occur at any time, prompted by any number of situations. Keep in mind that you never want to allow yourself to get in the position where you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired (H.A.L.T.). You have to take care of your basic needs. If you fail to do so, you’re setting yourself up for falling prey to old memories, and a return to your self-destructive ways.

What If You Do Relapse?

Let’s face it. Some of us will relapse. It’s not a crime, nor is it all that uncommon, especially in the first six months of recovery. So, suppose you do relapse, what then?

Resolve to pick up the pieces and resume your recovery journey. Get back in touch with the commitment you made to being clean and sober and start over, if that’s what it takes. Return to rehab if you need it. Go back to meetings, going multiple times a day. Redouble your efforts to work the Twelve Steps. Listen to what your sponsor has to say and don’t feel like you’re a failure. You’re not. You’re just human and slipped, that’s all.

The good news is that you can come back. Millions have before you and millions will after you. There’s no stigma to having relapsed. Make this a hard-learned lesson. Now you know what not to do. Maybe this time you will heed the advice and recommendations and be more attuned to what works for you in recovery.

You will be successful in your recovery journey to the extent that you put yourself into the work wholeheartedly.

Summing Up

Keeping it simple, here’s a summary of what to do first if you’re falling into relapse:

  • Get hold of yourself. Resolve to take proactive measures, starting now.
  • Call your sponsor, or meet in person, if at all possible.
  • Don’t worry about what to say. Just say what you feel and ask for help.
  • If there’s a meeting available, go to it.
  • Make use of online meetings, where there’s always support available.
  • Avoid the temptation to go it alone. That never worked before and likely won’t now.
  • Maybe consider additional therapy or treatment to get on more solid ground.
  • Make use of your loved ones and family to help you weather this crisis.
  • When you’ve come through the situation, take time to learn from it. There are valuable lessons here that can help you in the days and months ahead.
  • If you do relapse, resolve to get back to doing the work of recovery. Relapse doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It does mean you need to re-double your efforts and get back to what works best for you in recovery.


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