One of the larger challenges in recovery is learning how to overcome a desire to use alcohol or drugs. In previous articles I’ve offered a host of tools to support recovery and encourage you to think about recovery in ways other than a conventional approach to sobriety. In this article I would like to offer a simple relapse prevention tool.
As a clinician with nearly 30 years of experience I’ve worked in a variety of agencies. Every agency would encourage you to develop a relapse prevention plan that attends to places in your life where you get stuck as well as high-risk situations that would encourage use. I think knowing what to do what you get stimulated is important, but I’ve never been a fan of the long-form relapse prevention plans. Having to look through 20 pages to see which intervention is best suited for a particular issue is a grind. My sense is that more isn’t better, different is the key. I would invite you to get several 4×6 cards and create your entire plan on one side of the card. Include the following:
Mission statement: one of my friend’s is a pilot for a major airline. He let me know that 95% of the time a plane is off-course and that you need to make adjustments to keep the plane on course. Much like a plane, we can get off course in our recovery. I would invite you to create a statement at the top of the card which supports you to make corrections in your life when your recovery is in trouble. This is my mission statement: my sobriety is the single most important thing in my life – if anything jeopardizes my recovery, I eliminate it. As I believe that recovery is a choice, it is important to be mindful that every decision we make can support long term-recovery or allow us to engage in maladaptive behaviors that support relapse and are less than flattering to our ego. All I need to do is to simply think of my mission statement and compare it to anything I want to do. Will this action stimulate a desire to use or further support my recovery? While I do not broadcast my sobriety, it is the single most important thing in my life.
Phone numbers: I would invite you to include 6-7 phone numbers of people you know who are supportive of your recovery, likely to help you if you feel like you’re falling down in your life, and are consistent in their own way. When I had about 12 years of sobriety I had a pretty strong desire to drink. I was fortunate in that I collected a list of 100 phone numbers. As my desire to drink came on the weekend during the time between Christmas and New Years most people were on vacation and out-of-touch. I needed to call over 95 people before I found someone I could talk to. Some people might consider a list of 100 people as extreme, but my sense is that I am absolutely committed to making sure I remain sober and I am willing to put in extreme effort to that end.
Alternatives: I invite you to list six to seven things you can do beyond drinking and using. I can always go to the judo hall, watch horrible sci fi, volunteer, support people online, read, play with my cat, go for a run, and remember the commitment I made to my grandmother when I got sober. It’s important to be mindful that we tend to drink or use to change the way we feel, and it’s imperative that we remember that relapse only offers temporary relief.
Rewards and consequences: I woud invite you to list six rewards and six consequences of engaging in chemical use. I think it is helpful to remember what will happen if you decide to drink or use, and I think it’s important to be reminded of the benefits from recovery. Staying clean and sober is one of the most difficult things you will do. Being aware of the consequences and rewards can go a long way to supporting you to abstain from chemical use.
I completed this exercise many years ago and over time I revised my card a few times. While I have memorized what I encouraged you to do, I can still find my card in my wallet, near my dashboard, in my bedroom, on the refrigerator, and as well as a card sitting in my partner’s house. I have laminated the card as I think this exercise is helpful and I didn’t want the paper to degrade.
My sense is that recovery looks different for everybody. I invite you to begin to develop a plan that supports you to remain sober, and offers a sense of ease in your recovery.
Good luck on your path.