While I was in prison, I met hundreds of women who had histories of substance abuse. Like me, many of them were newly sober. To my great dismay, I learned many of them relapsed soon after being released. I couldn’t help but wonder…why?
Although I found out many different factors caused their relapses, the one thing many of them shared were the same negative thought patterns.
The Root of Relapse
Constant waves of negativity can quickly wear down your defenses and obliterate your willpower, creating the perfect conditions for a relapse. With that in mind, here’s a look at four relapses commonly brought on by negativity:
- The Perfectionism Relapse
Setting unrealistically high expectations for yourself can do more harm than good, especially if you can’t live up to your own standards. This inability creates feelings of inadequacy and these feelings can make you think you’ll never succeed in sobriety.
- The Using-Everything-Else-As-a-Distraction Relapse
There’s no shortage of time behind bars to focus on your recovery. However, in the “free world,” there are lots of distractions to help you avoid tackling the difficult tasks of recovery. As a result, your denial and avoidance can quickly lead to relapse.
- The “Feeling Overwhelmed” Relapse
After being incarcerated for several years, it’s possible to lose important decision-making skills and forget how to live a “normal life.” The thought of starting over – which includes finding a place to live and a job – can be paralyzing. Many of the women I knew relapsed within days of their release, solely because they felt completely overwhelmed.
- The Social Pressure Relapse
There’s a good reason to avoid people, places, and things from your past. If you go back to hanging out with the same old crowd, it will inevitably break down your discipline and cause you to revert to old patterns and behaviors.
Time to Get Back on Track
In short, it’s not uncommon to relapse. The fact is life’s hard; just because you’re sober doesn’t mean the hard days automatically disappear. Regardless of who you are or where you live, there will always be stresses, struggles, and unexpected setbacks along the way.
The key to a successful recovery is identifying your emotions and triggers. An understanding of where they’re coming from and what they mean will increase your chances of staying sober.
If you bury your feelings, it will likely result in a return to substance abuse. That’s why it’s so important to ignore your desire to isolate. Be brave and reach out to someone, like a therapist or a support group, who can help you talk through your thoughts and fears.
If you’ve relapsed, don’t be too hard on yourself. Use it as a learning experience and as an example of what not to do the next time.
Additional Reading: 5 Warning Signs of a Relapse…and How to Respond
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