Why do people relapse after leaving treatment?
Throughout my years as a substance use disorder recovery activist and interventionist, I’ve helped scores of people enter treatment. And while these folks flourished in a highly-structured setting, some struggled shortly after reentering the real world.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. By understanding and applying these 3 principles, you can keep your recovery strong.
- Accept that Recovery Is Present Tense, Not Past Tense.
If you have children, you know they are little eating machines. When mine were young, it felt like right after my wife cleared away the breakfast dishes, one of them would ask, “What’s for lunch?”
Can you imagine saying to your child, “You ate last week. You should be fine!” as if eating were optional? Of course not! Eating is ongoing, because our bodies need to replace the energy used, which requires even more fuel while growing.
Recovery is the same way. It’s ongoing. Right out of treatment, you are still growing spiritually and emotionally. Instead of backing off on your recovery efforts, that’s the time to double-down on growth. It’s impossible to banish defective thoughts and addictive behaviors for a lifetime. You have to keep working the steps, acknowledging your spiritual defects, fighting resentments, making amends, and being of service to others.
- Know that Triggers Get Worse After Treatment, Not Better.
Early in treatment I would cry out wishing that the pain, withdrawals, and obsession would stop. Not having yet received any sort of spiritual awakening at that point, had someone offered me my drug-of-choice when I was triggered, I’m pretty sure I would have taken it. Fortunately, no one did. Without my drug of choice, I would cry or scream. Those were the only two options available.
When I got out, I could get any drug I wanted. And even though I had given my life and will over to God, I still had triggers. Do any of these things set you off?
- Relationship and financial stress
It’s important to know what triggers start your thinking and obsessing about using again. If you aren’t aware of what triggers you, it’s too easy to slip right back into your old patterns of thinking and behaving. And that’s when relapse happens.
What’s in the “real” world? Times of stress, insomnia, boredom, and pain. And so is your drug-of-choice. Remind yourself about what your life was really like when you were using.
Knowing my triggers and recalling how low I went at my bottom enabled me to work the plan I set up before I left treatment. The difference after treatment is that I had options besides using, crying, or screaming. I had a loving community who had walked a mile in my shoes and were there for me even in my hardest moments.
- Plan Your Life Around Recovery, Not Addiction.
I knew a guy who gained 50 pounds after he quit smoking. He replaced cigarettes with Twinkies, cookies, and ice cream. He replaced one bad thing for another. Before I ever left treatment, I developed a plan not to stay defined by my addiction. I knew that to succeed in active recovery, I needed to find some positive habits that had served me well in the past. Here are some tips:
- Talk through your triggers. When I was active in my addiction, I wouldn’t talk to anyone. When I had a trigger, I found drugs. In recovery, I learned that I could label and voice my emotional state without letting my emotions control my actions. Instead of using because of pain, I learned to say, “I’m in pain right now, and it makes me feel weak.” By labeling my feelings, I could detach from them and realize that pain and negative emotion would soon pass. In fact, they pass more quickly when we voice them.
Learn to talk through your triggers so they stop owning you.
- Find your winning team. In football, I loved the locker room. Inside that smelly room, we bonded as brothers in a united cause. In treatment, I had counselors, new friends, and a sponsor sharing great times with me as well as rocky ones. Back in the real world, I surrounded myself with “winners” who wanted the best for me. I stayed in their company as I learned from them and let their strength eventually become my strength.
Surround yourself with those who are stronger than you.
- Use your “But” to challenge defeating thoughts. As a rookie, I went nose-to-nose against a celebrated Pro Bowler. I’ll share more details in my book, but let’s just say that after our first encounter on the field, my helmet hung half off my head, my pads were twisted, and I heard bells for the rest of the day!
Do you know what I told myself as I stood up to him again? “There is no way that I can stand up against this guy. He’s an animal!” However, I didn’t stop with that negative thought. I continued with, “But this guy is an experienced Pro Bowler. He’s what I hope to become. And after a little more experience, I’ll be ready for him.”
Don’t let past failures beat you up. As soon as you let negative self-talk into your head without challenging it with a “but,” you’ve already let negativity start to take you down.
Don’t let a negative thought enter your head without fighting back with your “but.”
I’m proud to work for Transformations Treatment Center, because they provide an incredible start to lasting recovery. But the hardest work begins the moment you walk out the door. Transformations will help you develop a strong action plan for returning to your life once you leave their doors, but your ongoing success depends on you.
If you find yourself struggling today, reach out and let me help you. 888-384-1533