Knowing and avoiding relapse triggers is essential for folks in recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.
We addicts are accustomed to making things better right away. In our addictions, relief of our discomfort was only as far away as the next pill, the next drink, the next trip to see the guy down on the corner, the next shopping trip, the next snack, the next sexual encounter. You get the idea.
So it’s not surprising that we tend to think of recovery that way. We think we’re detoxed when we aren’t; we think it takes too long for our bodies and minds to repair themselves after we stop using; we think we don’t need treatment, or AA, or other support. We think we’re recovered, when we’re going to be recovering for a long time yet. In short, we look for the quick fix, the quick answer, and we misjudge our ability to deal with issues in early recovery. We make these mistakes because we are accustomed to living our lives in the short term, to making snap decisions, and to doing things without thinking them through, all in the service of immediate gratification, because we want what we want when we want it –NOW!
Far too often, after having demonstrated for years that we have no idea what’s in our best interest, we decide after a few days or weeks clean that we know what’s best in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. We’re used to that quick fix that the drugs and booze used to give us, and we have no concept of the truth that “time takes time.” We think that our brains and bodies ought to straighten up and fly right, just because we want them to. We think that the damage and changes wrought by months and years of drinking and drugging should go away immediately — just because we’ve stopped using.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of alcoholics and other addicts who decide that it’s time to go home and make up for all the time we’ve lost. We want to jump back into our lives, re-establish our relationships with spouse, kids, family, employers, friends (and often our old buddies with whom we used), and set the world right again.
All this, when we have no idea of how to have a healthy relationship with ourselves.
The experiences of thousands of recovering people, along with many decades of observation by professionals, indicate that this is rarely the sensible thing to do. Recent scientific studies have shown that even a photograph of a person buying drugs, having a drink, shooting up — even a photo of a liquor store or an ad for beer — can be relapse triggers that stimulate responses in the portion of the brain that controls cravings. We can’t control that part of the brain by thinking. It’s part of the sub-cortical brain, inaccessible by conscious thought, and we can’t think our way out of those feelings. All we can do is fight, and often the feelings and cravings win.
It’s better to avoid the battle. We’re not “strong.” Strength comes with recovery, not when we want it.
Of course, as addicts we’re sure we have things under control, that we know what we did wrong, and that we know The Way Things Ought To Be. So we go back home, where we learned and perfected our skills at addiction, and where we are sure to run across the old relapse triggers — People, Places and Things — long before we’re ready emotionally, physically or spiritually.
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