Overcoming Addiction – How to Heal Despite Relapse
Three months ago I thought I was over this. I was, it turns out, way too confident, arrogant about in fact. Then I had a fall back, a bad one.
I got caught, my marriage was severely strained.
I am now clean, but nowhere as stupidly confident as before.
I realize I am and always will be an addict, but I will be a recovering addict. To all: overconfidence can do a lot of harm. We must be humble when facing our addiction. No place for cockiness when remission comes.’
We really appreciate the honesty of the statement above, there’s a lot of truth to it. We frequently see addicts start thinking,
‘Oh yeah. I got this, I’m done. I can push the edge. I can just use a little bit and I’ll be fine. I can go closer to that cliff.’
When in actuality, that’s when we get in trouble. As you notice in the statement above reinforces that,
“I thought I was over this … confident … arrogant …”
It’s important to understand the importance of putting relapse in perspective, number one, and number two understanding that it’s possible to be overconfident about your ability to overcome something.
I certainly don’t want to take away from the ability that we have to master or heal something. We do have the ability to master something over the course of our lives.
Process of Mastery
I believe that everything we do is a lifelong process of mastery, whether it’s inside the world of addiction recovery or not.
A couple of quick analogies
- I’m a musician, I play the piano. One of my passions in life is to play music. I immediately think of playing the piano when I think of mastering something.
I feel like I’m pretty skilled on the piano at this time in my life, since I’ve been playing at a young child. At the same time, I know that there are others in the world who are better than me. They are much more skilled than me.
There are musical pieces that are written that I can’t play; that I would have to try really hard to be able to master. I see my development of playing the piano as a lifelong process to develop the talent, and in a similar way I think addiction recovery is a lifelong process. An addict did not become an addict overnight and neither will it disappear overnight.
. When I talk to clients about relapse, I definitely like to reinforce the idea that relapse brings with it a new opportunity. All’s not lost with relapse, we must move forward.
That’s the first analogy, the second analogy that I frequently refer to with clients, is the idea of someone climbing a mountain.
Steps toward recovery
We use safety ropes when we’re climbing. The reason for the safety ropes is the hope that if we fall, the rope will catch us so that we don’t fall dangerously far and injure ourselves or worse.
The same is true in terms of addiction recovery; we put safety measures in place, we put strategies in place, and steps toward recovery to try to help us move forward but sometimes we’ll still slip and fall.
In fact, I would say that relapse is generally expected as a part of recovery; very few times can an individual move forward in the addiction recovery process and never slip.
On the other hand, there’s a fine line between being confident or being overly confident, as was mentioned in the statement above. I would agree that it is possible to be overconfident, but the reason why that’s possible is because it’s human nature to become complacent.
It’s part of human nature to say,
‘You know all is well.’
As a result of all being well, you let your guard down a little bit
I’m going to be okay’, and ‘Hey, it’s great! Eat, drink, and be merry!’
and that kind of a thing. Once we do that, it increases the possibility to have a relapse or an issue.
Keep in mind that the brain is very powerful. As we talk about the two parts of the brain with addiction recovery, we talk about one particular area of the brain, the limbic part of the brain. It houses the instincts, the emotions, and the memories, and is processed in this area of the brain. The limbic system is so incredibly powerful. It’s extremely powerful.
The urge to survive.
Survival originates in this part of the brain, if we have a survival instinct and it’s so naturally powerful, it’s also going to have a powerful instinct to turn to something that is rewarding, like acting out in an addiction that has a temporary reward associated with it.
Being overly confident can happen, because we can say to ourselves, ‘
Hey we’ve overcome this instinct, this limbic part of our brain. We’ve mastered it.’
Often times that can cause the limbic system to defend itself and go into defense mode, much like a lion being threatened.
The limbic goes into … I’m going to look out for me, do what’s best for me’, and will recall things that have been used in the past when bored, lonely, angry, stressed or tired to help with survival.
The problem is, the limbic does not need some of the things we have trained it to use, for example, porn, drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, etc… If we let down our guard, even a little bit, there’s for a slip.
Ultimately everyone of us has the ability to master things over our lives. I think it’s very important to keep that in mind.