Reflections On Relapse
I’m thinking about rocks, among other important things. Rocks…God I love ’em.
I’m also thinking about relapse.
Rocks, compassion, and the idiocy of ever falling prey to the fear I’d be proclaimed an unlovable nerd in my teens if I cleaved to my conviction that cigarettes were disgusting–these and my love of certain men have been significant contributors to my understanding of addiction. Well, these and thinking about the general topic a lot. From different angles. For quite some time now. Because enough people I’ve treasured have struggled or do now struggle so much with addiction that I cannot help but want to help.
So today I’m thinking, how do I explain some basic ideas about it–about addiction–in a way that might be useful? So far what I am clear on is that I’m not going to be strict about editing, and I’m happy to explain more later. There is much to say and an idea like this is an introduction to but one crucial piece. I trust you will make whatever use of it you can, should you find it in any way useful.
Here’s the gist: It’s not what causes the urge to do it, it’s whether or not you choose to act on that urge.
The urge to what?
In this case use. In this case relapse.
It’s up to you whether you do it. If you can make a good decision about that on your own, that’s fine and well. If you want to turn it over to a higher power, or be part of a collaboration with your higher power, that is also totally fine. If you want to find a trusted adviser to walk alongside you, then by all means do whatever it takes. No matter how you arrive at the decision you do, it is up to you whether you act on your urges, regardless of their cause. Regardless of their cause.
In fact, this can be applied in just about every situation where your reaction to something might be best expressed only after you’ve given adequate thought to whether the overall results of your reaction will ultimately be in your best interest.
If you’re sober at the moment because you felt clear enough that getting sober was a good thing to do, it is up to you whether you protect your sobriety or not. And whether or not you are sober, don’t be fooled for a second that the emotional nature of life in any way restricts you to acting without thought or reflection. If you look at it, really, you’ll see there are very few situations in life that truly require us to act without thinking. Most people know what those are, even if only intuitively. They are few and far between.
Accept that you have a choice available to you, even if sometimes you wish this was not the case. Having the choice isn’t the problem; feeling rushed to decide typically is. Feeling unable to grieve the losses incurred in whatever choice you make is also sometimes terribly difficult. But others can help you manage it.
If you’re sober, and you’re ambivalent about how hard it is to stay sober, doesn’t it make more sense to continue protecting your sobriety while you wrestle with the ambivalence? Keep your wits about you. Follow the intuitions that brought you to sobriety in the first place.
Take time to give it enough thought. Not because you are the master of the universe and can control control control, but because it is up to you to be as protective of your life as possible; as much as you are able. Not as much (or as little) as you sometimes want to be able, but rather with as much ability as you really actually have. If you got sober then you are able to be sober, so don’t buy it when the dark voices tell you you just can’t do it. That is most often ambivalence, and/or fear. Ambivalence is different from ability, and fear does not always accurately reflect reality. You can be ambivalent and still make decisions to keep yourself safer, saner, sober and more stable. You don’t have to resolve the ambivalence or conquer all your fears before you take a basic stance of self-protection. This is true even if you’re buying time to stay sober a little longer, like, for the moment, or the day. Do it again the next day if you can. This is true even if it means getting help.
So if you’re sometimes ambivalent about your addiction, or about your sobriety (or whatever your recovery means to you)–and especially if you’re ambivalent about whether to indulge your desire to use at this particular moment in time–the most potent weapon you’ve got on your side is your ability to take a minute to think before you act, and feel out what really is in your overall best interest.
Doesn’t matter how long the minute lasts; doesn’t matter if it is executed by making a call or going to a meeting, reading this writing again or taking a walk. It only has to last long enough for you to know you are thinking, or that you can think. It only has to last long enough for you to discover that there still IS a mind available to mediate those stormy, provocative emotions…those emotions that feel like they’re causing you to want to use again, despite all your hard work to swim to the shores of sobriety. Even if you call someone and say nothing other than, “help me with this thinking,” you only have to think enough to give yourself a chance.
A chance to what? A chance to protect the peace of mind you’ve fought for by becoming sober. A chance to prioritize your own best interest as it stands in a bigger picture than just this very moment. A chance to own that this is your choice, and you don’t have to act without forethought. Even if you “turn it over,” as they say in AA, you’re giving yourself the chance to protect what you fought for when you won your sobriety. However you arrive there, what’s important is that you give yourself the chance to continue to protect your own stability and happiness. This is not about perfection; this is about giving yourself a chance, giving your life a chance.
I totally get that sometimes we feel we cannot figure out how to recognize our own best interest, or what our abilities might be to defend it, all by ourselves. That’s OK. Find someone you can trust (or ask someone you trust to help you find someone else you can trust), and get help in sorting through things. You’ll be able to work it out. Be patient. Be patient enough.
Do the best you can to realize that your life, and you as the one living it, are rare. Do the best you can to realize this makes you precious. If you question whether this level of self regard is warranted, then strive to be someone who is worth it. Attempt that goal with the intent to achieve it, no matter how long it might take. Seeking feedback and collaboration on the matter is entirely reasonable. As Jill Bolte Taylor said, “trying is everything.”
When you have hard decisions to make, then, return your attention as much as you can to this:
1.) Your life, and you as the one living it, are rare.
2.) This makes you precious. This makes your life precious.
3.) If you question whether you deserve this level of self regard, then strive to be someone who is worth it. Not by magic, but by working at it…by putting thought into it, by being honest about it. By getting help with it. By letting people love you. By looking before you leap. By being lovable because you’re loving. By being open to discovering the preciousness of your own life. This does not require knowing; it only requires an openness to discovery.
4.) Openness to discovery requires patience, and patience is also a matter of not acting in ways you know to be self destructive before you take a moment to think, or thinking about it because you are not sure. These are synergistic, openness to discovery and patience. One leads straight to the other. It doesn’t really matter in what order you enter into this particular feedback loop. The combination, by its very nature, is a robust and self-perpetuating cycle once it gets a bit of momentum. Just give yourself a chance to gain that momentum. If you’re not sure whether you have that momentum or not, yet, then in all likelihood you don’t have enough of it, so perhaps you should give yourself a little more time.
©Content copyright 2017. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved, for more information, see content page.