Since early childhood, we’ve been taught how to handle certain emergencies. “Stop, drop, and roll” is the classic example. Every kid over the age of six knows this saying. But have you ever seen someone catch on fire? Maybe you have, but most of us have not. We have, however, seen people relapse. In fact, most addicts have quit and relapsed multiple times. Much like “Stop, drop, and roll,” the key to a relapse emergency is having a relapse prevention plan firmly in place before you relapse. Equally important is telling the people closest to you about the plan.
There are three states of relapse. In other words, there are three situations in which you will need an emergency plan:
Actively planning a relapse
1. Actively Planning a Relapse
Relapse is both an event and a frame of mind. At its most simple level, relapse is using your drug again. It can be a single use, days of use, or a continuous period of use. All of these situations can be considered relapse.
On a deeper level, relapse is also a frame of mind. Alcoholics Anonymous would refer to this as a “dry drunk”:
Dry – because there hasn’t been any drinking yet.
Drunk – because the relapse will happen soon enough.
The person’s frame of mind is already leading them down that road. Essentially, your mind is acting as if you have already relapsed.
We call this “Actively Planning a Relapse.”
2. Early Relapse
Early relapse is after you have used addictive substances again. Interestingly, it doesn’t have to be your drug of choice. Commonly, it could be something that you perceive as “less serious.” For an opiate addict, this could mean starting to drink alcohol or smoking marijuana. Regardless, early relapse is starting to actively use again. At this point, your use is probably secret. Your spouse and co-workers have not yet realized that you’ve slipped. They may have noticed some minor changes in your mood, but they’ll blame this on normal stress. You don’t want to believe that this could happen again, and they don’t either. Not wanting to believe you would relapse, they may deny the subtle clues for a while.
At this point, you won’t be thinking clearly either. You’ll be confused. You’ll have ups and downs. You’ll struggle with feelings of shame, fear, and worthlessness.
During early relapse, you will have a big decision to make: You can choose to activate your relapse prevention plan and stop the relapse immediately, or you can return to active use.
3. Late Relapse
Late relapse occurs as the negative consequences start to pile up. You’re experiencing problems at home and work; sobriety is a distant memory; and you no longer believe you’re capable of staying clean and sober. Depression is common. Maybe you tried to quit, but the withdrawal symptoms got in your way. Continuing to use seems like a much easier option than staying sober… especially when you think about how hard it was to get clean. Essentially, you’re back to where you started.
So, those are the three emergencies: 1. Planning a relapse, 2. Early relapse, and 3. late relapse. If you find yourself in any of these states, you’re in trouble. The key to getting out of trouble is to have a plan.
An Emergency Relapse Prevention Plan
Whether you are a little bit on fire or a lot on fire, the emergency plan is the same: “Stop, drop, and roll.” The same is true with relapse. The emergency plan is identical regardless of whether you find yourself early or late in relapse.
The emergency plan is very simple:
Find a sponsor
Call your sponsor
The concept of a sponsor originated in Alcoholics Anonymous. In this system, a sponsor is someone who has at least two years of sobriety and has agreed to help you maintain your sobriety and learn about the 12 step process. A man must choose a male sponsor. A female must choose a female sponsor. Other 12 step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous have similar sponsor plans.
For our purposes, we’re going to define a sponsor as the following:
Is not a family member
Is not the opposite sex
Knows fully about your addiction
Is committed to providing time and honest feedback
Is committed to learning about addiction
Clearly, there are advantages to using a 12 step sponsor who has learned through his or her own experience how to mentor another addict. 12 step sponsors are quite skilled in detecting phoniness and knowing how to push you in the right direction. Ideally, you won’t have to worry about co-dependency, and their feedback will generally be on-target and appropriate.
With that said, some ministers can also fulfill this role. You may even have a friend or mentor who has conquered addiction without a 12 step process. We won’t discourage you from exploring your options and making a wise decision about your sponsor. But here are some people we do NOT believe would be good sponsors:
Someone you have used with (whether or not they are clean now)
Your old boyfriend or girlfriend
Your parent or grandparent
A good sponsor is someone who is willing to be 100% honest to you without fear of losing your friendship or contact. Hopefully, a sponsor is someone who you will be able to confide in during periods of sobriety and relapse.
So, the first part of your emergency relapse plan is to find a sponsor.
The second part of your emergency relapse plan is to call that sponsor.
The following is very important: to have a good emergency plan you must have a sponsor that knows you. This requires calling them and meeting with them on a regular basis. Yes, this can be inconvenient and embarrassing, but it’s the only way it will work. If you had cancer, you would see a doctor regularly. If you accept that you have a potentially fatal illness, you should be willing to invest time in your relationship with your sponsor.
Don’t hesitate to seek out a sponsor and strengthen your fortifications against a potential relapse. In the words of the popular songwriter, Bill Withers, “We all need somebody to lean on.”
To lean on a member of the Stepworks team, call 1-888-982-1244. If you are interested in beginning your recovery journey, we would love to schedule your admission to our successful recovery program.