Sanctuary for the Abused
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Relapses & Slips
Remembering and Forgetting
Relapse is typically defined as giving up on sobriety and returning to addictive use of alcohol, other drugs, food, sex or work. Or it is not taking care of ourselves in a way that leads to depression, anxiety and dependent relationships. The definition of a relapse varies with different addictions, but harmful consequences are sure to follow. At its deepest level, it is a sense of inner collapse, a loss of spirit, hope and faith.
Slips are when a person, in spite of a commitment to healing, uses or reverts to addictive behavior on a one time basis or for a short period of time.
Slips are not caused by external events
- they are caused by the permission-giving statements we make, but we put ourselves at high risk for a slip when we let ourselves get overwhelmed.
Slips can be related to getting overwhelmed due to death, loss, rejection, or other stressful events. Slips are also more likely when people fail to nurture themselves on a daily basis, isolate, or fail to ask for help with a crisis.
Sometimes the desire to use happens when a person begins to face childhood abuse issues and becomes overwhelmed by painful feelings. A slip can be used as a wake-up call, alerting you to pay closer attention to your process of healing and your feelings.
In therapy I tend to spend less time talking about the actual slip than talking about the preceding cues that suggested the person was shutting down emotionally, not taking care of daily tasks, not dealing with feelings, not being honest, or not avoiding overly stressful situations and relationships.
I also have the person examine the ways they started giving themselves permission to use: Just once won't hurt.
It is important to stress that a slip is not the same as a relapse, nor does it necessarily lead to relapse.
Many people grow and heal in spite of having slips along the way. On the other hand, some people who have never made a firm commitment to sobriety use slips as an excuse for continued use, saying, "It's just a slip."
A slip does not erase the days of sobriety that preceded it. You can never take away a sober day. Some people think they have to start counting the days and months of sobriety all over if they relapse or have a slip. I think it is important to say the whole truth: "I stayed sober for two years, then I had a slip, and I've been sober for four years since then." It all counts.
In my experience it is important to take sobriety very seriously. Once you have erected the wall between you and your addictive substance or behavior, your survival brain starts learning other coping mechanisms to create pleasure and cope with stress. When you have a slip, your brain once again gets the message that drugs, sex, violence, etc. are ways to alleviate pain. Once the barrier is down, it takes time to erect it again. It's like building trust in yourself again. One woman said that in her treatment program, which stressed sobriety very strongly, few people had slips and nearly everyone maintained sobriety. In another program which was loose about slips, more people had slips and relapsed back into their addiction.
It's a fine line because you can get so obsessed with sobriety you get frozen in your life, on the other hand if you continually allow yourself slips, you are also frozen in your life. Essentially, it's good to do all you can to avoid slips and relapse. And if you do slip, it's important to have a positive attitude, get back on track and keep going.
In defining sobriety it is important not to get caught up extensively with clock time and calendar time. It is important to look at quality as well as quantity of sober time, although all sobriety is good. If a person stays sober for eight years but is still being violent and abusive, what does that mean in terms of human life? If a person is growing and healing and has a slip, what has that small slip erased? If a person abstains from drugs but is eating compulsively and is depressed, what does sobriety mean for that person? The point is for the whole person to be growing, stretching and healing ... as well as maintaining sobriety.
David Bruce Jr