“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way,
ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
– Deepak Chopra
Relapse, and the fear of relapse, is one of the most challenging parts of recovery to face.
Whether you’ve stopped drug or alcohol abuse, smoking, disordered eating, or another addictive behaviour, the anxiety around starting up again can be difficult to face. The stress around wanting to stay clean can sometimes become so intense, it drives you back to your old thoughts and habits that triggered the addiction in the first place.
During treatment, especially if the treatment takes place in a safe environment away from the triggers and temptations of home, you’re surrounded by supportive caregivers who offer positive reinforcement, a toolbox of healthy coping mechanisms, exercise, healthy meals, rest, and appropriate therapy to help address the root cause of your addiction. At the end of the recovery, you’re left with a renewed relationship with yourself (and perhaps with others), as well as a new perspective and plan to establish new healthy patterns in their lives.
However, once you’re back in your home environment, it’s important to consistently continue practicing what you’ve learned so far in recovery to prevent relapsing.
It ‘s necessary to nurture the new lifestyle routines in order to give them a chance to become fully ingrained habits. If you feel stressed or anxious in the early stages of your recovery, remember: the first few months are the most difficult- and these feelings will pass.
Along with a positive approach to living a new life, the support and love of family and good friends are keys to success. Many recovery centers also have a continuing care program, which can help you feel connected and supported after treatment.
In some ways, long term recovery is like getting over a bad cold. When you have a cold, you rest, keep warm, drink lots of fluids, and eat foods to nourish and support your immune system. As the cold begins to subside (but still lingers with a runny nose and hint of a cough), you return cautiously to work and family life, as you continue to get plenty of rest and nourishment. You avoid late nights, people who might re-infect you, and other triggers for wearing down your immune system (like eating sugar). When social events pop up, you tell family and friends you’re taking it easy for a while.
Similarly, to recover from addictive behaviours, you must recover in an environment that supports your physical and mental health. When you return home to your previous environment, you must continue nourishing your mind and body. Give your body and your emotions a chance to develop and strengthen the new habits they learned during treatment. Tell your family and friends that you need their help and support. Avoid places that remind you of when you were using or that trigger the urge to use again.
Here are 9 strategies and practices you can turn to when you experience difficult emotion, cravings, and the other hardships that may come with recovery. We recommend incorporating at least 3 of these tips into your daily routine to help you stay on track and feel empowered in your recovery.
1. Express your feelings with someone who is very near to you and who you can trust.
2. Stay positive by believing that this is the healing path you’re meant to be on. There’s no quick fix that allows recovery to happen overnight: it’s a process that takes your consistent focus and dedication, and the rewards are worth it.
3. Having a sense of community is essential in recovery and for your overall well-being. Attend a twelve step meeting or any supportive group meeting on a weekly basis.
4. Exercise to refresh your mind and keep your body active – take a morning walk, play outside with your kids or the dog, take up swimming.
5. Eat a healthy diet that incorporates six tastes and seven colours – fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy snacks.
6. Practice daily meditation and yoga to integrate all the layers of your life – environmental, physical emotional, psychological and spiritual.
7. Keep busy. Get involved in hobbies, do some volunteer work, take some continuing education courses – either academic or something of interest that’s fun. This will all build your self-esteem.
8. Get sufficient rest to refresh your mind, think positive and manage stress. Sleep is very important to reduce stress levels and repair your body at the cellular level.
9. Connect with your health care practitioner on a regular basis for ongoing support.
Above all else, it’s important to remember that your health, sobriety and well-being come first before anything else to prevent relapsing. When you prioritize self care by nourishing your body with healthy food, getting adequate rest, spending time with positive people you love and feel supported by, and engage in healthy activities you enjoy, you will eventually discover that how well you feel in your new lifestyle is simply not worth going back to your addiction.