For the millions of Americans who are living with an addiction, learning how to cope with the stress and pressure of getting sober can be overwhelming. Relapses are common, and they can bring a weight of guilt with them, which can in turn lead to more substance abuse. It’s a very difficult cycle to break, but it’s important to figure out the best ways to get healthy in every way–mind, body, and soul–so that you can get back on track without sacrificing everything you’ve worked so hard for.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help things fall into place after a relapse. From opening up communication with your family members to practicing meditation and learning how to relax, taking care of yourself is the first priority. Whether that means ridding yourself of guilt and shame or simply learning how to cope with stress, finding out what works for you will help you break the cycle for good.
Keep reading for some great tips on how to feel better and get healthy after a relapse.
Ask for help
It can be very challenging and humbling to ask for help, especially if you’ve already done it once before, but suffering a relapse is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to many individuals who have made a commitment to turn their lives around, and it’s not an indication of failure. The key is to recognize the issue and ask for help as soon as possible so that you may begin rebuilding. Find a counselor, therapist, or group session you can join, or talk to your sponsor or a close family member or friend.
Stress is a major contributing factor to many relapses, so it’s imperative to learn how to cope with those feelings and reduce them. This might mean learning how to say no, finding a way to reduce your task load at work, or working on family issues.
Think about the things that bring you the most stress and how you can effectively make your life easier. In the meantime, you can practice meditation and/or yoga to help break down those feelings. This has long been a benefit for those who are struggling with stress and anxiety. Make sure you have a quiet space to relax in that is free of distractions. You can find out more about creating a meditation space here.
The way you handle your relapse is extremely important. If you feel guilt or shame, it will be nearly impossible for you to move on and make healthy choices, so it’s important to learn how to handle those emotions and how to forgive yourself. This may require the help of a therapist, or you might talk to your friends and family about your struggle. Sometimes, simply being open and honest about what we’re going through is the best way to move on.
Adjust your strategy
It?s always possible to make changes to the way you approach your sobriety, and it’s important to do so if you feel it isn’t working. You might take a look at the people you spend the most time with. Are they supportive? Are there people in your life who abuse drugs or alcohol when you’re around? It can be difficult to make major changes, especially when it comes to your relationships, but it’s critical to make your own health a priority.
Coping with addiction relapse is never easy, and it often takes time to get to the place you want to be in. Try to be patient with yourself during this time, and think hard about the way any changes you make to your lifestyle will affect you down the road. With a good plan, you can get your life back on track.
Constance Ray started Recoverywell.org with the goal of creating a safe place for people to share how addiction has affected them, whether they are combating it themselves or watching someone they care about work to overcome it. The goal is to share stories of hope from survivors who know that the fight against addiction is one worth having, because no matter how it affects you, life can get better.
Living With the Past and Freedom From It?
Our past is host to many memories and stories. Past moments of our lives can bring about a plethora of thoughts and feelings. Some of my most favorite memories are of the many adventures my wife and I have done together. Although I’m grateful that I have a lot of fond memories from my past, I have other memories that are difficult to look at. These memories serve as reminders of my bad choices, disappointment, my sin, and failure. I’m sure that if you’re reading this, there’s a chance that you too have struggled with past moments and situations in your life.
People put on a front and cover up those less than pleasing things when interacting with others. I see these personas when I am at church or out eating and in front of others. We put on our best clothes and our biggest smiles acting like we have it all together. Sometimes we overcompensate by being overly joyful or talking too much. Most people can see right through it, yet we continue the charade of keeping the mask on that tells the world that everything is ok in our life.
I see it when I meet with clients. But a few sessions in, that’s when the mask starts to drop and they begin to reveal that on the inside, they don’t have it all together. Most of their feelings of insecurity, sadness, guilt or shame were rooted in the past. Past behavior, past hurts, and pain. They struggle to live in the present because they are stuck, living in the history of their life. It could be about anything. Perhaps they were fired from a job for making a mistake. Maybe they hid a family secret or even a secret of their own like an addiction or bad relationship.
I recall when I was in college; I attended a support group called Adult Children of Alcoholics. There were people in attendance that were 60 years or older. For the first time in their life, they were dealing with things that impacted them from 30-40 years before. Some of them had been carrying their past on their backs like a heavy bag of boulders that represented their most painful and difficult memories. They became prisoners of those things that preceded their present. There was no freedom to live in the here and now and look forward to the future as long as they were shackled to their heavy load. I had my own heavy bag of memories but when I observed the struggle those people went through, I knew I had to let go of that heavy bag before it became heavier or buried me under the weight. The chains had to drop and I had to find my freedom.
The question then becomes how? How do we let it go? Sometimes we don’t even know what bothers us. Often, the answer is buried under years of repressing and concealment. All we know is that something is causing us pain or emotional insanity. We get to the point of being sick and tired of what we are going through. That might lead us in seeking out extra help like a counselor or a support group. Counseling often stirs things up and one of the consequences of that is that we may feel pain. That’s difficult for most of us. We don’t like to feel pain.
However, it is through the pain that we begin to find a way out. Finding that freedom from our past comes from 2 essential building blocks: Acceptance and forgiveness. We’ll tackle these one at a time.
One the biggest stumbling blocks to moving forward are denial. We deny the reality to what occurred. We make excuses or we self-medicate to avoid acknowledging the truth. Once we can find acceptance, then there is a measure of peace that gives us strength in saying, this happened. Or I did this. There can be no moving forward without this. I have worked with clients that struggled with addiction, PTSD, and were perpetrators to abuse or were victims of someone else’s violence. The first step to their healing began with bravely confronting the past and saying, I will face this, no matter what! What things in your past do you need courage to face?
Michael J. Fox is best known for his role as Alex Keaton on the 80s sitcom Family Ties and the Back to The Future trilogy however in his personal life, he has battled with Parkinson’s disease. He was diagnosed in 1991 and he had to face that his life would never be the same. He had this great thought on acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. For many of us, after acceptance, the way through to finding freedom from the past points to forgiveness.
There are two kinds of forgiveness: Self-forgiveness and forgiving others. In acceptance, we face reality and what happened. In self-forgiveness, we own the responsibility of what the flaw or mistake was that we committed. I was fired from my first counseling job because I made a mistake. After about 6 weeks of struggling with guilt, self-condemnation and the shame over my actions, I was at my lowest. I had to be broken. In my brokenness, I found some scripture that allowed to me work through that difficult time. They gave me hope for the future. God wasn’t done with me. Perhaps they can help you.
Jeremiah 8:4: Jeremiah, say this to the people of Judah: This is what the Lord says: You know if a man falls down, he gets up again. And if a man goes the wrong way, he turns around and comes back.
Philippians 3:13-14: Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead, I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Self-forgiveness and accepting Gods forgiveness didn’t take away the action or the consequence. But it allowed me to live with what happened. Now when I look back, it is merely an event in my life. I no longer have feelings of guilt and failure. I’ve learned and moved on from it. It no longer holds me as a prisoner.
Johnny Cash once said this about our failures of the past: You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.
We have talked about self-forgiveness but what about forgiving others. When someone has wronged us, forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things we do. For some, it seems impossible and creates a paralysis in even thinking about it and for others; they have tasted a freedom and release of bitterness and hate.
Carolyn Holderread Heggen wrote the book Sexual Abuse: in Christian Homes and Churches. While the book focuses on abuse in the church and home, you can apply her words to your own journey of forgiving others. She writes that offering the offenders forgiveness is not forgetting and it’s not about letting them off the hook. She said that while extending forgiveness is a profoundly spiritual act and can bring spiritual growth, it is not a way of avoiding the pain. It is not done quickly or flippantly to avoid the terror of woundedness.”
So if you’re struggling to come to the point of forgiveness, there is no timetable when such a thing should occur. Talking to a counselor can help to begin this. The author notes that forgiveness “is a process that allows the victim to let go of the intense emotional pain associated with the abuse/offense and replace it with inner resolution and peace.” She indicates that sometimes the abuser may not be repentant and then forgiveness becomes the process of letting go of the pain and bitterness to God’s care.
We must choose forgiveness–either live with it as it begins to burn bitterness and resentment onto our heart or be willing to give our burden over to a higher power. That requires actively exercising our faith by asking God to help us to work through that struggle to forgive. Al-Anon has a saying, “Let go and let God.” When we let go of this burden and place it into Gods care, the transformation begins and like spring bringing new life to the land, so too does God brings us a new life and peace to our heart.
If you are struggling to find freedom and relief from where you are currently at in life or from your past, I can help. Perhaps you are struggling to forgive or maybe you have been in denial on certain things. Contact Armstrong Family Counseling and let us help you begin the road to recovery and independence.
Saying the mind and body are connected is nothing new. The Ancient Greeks attempted to understand the mental phenomena of emotions and their complex connections to physiological order. That fascination continued through the Roman era, the Renaissance, and on throughout history — and that’s just Western European culture. Physicians and philosophers all over the globe have explored the mind and body connection since the beginning of time and even recent science backs up the claim that they are intrinsically connected.
If you are not taking care of your physical self, your mental health is likely not where you want it to be. For instance, one of the main symptoms of depression is poor personal hygiene. Addicts are another good illustration of this problem. Addicts turn to self-harm in the form of drug or alcohol abuse as a way to cope with their own mental health issues. While environmental and genetic components also contribute to the disease, the mind/body link plays its part.
Taking the time to take care of the physical self can have a helpful impact on your mental health and addiction recovery. In addition to seeking help and supervision through a physician, try incorporating the following self-care rituals into your routine.
Establish a Solid Sleep Routine
Sleep is awesome, so why do so many of us get so little of it? According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million American adults have some sort of sleep disorder, insomnia being the most common one. Sleep problems are common in addicts, as well. Drug and alcohol abuse disrupt the body’s natural rhythm along with the neurochemicals and hormones that help control rest. After a while, the body forgets how to rest properly.
Thankfully, you can retrain your body by establishing a sleep routine and following it religiously. It’s not just about going to sleep and waking up at the same times every day — although those two things are key. Practicing good sleep hygiene has a lot to do with how you spend the hours before bedtime.
- Limit stimulants including nicotine and caffeine.
- Invest in some soothing herbal teas you can drink leading up to bedtime to help brain and body relax.
- The glow of your television, computer and smartphone screens keep the brain alert. Turn them off and put them away an hour before bed.
- Turn your bedroom into a sanctum of rest. Buy yourself nice linens, keep the room temperature cool, and use a white noise machine or essential oils to create ambience.
- Read a chapter of a book before you fall asleep to help your mind wind down. If you are still not sleepy, read another chapter until you are.
You may think exercise is just something you have to do if you want to lose weight, but it’s essential to the addiction recovery process. Drugs and alcohol trick your body to think it needs them by triggering the brain’s reward system. When you give up those substances, you can help beat cravings with exercise. Physical activity also stimulates that part of the brain while also releasing neurochemicals like dopamine and endorphins, which relieve pain and promote a positive mindset. You don’t have to train for a marathon to get these benefits, either. Just walking an extra half hour a day provides significant benefits.
Explore Healthy Stress Release
Finding some way to release stress and anxiety in a healthy manner is essential for addiction recovery. Meditation, yoga and hobbies like knitting help people tune out those thoughts and criticisms without having to use drugs or alcohol. Think of them like exercise for your brain. During these mindful exercises, you will experience negative thoughts. However, by recognizing those thoughts, dismissing them and returning your attention to your activity, you are training your brain to dismiss them on its own. The more you practice, the easier it becomes and your brain learns to automatically pass over self-criticisms in your day-to-day life so you can stay focused.
Since the mind and body are connected, your physical health has a significant impact on your mental health and vice-versa. When you struggle with a mental health issue like addiction, incorporating a solid sleep routine, exercise, and healthy coping mechanisms for stress all contribute to recovery. Incorporate daily physical self-care routines in your efforts to heal yourself holistically.