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Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

When we are new to recovery, we are often filled with a sense of excitement and optimism. We feel like if we can learn to abstain from our drug of choice, there’s nothing we can’t do. We can feel like we’re on top of the world, powerful and invincible. Being brand new to recovery, we often haven’t yet felt the pain of defeat and the disappointment of relapse. We haven’t experienced the heartbreak of disappointing ourselves and our loved ones. We haven’t felt what it was like to be faced with temptation and not been strong enough to overcome it. Once we’ve been in recovery longer, we see just how naïve we were, that we weren’t invincible but rather human and susceptible to making mistakes. We learn that the recovery process is an evolution, not a finite destination. Our sobriety is a lifelong commitment that requires mindfulness, dedication and patience. We have to be willing to see our mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning rather than as failures. Being new to recovery, we don’t necessarily have the foresight to know just how common relapse is and how easy it is to go back on our commitment to ourselves. All the self-destructive patterns we’ve developed over the course of our lives won’t magically transform themselves after a few weeks or months in treatment. Relapse is a reality for many of us, but with mindful planning on our parts, we can help ourselves stay strong and prevent ourselves from relapse. Creating a relapse prevention plan can eliminate some of the guesswork of the recovery process and can help us to be prepared ahead of time for the challenges that will inevitably arise.

Because many of us are optimistic when we’re new to recovery, sometimes we’re naïve enough to think that we don’t need to plan ahead. We assume incorrectly that our newfound abstinence means we’re infallible. We’re so determined to leave our past lives behind us and so excited to turn the new page in our stories that we don’t realize even the strongest among us can succumb to the pressures of sobriety. Just coming out of treatment we’ve only just begun our recovery work. Many of us haven’t gone inward or delved deep enough to get to the root of the issues causing our addiction. Once we’ve accrued more time in recovery, we see that our abstinence is just one part of our recovery and that mental and emotional healing have to be part of our work. Part of this work is having the humility to know that any of us can relapse. Being able to maintain sobriety is also about embracing our vulnerability so that we shed the pridefulness, shame and secrecy that keep us from reaching out for help. When we create a relapse prevention plan, we’re choosing to face ourselves head on rather than avoiding and denying the fact that relapse is a possibility. Many of us don’t want to think about relapse. We don’t want to think about anything negative for fear that it will sabotage our success. The truth is when we don’t think about it, it can creep up on us and derail our progress because we’re not prepared for it. The more we prepare ourselves, the more likely we are to prevent the pain and frustration that come with relapse.

Creating a relapse prevention plan requires that we go inward and be honest with ourselves. What are our needs? What are our weaknesses? What things are we most challenged by? What are our gifts and strengths that can help us in our recovery? Knowing ourselves on a deeper level helps us to be more prepared for the challenges that will inevitably arise in our recovery. For example, knowing that we need solitude allows us to prepare for the time after treatment, especially when we’re new to recovery, when loved ones might be most inclined to visit us, check on us to and make sure we’re okay. We’ll want to make sure we give ourselves enough time to be alone if the stress and stimulation of too much interaction with other people is triggering to us. If we get anxious easily and our addictions were our go-to coping mechanisms, we’ll want to make sure we have systems in place to tackle our anxiety. What kinds of stresses overwhelm us most? What relationships in our lives do we still have to heal? Knowing our strengths, our gifts and talents means we can include those things in our wellness program to help us prevent relapse. For example, if we have a natural gift for writing and we know that it helps us calm our anxiety and find solutions to our problems, we can nurture that gift and develop a regular writing practice as part of our recovery program. We can include a daily journaling practice as part of our relapse prevention.

Within our relapse prevention plan we’ll want to include who we will contact for support whenever we’re feeling triggered, depressed, stressed or tempted to give in to our addiction. For example, a sponsor, a recovery coach, or a fellow friend in recovery can be our point person whenever we need someone. Our prevention plan can include the daily and weekly routines we will implement to help keep ourselves on track. These might include regular exercise to help ourselves cope with depression and anxiety, a spiritual practice to boost our feelings of wellness and peace, and regular therapy and support group meetings to reinforce our progress. The more detailed and holistic we can make our prevention plans, the more we can help ourselves whenever an addictive urge or stressor hits us. Having go-to anxiety and mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises, meditation and visualizations can help us to move through addictive urges when they hit rather than acting on them.

Rather than assuming our problems have disappeared simply because we’ve been able to abstain for a short time, we can develop a deeper understanding of ourselves which will allow us to know what kinds of things we need to implement in order to help ourselves cope with the challenges of recovery.

Our treatment programs at Riverside Recovery include mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 today for more information on how we can support you.