How Positive Change Can Trigger Relapse


What makes your knees weak? What causes your stomach to tighten? What touches you deep within? What makes you feel so safe that you crawl inside yourself in fear of the feeling?

It is rational to think that painful or even traumatic events can lead us to resort to destructive coping strategies. However, the opposite also applies to recovering addicts, who are doing exceptionally well. When our life as a sober person improves consistently, we can humbly appreciate our accomplishment, but never truly rest…Until that one event takes place, which tilts the balance of ultimate contentment. We let someone or something in so deep at that point of healing, we feel whole again. Relapse at this stage is a lose-lose situation. If they back off, then the addict is most likely suffer worse or even give up on recovery. If they come clean, then the wrong person is being punished for doing the right thing. They do not deserve that, if the addict can get clean immediately after the slip-up. However, in deal circumstances, communication and understanding are vital. If the slip-up turns into a secret binge, it must end there…before DT [delerium tremens] or other withdrawal symptoms become an issue again.

At one month clean, I had the best fucking weekend of my life…I was touched so intensely by another person that the thought of drowning the feeling was “safer” compared to the alternative of allowing myself to truly let someone in. In other words, positive change triggers relapse, because we crawl inside ourselves to avoid the pain, we are anticipating. Pain, which might or might not happen.

In a dualistic universe, pleasure always proceeds pain. The up and downs of living become normal, so we cope with them instead of aiming to overcome their cyclical influence. Put differently, we become used to the extreme ends of feeling. This is dangerous for any regular person, but with an addict, it can be deadly. The effect a particular substance can have on the brain differ from drug to drug. However, they typically all interfere with the normal functioning of the hypothalamic pituitary axis [HPA]. That means the recovery process will invoke emotions designed to be powerfully cathartic. Ideally, meant to resolve the underlying issue that led to the self-destructive behaviour. If it’s the surfacing pain of a traumatic event or several, we need to process it. Whatever the issue, we must heal, overcome and adapt. Nothing else will permanently make our way of coping go away.

For what it is worth, I do not believe I physiological addiction as such. All forms of addictive behaviour originate in the mind. In my and other cases, they are a result of lacking the necessary self-discipline to maintain a normal lifestyle. Like many functioning users, we give in to cope but destroy ourselves by doing so. I’ve never been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, not for lack of trying. I’ve never had help getting clean, not for lack of asking. Few know, while even fewer pretend to care, but none would go very far to clean me up themselves. Emptying a bucket into the toilet, when I could barely stand was about the maximum effort. These would be the moments, when my body was rejecting that which it’d become so accustomed to. At any other point, I would self-medicate at infrequent intervals in order to avoid ‘bothering’ anyone with what should be a priority for the commonly decent. In fact, I would regularly support the habits of others, just for a place to DT privately…in proximity of sober-enough people to call an ambulance, if an actual emergency arose… It became normal to care as little about myself as others did, but this wasn’t a sudden occurrence. It was a fucking gradual process that took place over decades. With every setback, it became more important to function effectively. With every soul-deadening compromise, there was never any time to pause afterward. Then, trapped in an environment, I couldn’t escape, I was offered temporary salvation. After working with two fucked discs for a couple of years in constant agony, I had begged my family to help, but they refused to take me in…I had nobody to turn to and nowhere to go, but from that first real stupor, I no longer cared. As though, the worsening state of affairs could not affect me anymore. When the situation eventually changed, my new identity had invaded every aspect of my being. By the time, I was able to seek medical treatment and get clean, I had become someone, I didn’t wish to recognise. No guilt. No shame. No self-loathing. Just nothing at all. I was free from everything but enslaved.

If I have learnt anything,

It is that everything comes at a price.

Before a relapse, we must always ask ourselves is it worth the risk? In truth, perhaps, it can be. Raised in a society, in which we calculate the value of a person by their latest achievement, what do we expect? We begin to treat our lives as disposable instead of a never-ending wonder to be cherished. Sure, we function, but at the cost of drowning our potential. What we are attempting to get away from is just as present, when we are using, as when we are not. The only difference is our level of awareness. If we are willing to care for ourselves to the extent that we do for what functioning brings us…then, we must learn to say “No”, when doing something that will trigger a relapse, but never use it as an excuse not to step up to the task at hand. We must never let our addictive tendencies become a means to close ourselves off from people or experiences, which may transform the way, we perceive the world.