By Haley Kennedy, Lead Recovery Coach – 10.23.2020 —
For some, the word “relapse” sounds awful, and it couldn’t possibly lead to anything good, right? But I’ll tell you, my process of coming in and out of recovery has taught me a very important skill that is needed to sustain my recovery… Self-awareness.
Completing treatment for substance use disorder is an enormous accomplishment. But in my experience, the real work started when I walked out the door. It was then, that I learned I would need to make a commitment to my recovery every single day. And in order to do so, I would have to foster my sense of self-awareness in order to cope when I encountered cravings for my drug of choice, an opportunity for escape, or at times, a desire to just not feel any feelings. I started to look retrospectively at my history and what events, people, situations, or feelings triggered me to use. Because I could have fooled myself into believing that “I was different, and it wasn’t going to happen to me” but reality is that triggers and cravings are very real parts of recovery.
Everyone is different, so it is important not to just head others advice but to engage in an internal exploration to identify your triggers. I would say there might be some common ones: walking by a bar or package store, getting paid, getting into an argument, being bored, the end of a difficult workday or week, seeing someone that is under the influence. I learned that the desire to celebrate was an important one for me as well.
Once I named my obvious triggers, I started to develop plans for when I felt myself being triggered. And in my own best interest, I kept an open mind knowing that other things may come up in the future that surprise me. But I continued to apply my relapse prevention strategies, so that if or when those novel triggers occurred, I would have an exercised defense.
There was another piece to this, that I was taught in treatment, that I didn’t fully understand until it applied to my real life. H.A.L.T.: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. I can handle triggers better when I am taking care of myself. My eating and sleeping habits directly affect my emotional state. And it is much easier for me to gauge my emotions and identify a trigger when I can eliminate those two factors right off the bat. Or I can take the proper action, rather than react to how something makes me feel. Like if I am hungry, I will eat, or nap if I am tired. Acting, rather than reacting to how a trigger is affecting me emotionally helps me regain control.
And the longer I am in recovery, the more important this last piece becomes. If I am aware of one of my triggers, then I shouldn’t knowingly subject myself to the situation to test if my recovery is as strong as I believe it to be. There’s another saying for this one… “If you go to the barbershop enough times, you’re going to get a haircut.” It’s important that I remain humble and recognize that I am not more powerful than the disease of addiction; one wrong move and I could find myself in a very vulnerable position. I have worked hard to get where I am, and I can’t forget that. My ability to use my mistakes as an opportunity to grow my self-awareness help me continue that hard work each and every day.