Why would anyone relapse when life is good?
Addiction can be tricky. Most of us can understand why people who have previously struggled with addiction might relapse when things get tough. It seems to make some sort of logical sense–if there’s an external struggle going on, such as the loss of a loved one, a job, a particularly tough move, or even a pandemic, suddenly the willpower and energy needed to remain sober seems to be “redirected” towards those other things…and relapse happens. But when a relapse occurs when life is good, when things seem to be going well…that seems harder to swallow. So why would anyone relapse when life is good? Here are a few reasons that might be playing a role.
Easy come, easy go?
Sometimes people in the early stages of recovery might find it to be fairly easy for them. After all, there’s a lot of attention and momentum to this “healthy new you” you’re creating, and that certainly can make early sobriety a bit easier. But if it has been a mostly smooth path, you might quickly get amnesia about what led you to addiction recovery in the first place. This isn’t to say that recovery always has to be a road filled with potholes and mountains to climb, but simply that if you found it fairly straightforward in the beginning, it might seem to you that you can easily pick it back up again if you relapse. Think about your local gym. In January, it is likely full of people with the best intentions to get in shape…and by March, the crowds have thinned out.
-A possible solution
Just like your friends in the gym, real health takes place with lifestyle change, not just temporary spurts of action. If recovery has been fairly easy for you, that’s great news! Now make healthy living a part of your every day life, not just something you apply when you’re feeling frustrated, unhappy, anxious, or otherwise lacking in something you desire for yourself. Notice what has helped you get to this point: awareness of your mental and physical health, attention to your body’s needs for sleep, exercise, and nutrition, healthy ways to interact with stressors, plus anything else that helped you along your path. Make it such a habit that you don’t have to remember to apply it in the same way that you don’t have to think about tying your shoes.
For many, addiction causes an additional layer of stress, frustration, and obstacles that have to be dealt with. Especially in early recovery, once you remove those additional layers, “normal” life can seem pretty simple by comparison. We feel like we’ve got everything under control, and as such we can certainly handle just one drink now and then. After all, the emergencies that led us to recovery in the first place have been handled, and it’s “normal” to have a beer or glass of wine after work, right? Complacency allows us to think we’ve got it under control now, but this usually is the start of a new downward spiral.
-A possible solution
It’s a great thing to notice and give yourself credit for all your progress and hard work, and it’s useful to use that confidence to keep going. It can become dangerous when you get overconfident about your ability to handle more. Again, ensuring that you dedicate attention to the life you want to live and making it a part of your every day life rather than something you apply as needed are key to long term success. After all, you aren’t looking for a bandaid, you’re creating a healthy lifestyle!
Celebrate good times?
“I finally got 90 days sobriety…so I celebrated!” Whether it’s for a 90 day chip, a big promotion, an anniversary, or some other special occasion, we tend to have this idea that we can’t celebrate with a beer or a glass of wine, especially if that is how we used to celebrate life’s accomplishments in the past. Many recovery stories include stories of relapse due to celebrating, which seems illogical, but it is still quite common!
-A possible solution
Find a new way to celebrate! Schedule a fun day trip–either with family, friends, or solo–and celebrate your accomplishments with a picnic in the park, a hike to a waterfall, or relaxing bike ride, and make the celebration something to remember on its own! Give yourself a day of relaxation with a massage, pedicure, or full on spa day where you can relax and bask in the reward of your hard work. You could bake your favorite bread or cookie recipe, and share with family and neighbors to mark the occasion. Start a journal and write about the experience and what it means to you for posterity’s sake and have something to look back on when you’re feeling doubt. Or blast some blood pumping victory tunes in your living room and groove with your spouse or your pet. Celebrations don’t have to be lackluster just because they don’t include popping a cork–in fact, they’ll usually sparkle even more because you won’t have dulled your senses with alcohol!