People in recovery don’t often spontaneously relapse. You don’t usually trip and fall into a pint. Relapse is typically a gradual process. By the time you get to the end, it seems like a perfectly reasonable idea. The idea that holding on to sobriety like a mast in a storm will keep you sober forever is largely mistaken. It can get you through cravings, but the real danger comes when you no longer feel like fighting. Here are some signs you might see on the road to relapse.
In the beginning, the horrors of addiction are fresh in your mind. You remember how awful it is to compulsively do this thing you hate that’s ruining your life. Maybe you’ve suffered some pretty bad consequences. Maybe you just wake up every day feeling terrible. The longer you’re in recovery, the better you feel and the more distant those memories seem. Around the 10 month mark, people’s motivation often wanes. They feel like they have addiction beat so they don’t work so hard on recovery. They might start to take foolish risks like spending time in pubs or spending time with friends who are still using.
This is one of the big warning signs for people in 12-step programs. Negativity can have several causes. Often people have unrealistic expectations of recovery. A lot of people talk about the pink cloud, but the first year of recovery is just as often a slog–no life-changing epiphany, no self-actualization, just a daily process of gradual improvement. If your expectations are too high, you might feel let down or even deceived. If you do get the pink cloud, you might have trouble when you come back down to Earth. After several months of meetings, people sometimes start to feel they’ve heard it all before. Maybe they’ve seen some failures or abuses. There are plenty of ways to feel disillusioned, like all your effort is for nothing.
When you have pretty much forgotten the bad times, you might start remembering some of the good times. It might be because you’ve been feeling a bit depressed for a while and you start thinking about the happy times when you were using. Or you might have a good day and feel like drugs or alcohol would have made it perfect. You start thinking maybe there’s some way you can use in moderation. You see your time in sobriety as proof that you have your addiction under control and now you think you can use responsibly. You start looking for an opportunity. This is when ‘playing the tape’ is especially important. You have to remind yourself of the bad that goes along with the good.
It’s normal to go to fewer meetings the longer you’re in recovery. 90 meetings in 90 days is pretty intense. When you do start attending fewer meetings, it’s important to be honest about your motivations. It could be a way of distancing yourself from people who will hold you accountable. They’re the people who will notice when you’re getting pessimistic or cynical. They’re the people you’ll have to tell if you have a relapse. If you stop going to meetings or stop doing whatever else helped you stay sober, it could be a warning that you’re headed toward relapse.