For those of you lucky enough to not have an imaginary monkey living inside of your brain, you may not understand why a sober addict would turn back to drugs and alcohol after a successful stint in recovery. So allow us to enlighten you. And please, addicts, you’ll want to read this as well, particularly if you’re newly sober, or you’re considering getting clean.
The “monkey mind” is a popular expression in recovery, and for many addicts, it really can feel like our brains have been abducted by monkeys. Alien monkeys? Anyway, we drink and we use to try and shut the monkey down, but in sobriety, we’ve acquired a whole new set of tools to help naturally quiet our brains while staying away from chemical substances. That being said, why on earth do sober addicts go in and out of recovery so often, and what can be done to beat the odds of a relapse?
Let’s start with the numbers. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, up to 60% of those treated for drug and alcohol addiction will relapse within their first year of recovery. And while relapse is most common in that first year, it can (and does often) happen at any given time.
Just like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, addiction is chronic, and recovery is not always a straight line. In fact, it’s generally far from it because the addict mind wants desperately to destroy us and if we’re not diligent in our recovery program, any number of things can trigger us to start using again. Things like stress, breakups, death of a loved one in extreme cases, or seeing the object of our addiction (i.e., drug paraphernalia, a bottle of Jack Daniels, a particular person for the sex & love addict, etc.) — any combination of these things and more can take us down. While we can certainly do our best to avoid putting ourselves in precarious situations that might trigger a relapse, not everything in life is so easily avoidable. And, well, relapse does happen — the aforementioned statistics don’t lie. So what can we do to avoid being another statistic?
Here are some tried-and-true methods that we’ve found to be quite effective in preventing relapses:
Surround yourself with People who Don’t Live to Party
This may sound like a no-brainer, but one of the most challenging aspects of getting (and staying) sober can be how we navigate our existing relationships once we get clean. If the majority of the people in your social circle are the people that you liked to party with before, then how do you disassociate? We’re not suggesting that you ditch your friends, but by making the effort to surround yourself with positive people who aren’t always out at bars or nightclubs, you’ll probably find yourself in fewer situations where you’re tempted to drink or use. Join a yoga studio, a writing group, or volunteer at an animal shelter — anything that gets you out of your comfort zone momentarily while formulating new, wholesome friendships. If you have an excessive amount of drinking or using buddies, you can be the positive friend who suggests an afternoon hike rather than a happy hour. Your party pals may not always oblige, but once you start to meet new people who aren’t getting hammered all the time, you’ll probably find that you have many more options for socializing that don’t include partying. Also, with time, many of us in recovery have found that we no longer have the desire to hang around people whose values and habits aren’t in alignment with our own.
You’ve likely heard us singing the praises of 12-step programs, and for good reason. Remember, if you’re an addict, you have a chronic disease. Yes, that means that it will never go away. There’s also no magic pill or vaccine. We know, we know — the doom, the gloom. But guess what? 12-step meetings are free, they’re all over the place, and they provide real solution. A lot of people who’ve been in 12-step recovery programs for a while will describe meetings and step work as being like the medicine that they need to treat their disease. We like this analogy, and it’s a heck of a good deal when you think about the high costs associated with the healthcare needed to treat most other chronic diseases. Sure, 12-step recovery is typically for life if you truly intend to reap its benefits, but so are insulin shots. And for just an hour out of your day and a buck in the pot (only if you have it), we reckon it’s a pretty sweet deal. You’ll also get to spend that hour in a room filled with gregarious, like-minded addicts, many of whom will become friends for life if you stick around. 12-step meetings will also help you avoid that ominous relapse. And if, God forbid, you do slip, the folks in program will generally welcome you back with open arms as well.
This is a very simple but powerful little acronym, and it stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. In other words, don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely, or, you guessed it, tired. Of course life happens — we become exhausted, we find ourselves in situations where we’re isolated, we skip a meal because we stayed at the office too late, and people irritate us. Any of these things, however, can set off those pesky monkeys, triggering an addict to possibly want to pick up. It may not happen right away, but if we let these feelings come over us too often without taking enough pauses, then we’re putting ourselves and our addict brains in danger. The best we can do when we’re exhausted, famished, feeling alone, or just plain angry, is to hit the reset button. Pick up the phone and call a sober pal, go to a meeting, take a nap, meditate, or all of the above.
Wait, what? You’ve just been hit with a DUI, you owe your entire savings in legal fines, your family has disowned you, and you kinda think your life is royally screwed. Or maybe staying sober is simply just challenging. We get it. No one ever said getting clean was a cakewalk, but there are ways to shift our perspective, and to increase our dopamine (the stuff that makes us happy) levels naturally, without drinking or using. As a matter of fact, we have a whole blog post dedicated to ways that you can naturally boost your dopamine, so feel free to give it a read here.
Finally, recovery should be enjoyed, not endured. It’s a one-day-at-a-time process, but it can also be a really fun and inspiring journey. Soak it up and luxuriate in a lifetime of hangover-free mornings and green juice yoga dates with your new, wholesome friends. And remember, if you slip, you’re not alone and you have options.
Begin your Recovery Journey Today…
Kembali Recovery Center is one of Southeast Asia’s most affordable luxury drug and alcohol rehabs, located in the heart of Bali. If you’re having a difficult time getting sober on your own, or you’re finding yourself continuously relapsing, we’re here to help. Take that first step and contact us today.