Amy C. Willis
Relapse on Repeat: Why Setting Yourself Up for Inevitable Success in Your Recovery is Essential
Updated: Apr 3, 2020
You’ve been examining your relationship to #drinking. It’s perhaps become problematic in your life. Or even worse, with every passing day and every sip of your favourite cocktail or wine, you are slowly but surely ruining your life and killing yourself. Something’s gotta give and that something is #alcohol.
Making the decision to quit drinking is a big one for many. Alcohol is woven into every fabric of our worlds. It is everywhere and connected to everything. It’s used for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with enjoying the taste of booze. We use alcohol to numb, to create distance between ourselves and our feelings, to lubricate social situations, to create a sense of connection. In deciding to put down the bottle, we immediately fret over what our lives, relationships, social circles, activities, etc. will look like because alcohol was a part of it all.
When making the decision to quit drinking (either for a temporary period of time or indefinitely), we often underestimate how integrated booze is in our lives and so we fail to set ourselves up on the front end to achieve our goal of quitting. We think it’s as simple as not drinking and the rest will take care of itself.
If only that were true.
It’s no wonder, really, that #relapse is such a regular part of recovery for so many. To be super clear, relapsing is nothing to be ashamed of. I certainly relapsed MANY times in the year leading up to finally becoming sober. It’s hard. It feels shameful and disappointing and can make you feel like all your efforts and hard work was for nothing.
First off, we really need to change the narrative around relapse. In the event of a relapse, we really need to banish the idea that our hard work leading up to that relapse has been erased. It hasn’t. Your efforts aren’t gone because you had a slip. AND slipping up doesn’t mean that you should simply throw in the towel and go back to drinking. Think of a relapse as a plot twist and an opportunity to learn from what happened. It doesn’t have to mean more than that. I promise.
In an effort to try and prevent or minimize the number of relapses you experience, it’s really crucial for you to create conditions of inevitable success for yourself. This piece is often missing for people when they’re making changes in their lives or trying to break old #habits and replace them with new ones (recovery related or not). Setting up conditions for success means taking stock of how and where alcohol exists in your life and putting plans into place on how to manage that. Below are 10 tips to set you up for success on your road to recovery.
1) Tell a friend. Choose someone you trust and can safely confide in, knowing they will love and support you fully. This creates some accountability, which is essential in the beginning. We often won’t do things just for ourselves but if we share this with someone else, it can help us with follow-through.
2) Remove all booze from your home, car and workspace - wherever you may have had it. This seems obvious but getting rid of temptation is key. If you live with others who drink, loop them in on what you’re doing and why and ask for their support. If you regularly pass by bars and liquor stores as you move about the city/town you live in, find new routes to travel. Think about it: if you typically stop by the liquor store on your way home from work for a bottle (or 10) of wine, if you leave work and take that same route, you are IN your habit loop. Picking a different route is essential to remove the trigger that launches you into that habit loop.
3) Take some time to get really clear on why drinking no longer has a place in your life.
4) Make a list of the top 5 priorities in your life and why. Post this list in a spot you’ll see it every single day. Under this list, make a list of all the ways alcohol doesn't support your top priorities. This is not about shame or guilt but instead, about awareness and honesty.
5) Get right with saying no to people. People will ask you to go to booze-filled parties, have a drink after work, challenge your boundaries and you need to be fine with saying no. It’s hard and it takes practice but gets easier the more you do it.
6) Make a list of fun activities you enjoy doing that don’t involve alcohol and schedule some of these activities into your upcoming weeks. Same goes for self-care practices.
7) Avoid (temporarily, if you wish) social gatherings and activities where alcohol is the focal point. I *know* this step is hard but if you are truly committed to your sobriety and going to a booze-fuelled party will compromise that, it’s simply not worth it. Period. I’m not saying you can’t ever go out again but instead, to give yourself a break from the temptation while building up your sober confidence.
8) If AA is your thing, schedule the meetings you’re going to go to and get your ass there. AA was not my thing but I know it works for lots of people and if you’re in a pinch, AA is better than nothing.
9) Work with a sobriety coach or recovery counsellor for #accountability, support, and tools. It’s perfectly normal to need more support and accountability than what can be offered in online groups or through reading books or listening to podcasts.
10) Take a break from the relationships in your life that are heavily focused on drinking. Again, I *know* this is incredibly challenging BUT if you are serious about your sobriety, then other peoples’ drinking agendas have no place in your life for the time being. Anyone in your life who isn’t supportive of the decision you’re making to quit drinking and be a better, #healthier version of you doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Change, whether alcohol or substance use related or not, is hard fucking work. But you need to know and believe that change is possible, despite it being hard. Change can and will happen if you commit to it, commit to yourself and commit to building the best damn life you possibly can, a life that you don’t need alcohol to escape from.
The tips above do not guarantee that you won’t relapse. Only you can guarantee that. But they are helpful steps that will put you miles ahead of where you would be if you weren’t thinking about all the areas that alcohol exists in your life. It really is crucial to put things in place that set you up to succeed. I know you can do it. Do you?