Chronic Relapse Survivor

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be who ever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” - Quote, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
… a hopeful and encouraging quote - to remember on a daily basis so as not to be stuck in a Groundhog Day repetition of suffering…
Recovery work with addicts can be baffling. It’s about trading short-lived self-medication for the mere promise of lasting liberation. Humans are hardwired to avoid pain and seek pleasure - and addicts live in chronic distress – more or less unwilling to give up habitual pursuit of relief. Recovery means to trust explanations and experiences of others, and follow their pointers into strange territory… Some people change their minds halfway through the process of regaining a functional mind. It can be too much misery to keep up good will, hope, and patience.
An overwhelming percentage of addicts have been traumatized by abuse and neglect in childhood, bullying in school, rape and other forms of physical or emotional abuse. The lasting high-alert stress response is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and refers to the fact that painful experiences have been encoded in the brain. This means essentially that these survivors actually relive their childhood suffering over and over – easily triggered in the mind and also in reality - by populating their world with seemingly familiar people, which remind them of their childhood and proceed to add more abuse and abandonment.
The victim role can be compelling – it can become an identity and victims hold on to it, remaining stuck in permanent defense mode with negative overgeneralizations and other cognitive distortions, where resentments are upheld and happiness is sabotaged. A bold attempt by a compassionate outsider to adjust victim perceptions by suggesting a solution – can instantly propel the well-meaning would-be helper into the line of fire, where s/he gets hit with a dose of attack and blame. It’s an art to bring hope and inspiration without being dismissed… Fluency in the language of compassion helps – in AA it’s called “the language of the heart.”
PTSD can also be seen as an attempt to deal with trauma in such a way that healing is compromised for the sake of dealing with current reality - hyper-vigilance is an attempt to prevent further victimization. This does make sense (human behavior is always meaningful) but it also serves to prevent healing, thus prolonging suffering forever.
Survivors of trauma, especially when it occurred very early on, remain in survival mode – continuous distress, experienced as fear, distrust, disgust, and resentments. Mental anguish can slowly destroy a person years after the events are over. The so-called chronic relapse mode is diagnostic. It can indicate that sobriety brings up unacceptable repressed memories, thus making sobriety utterly undesirable. But regaining the mind is not really negotiable… It’s an essential step, a promising beginning, where certain experiences may need to be worked through so that mental stability can gradually be established - with an eventual transformation to empowerment and serenity.
If re-parenting has a chance to take place within an ongoing relationship with a good sponsor and/or psychotherapist, addicts can recover trust, hope, and confidence, and with that the courage to let go of their victim identity. During the gradual process of recovery a psychic change can take place, and eventually it becomes possible to enjoy continuous, meaningful, and mutual relationships. It can happen. It might help to reclaim on a daily basis that the childhood is over for good. Traumatic events have been survived, adversity has been overcome – it’s a triumph of resilience of the human spirit over the forces of destruction – BUT it is of the essence to choose between self and the perpetrator – and use this moment’s life energy rather for love than for fear, for healing instead of holding on to past pain. Ultimately, forgiveness is an act of self-love, which disables angry unhappiness and enables the metamorphosis to a new level of personal evolution.
If you look at abuse as an injury that occurred to the child – you could then make it a point to focus on managing and relieving distress and healing of emotional wounds, rather than searching for blame – but traumatized children have been betrayed, discouraged, disappointed, and abandoned – they identify as victims and it can appear as though they must be loyal to the mistreated child they once were, or else that child would be forgotten and lost for ever. New mental constructs are to be established and practiced, too. The recovery community offers most helpful peer support on the path to discernment and mental reorientation.
A lovely and supportive bond between fellow alcoholics can get established, helpful interactions can take place, and then… it can happen that people give up and leave… dedicated to resentments to the mother who was hurtful or other perpetrators, too. Such a capitulation is frequently disguised as the intention to attend to “important” matters, such as children, family, career, financial matters. If she falls for such apparently reasonable considerations… all is lost, and she will proceed to lose children, family, career, financial resources, and possibly her life during her upcoming relapse.
Recovery is about surrender to the unmanageability of alcoholism – which means that the alcoholic is utterly incapable of controlling, regulating, or reducing addictive substances (a very doable task for a non-alcoholic), no matter what her explanation or justification may be. Recovery is to be had only on the basis of “singleness of purpose” – as #1 priority. We are taught, “Whatever you put before your recovery, you shall surely lose.” Only complete abstinence delivers freedom, where the alcoholic can utilize mental power and emotional energy for managing internal states and stress - moving forward with healing and getting her life back. An easier, softer way does not exist to date – BUT the good news is: it works.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” – Pema Chodron
P.S. The concept of neuroplasticity suggests that cognitive restructuring is possible through novel experiences at ANY time throughout life - especially after an experience such as a new beginning during detox from addictive substances. This means that early recovery is a “magical” time to leave behind destructive old "automatic" patterns and replace them with something better…
edited 2/12/2015
P.S. RELAPSE RATES 60-80% (presentation by Richard Fields Ph.D. at conference 2/7/2015)
• 12 Month Relapse Rates – range 80-95%, BRANDEN, VIDRIN, LITVIN 2007; MILLER, WESTERBERG, HARRIS TONIGAN, 1996;
• 95% relapse rates – depression, anxiety, personality disorders;
• 2/3 of relapses – negative emotional states, interpersonal conflict/social pressure, CUMMINGS ET. AL., 1980 ;
• Heroin, Smoking, and Alcohol – high rates of relapse – 2/3 within the first 90 days, CONNORS ET. AL 2013;