An Ounce of Prevention: A Course in Relapse Prevention Tool
This article is the first in a series intended to introduce you to relapse prevention tools you will find in our upcoming publication entitled: Ounce of Prevention: A Relapse Prevention Guide.
The guide’s unique design and task oriented approach to identifying and intervening on your personal relapse triggers and self-defeating behaviors will help you to develop a plan for preventing relapse and enhancing the quality of your recovery.
The guide challenges that traditional notion that relapse is an event rather than a process and clearly highlights the roadside warnings that would caution you about the cliff that awaits you should you fail to change the course that you are on.
The relapse process is introduced through the identification of the various phases that we might experience prior to driving off into the ravine to a deeper bottom once we have made a decision to return to the addictive substance or behaviors that have created such havoc in our lives in the past.
The first tool, entitled What’s Your Proof, appears in the guide as a one of many strategies for intervening on the symptom of Negative Self-Talk that you will learn to identify as being associated with the first phase in the relapse process titled: Emotional Discomfort. To introduce this symptom I will begin by referring to an old 12 Step adage.
The adage goes something like this, “If you want to know what ‘the drug’ will do to you, keep ‘using it’ and you will find out. If you want to know what it is doing for you, you need to stop ‘using it’.” The first part of this adage is fairly self-explanatory, as it is referring to the consequences one will pay as a result of their unbridled addiction. The second part of the adage makes reference to the fact that one’s “drugs of choice” will be used to numb some emotional pain that is likely to resurface when abstinence is secure. It was the wisdom in this adage that helped me to learn that the whole purpose for using a mood-altering drug or experience is to, well, alter one’s mood.
Although the idea that some form of emotional discomfort awaits every recovering addict appears to be axiomatic the way in which the emotional discomfort manifests itself many be different for different people. One of the ways in which the discomfort can be identified is in the examination of a process referred to as negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is negative internal dialogue we use to view the world, explain situations and communicate to ourselves in a manor that focuses our attention on what we believe to be wrong with us or our life. Negative self-talk is a challenge of that discomfort for many of us.
Whether you are new to recovery or have struggled with relapse it is likely that you have experienced this type of challenge or defect of character. And if you have indulged yourself in negative self-talk then you undoubtedly understand the power it has to diminish hope, evaporate self-esteem, and threaten your resolve to remain sober. Negative self-talk can be quite seductive when we begin embracing statements such as “I have nothing to offer in this relationship” or “people will always disappoint you”. The seductive power of dialogue with self comes in part from the comfort their familiarity brings and from the illusion of “protection” they offer from rejection. While most will agree the position lacks logic or reason, we can find ourselves degrading ourselves before others get a chance to as if it were going to be an insulation from criticism or rejection. So why, if it makes no sense, does not really protect us from rejection, and it does not feel good, do we do it?
Clinical experience suggests that much of the data for negative self-talk is acquired during our youth when we are the most impressionable and prone towards being egocentric. Egocentrism, regarding one’s self as being at the center of all things, is an normal part of childhood development. It is normal for a child to view the world around them and the way that adults are behaving or misbehaving as somehow being related to themselves. A child is likely to internalize the pain that those around them are experiencing or creating and it is understandable that a child would think – “ what is wrong with me?”
Perhaps you find yourself asking, if being impressionable and egocentric are a part of a child’s development why do the messages still hold such power in my life today. This is because when one becomes dependent on mood altering drugs or experiences they stunt their development and rob themselves of the opportunity to address the original messages they received. Additionally, the older the messages are the more power they tend to have and as a result they are more difficult to change. Therefore it is important to act quickly when the negative self-talk begins or risk succumbing to the seduction they offer. The therapeutic assignment, What’s Your Proof?, is designed to address the seductive elements of negative self-talk. The tool will help you to recognize that the behaviors or people who might have contributed to your catalogue of self-talk were themselves hurting and that you were a victim of their pain or suffered from collateral damage – but you were not the cause of it.
The tool is broken into four sections. In the first section you are asked to identify one negative perception that is currently causing you injury. Second, you are to identify the author you learned this perception from and/or who in your life would likely have agreed with the perception. In the third section you are asked to give evidence you believe the author would have used or did use to support this perception. In the final section you are asked to examine this author’s story and look for what in their lives would have hurt them so bad as to cause them to view you in this negative light.
If you are having difficulty completing this exercise or find that is waking up a great deal of pain please seek out professional help and allow them to guide you through it. Once you have completed this exercise we encourage you to bring it to your support group, including your sponsor for feedback and encouragement.
* The following diagram is small image file of the described strategy. If you would like the pdf version please Click Here.