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by Alana Gregg, MS

Picture yourself swimming in the ocean on a hot summer’s day. You’ve started out in front of the lifeguard stand, in between the two green flags that tell you where it is safe to swim. But you’re facing out to the ocean where there are no flags or landmarks to tell you where you are. All of a sudden you hear a whistle blowing – you know, the one that tells people they are swimming outside the flags. You wonder who it could be. Then you turn around and realize it’s you. You have slowly drifted from where you started and you didn’t even realize it.

This is a picture of relapse. Relapse doesn’t start when you pick up a drink or a drug. It is actually a gradual process that begins long before that. Our thoughts and behaviors move us either closer to recovery or closer to relapse on a daily basis. But without those flags already established, you could be drifting and not even know it. So how can you tell if you are starting to drift in the wrong direction?

Here are 10 flags you can keep in view that will warn you when you start to drift:

  1. Defensiveness. How do you respond when people you trust tell you that you are developing unhealthy habits? Are you quick to defend yourself, or do you take the time to think about what they have said? Maybe you ignore the advice of others because you think you have all the answers. Maybe you think you should be able to live your life however you want without anyone telling you what to do. It can be really difficult to have other people hold up a mirror and show us our flaws. But sometimes we have blind spots to our own struggles, and we need other people we trust to help us see when we are headed in the wrong direction.
  2. Overconfidence. Have you ever thought to yourself, “It’ll never happen to me.” “I have (fill in the blank) years clean so I must be fine.” You start to put yourself in more risky situations because you’re sure it’s not possible to relapse. There’s an AA saying that says, “If you go into a barbershop enough times, you’ll eventually get a haircut.” It is important to maintain an attitude of humility in recovery and continue to do everything you can to make it harder for you to use.
  3. Complacency. You let your guard down because things are going well. You stop going to meetings or talking about your recovery because you say it’s the furthest thing from your mind. It’s better to stay aware of where you came from so you can be mindful of where you are in the present.
  4. All or nothing thinking. One of the characteristics of addiction is the all or nothing thinking that goes along with it. Everything is black and white and there is no in-between. You are 100% right and everyone else is 100% wrong. You have to complete 90 meetings in 90 days or none at all. This could also look like working 70 hours a week and leaving no time for anything else. We need to find balance in our thoughts and in how we choose to spend our time.
  5. Not asking for help. Have you convinced yourself you can stay sober by yourself and that you don’t need help from anyone? There’s another AA saying that says, “You alone can do it but you can’t do it alone”. You need a sober support network that will encourage you and hold you accountable. 12-step meetings, sponsors, friends, family, co-workers, church groups, counselors, doctors are all necessary ways to get the support you need.
  6. Lack of reflection. In order to be healthy, we need to continue to learn and grow. We all have areas in our lives that we need to work on. No one is perfect. If you are completely blind to your own faults, then that is a sign you are headed in the wrong direction.
  7. Replacement addictions. Some people trade their drug of choice for a different one. Maybe you are clean from heroin but continue to smoke pot, or you stop doing drugs but continue to drink. Using a different substance will most likely lead back to your original drug of choice. This also applies to other addictive behaviors like eating, shopping, sex, gambling, extreme sports, and screen time. In large doses, these behaviors are risky because they continue to flood the brain with dopamine making it impossible for your brain to heal.
  8. Not taking care of yourself. It’s important to not only take care of your mental health but you need to take care of your physical health too. This includes exercising, going to the doctor when you need to, taking medication regularly as directed by your doctor, and practicing good hygiene. I’ve heard from many people that the first thing to go when they are headed toward relapse is they stop showering or caring about how they look or feel. This is a flag to pay attention to.
  9. Dishonesty. It could start with a little lie that doesn’t seem like a big deal. Maybe you lie about not doing something you were supposed to do at work. Then you start to lie to yourself and make excuses for not being responsible or showing up for your family. Be honest with others and with yourself.
  10. Undealt-with shame. You may hide the fact that you’re in recovery. You tell yourself that you don’t want to deal with the stigma, but you may just be too ashamed. You don’t want to face the mistakes you made when you were in active addiction because it’s too painful and you can’t bring yourself to think about it. As Brene Brown says, there is a big difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Do you hear the difference? Guilt is useful because it tells us what we did was wrong. But shame makes you believe that you are a terrible person and you don’t deserve to experience anything good. So you stay in the same cycle of use because you don’t believe that you deserve anything better.

Addiction Counseling in Ambler, PA

Recovery is not a finish line. It is a continual process. What active steps are you taking to keep yourself headed towards recovery? Our counselors at Lime Tree Counseling know how important it is to not just get rid of bad patterns but to replace those with new ones. If you are struggling with addiction or feel yourself heading toward relapse, our trained counselors would love to help you experience freedom. Our addiction counseling focuses on making a plan for dealing with current use as well as unearthing the past experiences and beliefs that are keeping you stuck in a cycle of addiction. Call us today to schedule an online counseling appointment. We also offer a free 15 minute phone consultation.