A Five Tool Relapse Recovery Plan

By Ken Wells - 09/23/2022


Series Three: Blog Sixty-Four

In baseball a 5-tool player is one who excels in hitting, fielding, speed, hitting for power and average. There are not many major league players who demonstrate these skills during any given season. This season Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals is such a player. It is even more rare for a player to demonstrate these skills throughout a long career. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds are all iconic players who demonstrated these five tools throughout their careers.

There are five tools necessary to achieve long-term sobriety in addiction recovery. Today, I will discuss one of the tools and follow up with subsequent blogs to cover the other four.

Failure is a reality in almost all aspects of life. Everyone desires to relate to accomplishment and success. Long-term achievement requires the ability to manage failure. People highlight spectacular victory but longevity teaches how to handle human shortcomings.

It is a common response to lower your expectations when encountered with failure. Sometimes it is helpful like when you attempt to achieve unrealistic expectations. However, in many cases lowering expectations is an attempt to soothe oneself from the sting of failure. Addicts scale down expectations for sobriety after they announce their success in a 12-step meeting and then act out against their bottom line behaviors. It is easier to lower expectations than to learn from the disappointment of failed behavior.

Relapse behavior for an addict is a reconstitution of old destructive patterns in behavior that engage acting out with a drug of choice. Lapse behavior include indications of failure in attitude and action around addiction management. It involves behaviors that are short of addictive acting out but engage high risk patterns of thoughts and behaviors that inevitably lead to actions of relapse.

There are very few addicts who do not relapse after engaging recovery, no matter what the program. All addicts and everyone else fail with lapse behavior. It is called being human. Addicts must learn that how you extract meaningful lessons and then throw away the rind of failed experience. This treatment of failed behavior is absolutely critical to anyone who has successfully created long term sobriety.

Here is my version of the first of five tools to a relapse recovery plan.

Engage in the Relapse Litmus Test. Geoff Hewitt wrote a poem about a sailor who was lost at sea and somehow made his way to the shore. Exhausted he fell asleep on the shore only to have the tide come in and sweep him back to sea. This is the story of many addicts in recovery. Managing recovery failure embraces four tests. (a) A beginner’s attitude:  Showing up every day hungry for one thing that will keep you sober and growing is challenging. This becomes more difficult the longer you are sober. The tendency is to lose urgency and back off from cultivating personal growth. On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your beginner’s attitude toward recovery? Will you take the initiative to examine where you got off track from your recovery program? Are you willing to do what you need to do to get back where you need to be? These are the questions that the humility needed to engage a beginner’s attitude. (b) Honesty-Recovery requires honesty. Deep emotional honesty is difficult to achieve. Few people achieve this level of honesty. Face the questions: Where am I dishonest with myself? Who have I been dishonest with? Am I willing to make amends and restitution for my dishonesty? Who will I be willing to be accountable to for this lapse behavior? These are important litmus test questions to guide you through failure. (c) A willingness to do something different. Albert Einstein’s famous quote “you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created it”.  Twelve-step communities like to croon “insanity is doing the same thing over and again, expecting different results”. Ponder what it is that you would be willing to do differently in order to accomplish the level of sobriety you desire? When you don’t know what to do, brainstorm with your 12-step community for solutions that make sense. Are you willing to go to any length? What would you do differently in the next 24 hours/week/month? (d) Do whatever it takes to stop the slide of acting out. When skiing on a steep slope and you fall and uncontrollably cascade down the mountain, you do whatever it takes regardless of how it looks to get stopped! Even if you look like the abominable snowman coming down the mountain, one thing matters and that is to stop the fall. It takes the same urgency and burning desire to stop the slide toward addictive behavior. There must be a burning desire within your heart. Although determination alone will never keep you sober, you cannot recover without it.

Let go of resistance, defensiveness and judgmentalism. Valerie Cox wrote a poem about a guy who in an airport she thought was stealing from her bag of cookies. She never said anything but gathered feelings of despise and resentment toward him. However, she had packed away her cookies and was eating from a bag she thought was hers but was his. It turned out she was the ingrate, the cookie thief. This poem reflects on experiences of recovery from addiction. Addicts easily become ensued with judgment toward others around them. Resistance to suggestions made from sponsors is common place. Defensiveness grows like mold to every addict. These dynamics will drain the joy of surrender in recovery. Controlling these destructive patterns is a challenge to sobriety and serenity.  Take inventory about your own judgmental spirit toward others. Have you been the ingrate focusing on someone else’s cookies thinking you were right and they were wrong? How are you cynical and judgmental toward others? In what ways have you been defensive? How are you passive/aggressive toward others in your life? What are you resistant to do in your recovery life? Where do you not want to eliminate personal judgment and criticism? What steps must you take to clean out resistance, judgmentalism and defensiveness? These are the questions that become a litmus test in your plan for relapse prevention.

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