Five Tool Recovery Plan- The Awareness Sweet Spot—Tool #4

By Ken Wells - 09/30/2022


Series Three: Blog Sixty-Six

For people who play racquetball, the strategy is to position yourself on the court as to give you the best chance to manage most of the shots. Some people refer to this position as the sweet spot on the court. This space on the court creates the best advantage to reach most of the shots made by an opponent.

I borrow this term to apply to relapse prevention from addiction. Some addicts in recovery tout they have been cured from their addictive urges. Most however have not. To those who battle craving to use or struggle with destructive patterns of living, it is important to increase awareness of high-risk behaviors and situations that build temptation and trigger addictive acting out. Increasing mindfulness to high-risk experiences with strategic plans to manage these challenges creates an awareness of sweet spot. This will empower you to manage high-risk situations and reframe the curse of craving into a blessing of connecting with the legitimate need within that must be met in a healthy way. The awareness sweet spot is a way of living in the power of your adult wise mind.

Dr. Patrick Carnes created a Personal Craziness Index. The index is designed to help you increase awareness of vulnerable areas of life that if left untended expands the possibility of relapse. You identify a certain number of behaviors in your life that you choose to pay attention to regularly. When an area is left untended for a given time frame, you give yourself a point. At the end of a given time frame (a week or month) you total the points and establish a scale that determines the level of risk you are toward relapse. If the total is low, then your vulnerability to relapse is low. The higher the number the more likelihood of relapse. It’s a way of paying attention to the buildup that leads to destructive behaviors.

There are many ways to manage build-up behaviors and relapse triggers in addiction recovery. Most addicts struggle to create or adopt their own strategy, leaving them vulnerable to whims and circumstances that unfold in everyday life that lead to high-risk and to using.

In 12-step work addicts are asked to create a behavioral sobriety contract. In the contract they are asked to identify high-risk zones or behaviors that do not designate acting out but are high-risk, that if neglected lead to relapse. This section of the contract is referred to as “yellow light” or “middle circle” behaviors. The goal of this section of a sobriety contract is to establish a sweet spot of awareness that gives the addict an insider advantage to managing the urges and cravings that are inevitable in relapse prevention.

I suggest five categories that comprise a yellow light or middle circle list.

  1. Personal Relationships: Addicts must consider who they connect to. When friendships become a detrimental influence toward relapse, you have to change your friends. Your friends don’t have to be all in a recovery program. They do need to respect your boundaries. Of course, you will have to tell them what they are. Anyone who does not respect your boundaries around addictive behavior is not healthy for your recovery. You will need to hang out less with them. Build relationships that honor and respect your recovery behavior.
  2. Places: Take time to assess the places you go that create high-risk. Some of the places need to be eliminated. Many places will need to be managed with accountability and support. Examples can be travel, hotels, parties, events, family gatherings, etc. If it is likely you will act out in any given environment, then obviously you avoid it—simply don’t go! Other scenarios will require planning. Create an itinerary that you will be accountable to your recovery support. It can be written out or etched in your brain to be reviewed with a sponsor before you engage the high risk place and then checked in as the time you spend in high-risk unfolds. This is a time tested management tool that is important to utilize throughout recovery.
  3. Mindsets: Addicts must pay attention to the “mind funk” they get into during the dynamic of recovery living. It is important to manage destructive mindsets that fuel self-sabotage. Depression is a common experience for addicts. Medical and emotional management is critical. Victim posture is an everyday dynamic that must be reframed by an addict. Most addicts marinate in mistaken beliefs that spawn the anticipation of rejection and trigger victim posture. Addicts must learn strategies to interrupt these destructive mindsets. Deprivation is a deadly mindset that ultimately fuels entitlement. If you wallow in deprived thinking inevitably you will engage entitlement to act out. Sorting and sifting destructive thoughts and shifting away from destructive mindsets is crucial to establishing long-term sobriety.
  4. Emotions: Most addicts were never taught to recognize feelings let alone how to address them. A regular feelings check with others is critical for an addict in relapse recovery. Acting out is triggered when addicts disconnect from feelings. This is the way addicts lose their way and become uprooted from being centered. There is no right or wrong feeling. Emotions simply exist. Get a feelings list and practice identifying what feelings you have during the course of your daily living. Managing feelings will keep you connected and on the solid ground of relapse prevention.
  5. Behavioral sabotage: There are a number of behaviors that can wreck an addicts plan to live sober. Passive-aggression, procrastination, resentment, conflict avoidance, “fixing” other people’s problems, approval-seeking and a host of other possible destructive behaviors must be managed. It is important for an addict to uncover behaviors that sabotage recovery. Often, therapy is needed for an addict to recognize and manage unhealthy behavior patterns. For sure, accountability with a support community is necessary.

Vigilance in these five areas will yield the reward of long-term sobriety and balanced living. Addicts in recovery will spend most of their recovery lives managing these 5 areas of living. When addicts are hyper vigilant about high-risk zones, they tend to go off the rails and relapse. Hyper vigilance is usually triggered by trying to please someone or prove to another that you are serious about recovery. It is not sustainable. Balanced recovery is present when an addict is accountable to a support community without hyper vigilance to please another. This is what is identified as the awareness sweet spot.

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