Graveyard Spiral into the Chasm of Death

By Ken Wells - 11/26/2021


Series Two; Blog Eighty-Two

You can make bad choices and find yourself in a downward spiral or you can find something that gets you out of it.” — Ray LaMontagne

Addicts know all about the downward spiral of making bad choices. Industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails produced an album in 1994 called, Downward Spiral, that detailed the destruction of a man from the beginning of his “downward spiral” to his death by suicide.  Co-producer Trent Reznor described the point of the album was to tear down everything in a search for something else. He described having an unending bottomless pit of rage and self-loathing inside ready to explode. He remarked that he thought he could get through by putting everything into his music, standing in front of an audience and screaming emotions at them from his guts. Addicts in a downward spiral know these intense feelings very well.

Every addict who chose to work a recovery program has experienced the graveyard spiral that leads to the chasm of death called relapse. As an addict, you don’t need to be reminded about the tragic consequences of relapse. Even though you started with determination and resolve, cravings from the junkie worm pull you into the vortex of high risk and toward the chasm of death.

In her reflection book, The Language of Letting Go, Melodie Beattie tells the story of learning to fly an airplane and while practicing her turns she put the plane in a flight pattern that her instructor called a graveyard spiral. Unless a course correction was made immediately they would keep spiraling faster and faster until they lost total control and would crash into the ground. Her instructor recognized the danger and quickly made a slight course correction and they were safe again. The question for addicts is do you recognize when you get into a graveyard spiral in your recovery and do you know how to make a course correction and return to balance?

How do I know I am in a graveyard spiral? Here are some trends in behavior to pay attention to:

  1. You make decisions about recovery boundaries without consulting your support group.
  2. You loosen your connection with support people and fail to tell them about high risk thoughts or behaviors.
  3. You get too busy to work your program and try to shoehorn recovery into your busy itinerary rather than the other way around.
  4. You defend putting yourself in high risk situations previously you admitted were dangerous for you.
  5. You begin lying by withholding little bits of truth in areas that are not even about your addiction.
  6. You justify resentments and nurse grudges.
  7. Your support network tells you that you have a tail and you won’t look at your ass in the mirror. You remain stuck in old ways of negotiation and compromise with behaviors or inaction that you know will take you away from sobriety and serenity.
  8. You stop working the steps on Step 4 telling yourself you need to clear out time to get it done. In truth, you won’t address the anxiety and dread of one particular character flaw that you don’t want to face.
  9. You insist on hanging out at the barbershop, telling yourself the price of the haircut isn’t so bad.
  10. On a scale of 1 to 10 your reactivity toward your partner and those who care about you is somewhere between 7 and 11.

There are no doubt other important signs that you will want to pay attention to as well. The second question is do you know how to make a course correction and restore balance.

I have written about this in other blogs but it does bare repeating.

  1. Live your life accepting that you have blind spots and keep your heart open to those you have entrusted to hold you accountable.  Addicts are often defensive and sensitive about blind spots. They pretend they don’t have any and can be defensive if they are challenged. Course correction is most quickly adapted by addicts who know their blind spots and who are willing to be confronted.
  2. Cultivate being in the present moment and remain connected to how you feel. When an addict is disconnected from h/her feelings they lose sight of who they are. This increases the possibility of relapse. The road back to balance is to reconnect to your feelings which will clarify legitimate needs that must be met in a healthy way.
  3. Cross check shame. Keep it off your sense of self. Condition yourself to ignore the negative voices of misbelief and practice acting on the belief and behavior you know you are destined to believe and become.

No one shows up to their first 12-step meeting planning to fail. Sometimes we don’t show up with a proper motive and attitude that is necessary to achieve and maintain sobriety. Many start their recovery program with good intentions only to flame out. In order to recognize a graveyard, spiral you must practice opening your heart to self and to your community of support. The last time you went to a 12-step meeting did you receive encouragement to take action on an issue that you knew made sense but just didn’t do it? That’s one step in a graveyard spiral. The relapse chasm of death is full of sober addicts who stepped into an undetected graveyard spiral.

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