Will you yield in the direction of least resistance the next time you have the chance?
In most cases relapses occur not because the person was overpowered by unbearable forces, but because the first lapse did not seem like a really bad idea at the time.
Escaping addiction appears straightforward enough. At first, the addicted person clearly understands that the addiction is a bad deal and has vowed to change, and fully expects to energetically resist lapsing at future high risk times. Sadly, by the time he or she encounters the high risk situation everything has changed.
Motivation is not fixed. What was strongly abhorrent at one moment may be strongly attractive at another.
Changes in appraisal may occur so fast and so subtly that traps which are obvious to you now, will be invisible at the critical moment. To guide your own path, you must recognize diverting influences before it is too late!
Since hindsight is better than foresight, study your history - look for warning signals - events that have preceded previous relapses such as certain cognitive events.
Listed below are some of the classic warning signals.
Goal Oriented - Permitting a lapse will help achieve some goal.
Example: “The addictive behavior will help me relax and perform well in this social situation.”
Anticipatory - Attention to the immediate pleasurable aspects of the lapse, while ignoring its delayed painful consequences (often accompanied by minimization).
Example: “It would feel so good.”
Minimization - Underrating the negative consequences of a lapse; ignoring the painful lessons of past lapses.
Example: “I’ll just have a little, it won’t cause a problem.”
Why questions - Posing “why” or “why not” questions with the tacit understanding that if you can’t answer it at the moment you have license to lapse.
Example: “Life sucks anyway, so why not?”
Reactance - Counter-regulatory motivation in reaction to restriction of a freedom.
Example: “Other people enjoy this incentive, why can’t I? I’ll do what I want!”
Denial is the stealthiest of them all. The chain of events that leads to relapse often begins and unfolds all by itself - autonomously - without rationalization or justification.
You will be in greatest danger of falling into “Da Nile” whenever your cognitive resources are unavailable. The mnemonic HALT refers to some situations which tax cognitive resources and thereby make one vulnerable: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
If you fail to recognize these first tier warning signals, you will be approaching the final links of the relapse chain.
“Look at me!” - If the incentive captures your attention, you must recapture it without delay. Any thought or image of the incentive - or people, places and things associated with it - reduces the psychological distance between you and the first lapse. Attending to the incentive is always a warning signal - consider:
Apparently Irrelevant Decisions - Attraction to activities that are seemingly unrelated to the addictive behavior, but decrease the distance between you and the incentive.
Š Thinking about circumstances in which it might be OK to use the incentive.
Š Debating with yourself about lapsing.
Š Imagining how it would feel to re-experience the addictive incentive.
At first there was no question about adhering to the commitment. But at some point the door to the first lapse has become open. While there has been no conscious decision to renege on the “no exceptions” commitment, something has changed.
If you allow the door to remain open, you will surely lapse. You must close the door immediately and firmly. This is your last chance to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Redirecting attention to the original commitment may not seem heroic at the time, which is why mindful behavior is so exceptional.
Engaging in an effortful coping tactic during the ordinary experience of real time may seem forced, weird, or unspontaneous. Of course it is. The default path - the one that seems natural - is lapsing. To escape addiction you must over-ride these autonomous tendencies and wear in a path that produces more pleasure and less pain.
(an original essay by ‘Marky’, a SMART Recovery Online founder)