If you stand by the edge of a cliff, the tiniest voice in your head will whisper to you, urging you to jump.
The French call this The Call of the Void. In psychology, the closest we can come to a reasonable explanation is that when confronted with a steep fall, we step away instinctively, but our brain implants this idea that we wanted to jump in the first place – the danger was not the edge of the cliff, but rather, the thought of jumping. After all, the sight of a cliff should not be enough to make people jump. Yet we instinctively perceive it as a threat, and our survival instincts kick in – over nothing more than a location, and the remote possibility of a fall.
To justify our instinct, the mind conjures up the idea of jumping. Our brains go over the vivid feelings of falling endlessly, and fear kicks in. It is not tied to anxiety or depression – most people feel the tiniest urge to jump. Simply because it is there. But feelings of fear and worry can massively amplify that urge and complicate the hesitation.
Relapse is a cliff. And when addiction wanes and the cravings lessen, we gradually step away from the cliff. But it is never out of sight. The edge is always in view, and it would only take a few steps to make the jump.
The fear of relapse is natural because anyone who has fought with addiction knows that it would be very easy to slip back into the old habit. Yet if you want to overcome the threat of relapse, you must stop fearing it.
Why Relapse Is Not to Be Feared
Relapse is central to the concept of addiction as a chronic brain disease. Relapse rates are too high to suggest that it is simply a matter of willpower in early recovery. Yet as the months pass, and the cravings subside, it becomes more and more possible to resist and manage the old feelings of addiction.
Yet the fear remains. For one, it may be because relapse is too tightly tied to the idea of failure. But that’s faulty thinking. Yes, a relapse will always be a setback in recovery. But it is never the end. If you hold out hope and learn from each relapse – figuring out its triggers and understanding how to cope with them – then instead of setting you back, a relapse could be an opportunity to learn from a grave mistake.
As time goes on, and you get better at managing your sobriety and living a sober life, it becomes more and more important to let go of your fear of relapse. Statistics state that relapses are common in early recovery – but it is also common for symptoms of addiction, such as cravings, to subside and fade with time.
Through overwhelming stress, immense pressures and unbelievable tragedies, feelings of addiction can be dragged back to the surface after decades of sobriety. Every now and again, stories emerge of successfully recovering addicts suddenly overdosing after years of staying clean.
These stories perpetuate the idea that relapse is always a danger to fear. While relapse is always a danger, it will never do you any good to spend your life in fear of it. Through the tools you built for yourself through months and years of recovery, you will be equipped to deal with every problem life has to throw at you.
You Have Freedom
There is a debate surrounding addiction and choice. As far as science can tell, the choices we make are highly dependent on countless factors. Many of these factors are heavily influenced by addiction. Drug use affects the brain’s reward system, changing what motivates us and pleases us, and diminishing our ability to reason, think and make decisions.
Recovery can reverse this with time. Once drugs are out of the system, the immediate aftereffects take form as intense cravings and painful withdrawal symptoms. These can have a lasting effect on a person’s emotions, and self-esteem. Addiction treatment not only addresses the effects of drug use on the body, but on the mind and mood as well.
In time, any hold you might feel addiction having over you will go away. You will be in control, and your ability to choose will overpower the fading cravings almost all the time. And when they get to be too much, there are others to help you. Recovery programs today emphasize the importance of support and community for the simple reason that, sometimes, the burden of addiction is too much for one person. And when that happens, it is important to seek the help of others, to stay sane and sober.
You do not have to relapse. But when you do, take it as an opportunity to prevent it from happening again – and know that as time goes on, and sober living gets easier, you will have less to fear.
Have a Plan
The most important thing to do when overcoming the fear of relapse is to insure yourself against it. In other words – build a railing on the cliff.
Addiction treatment today covers more than just the initial period after addiction – it is all about the journey from addiction to long-term sobriety and surviving all the struggles on the way. For many, this means having a plan to fall back on when certain feelings get too powerful, or triggers present themselves.
From going back to therapy to having an emergency number, a mantra and breathing exercises, or a soothing coping mechanism that takes you away from the trigger, it is vital to have something in place to fall back on when you need it, and people to call when you need help.
Addiction can change a life forever. But it does not have to change it negatively. Through recovery, you can reshape your new sober life and rediscover your own personal meaning for it. Do the things you want to do, see the things you want to see, and use recovery as an opportunity to not just overcome addiction, but commit to a happier life.
The world is full of cliffs and high places. But that does not mean they have to keep us up at night. At a certain point, it is your choice to fear them – or live your life freely.