Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Slip or Slide?


I want to start out by drawing a clear distinction between what experts define as a "slip" and intentionally breaking sobriety.  A slip is not pre-planned.  It comes as a response to a specific trigger.  Giving oneself permission to drink ("I’ll write it off as a slip") beforehand is NOT a slip; such thoughts generally indicate that a relapse is already occurring.  It is not an excuse and not a justification.

The holidays are in full swing now, and many of us are feeling a little insecure about our sobriety.  For those with only a few days or weeks, this is a time that presents an enormous challenge.  The season is already stressful for most people; parties and family and gift-giving all act to raise our internal tension, and in the past we have relied on alcohol to cope.  Facing a sober December can pile even more stress on our backs, leaving us grasping for some way to handle the pressure without drinking.

Updating our sobriety plan, making sure we have plenty of phone numbers and email addresses of sober sisters, and making certain to follow Jean's advice (rising 15 minutes early for meditation on the statements) are great ways to help give us breathing room when the festivities become a battle to remain alcohol-free.  There are also more immediate resources online (chats and the WFS message board) if we find our determination wavering.

It isn't something we like to think about, but many in recovery relapse during December.  Stress becomes too painful to bear and our commitment wavers for just a moment. We fall back on our old coping mechanism and have "just one glass."  After that one glass we are faced with a choice: to continue drinking, to fall back into old habits and old coping patterns, or to step back, reaffirm our dedication to our New Life, and move forward on the path away from alcohol. 

It is very common for those in recovery to view that one drink as destroying everything they have built.  "I threw away X days, so I might as well keep drinking." This is rigid thinking, assuming everything is black and white with no between.  We drank once, so we will certainly slide back into oblivion.  There is no hope for us; we continually repeat these sorts of thoughts until they become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We fall into the water and instead of pulling ourselves out we convince ourselves that the only choice is to drown.

"Negative thoughts destroy only myself."  Statement Two reminds us that we are in control of our thoughts. Imagine that each insult we hurl at ourselves, each demeaning comment, is a rock put in our pocket.  Every stone we weigh ourselves down with makes it harder to change our mind and get back to shore.  We are not passively drowning—we are committing suicide.

There are three general internal responses to a slip (the experts define this as a single incident of unplanned drinking); blaming oneself for being "weak", blaming external forces "beyond my control", and recognizing that the lapse was due to being unable to cope effectively with a specific high-risk situation.  Which do you think is least likely to lead to a full relapse?

It is the third group — those who view their slip as a learning experience and seek to develop new coping mechanisms.  As Statement One says, "I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.  I now take charge of my life and my disease.  I accept the responsibility."  That doesn't mean blaming ourselves or anyone else for a lapse.  It means recognizing the trigger and creating a new way of coping with it. Statement Four also speaks about being responsible for ourselves.  "Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to.  I now better understand my problems and do not permit problems to overwhelm me."

The words in bold speak to me as helpful in responding to a slip.  We are responsible for ourselves; we constantly strive to understand high-stress situations and to develop positive ways to cope instead of wallowing in misery.  We look forward instead of back.  We see a chance for improvement, not an excuse for relapse. The past is gone forever, and so are our old methods of responding to stress.  A slip does not have to become a slide into icy water.  Which present will you give to yourself this holiday season; strength or surrender?  The choice is yours.

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