Cathy Patterson-Sterling MA, RCC
Former Director of Family Services
Sunshine Coast Health Center
While completing the program at Sunshine Coast Health Center, you will be doing a lot of work on changing old behaviours related to your addiction. This way, you can then begin to work on developing a new lifestyle of recovery. An important part of creating such changes is to realize that using/drinking mood-altering substances is one of the last behaviours that happens in an addiction cycle. In fact, there are a lot of thoughts as well as actions that occur prior to the physical use of alcohol and/or drugs. If you slow the addiction cycle down, you can then begin to change a lot of these thoughts and/or actions so that using mood-altering substances is no longer an option. Let’s examine the addiction cycle below.
Before people use alcohol or drugs, they experience an “emotional trigger” which includes the “red flag” thoughts or situations that then lead to cravings (the desire to use mood-altering substances). For example, a person may feel “triggered” at the end of the work week when they have their pay check and feel like they want to go out and celebrate. Some individuals’ triggers are when they are alone experiencing moments of self-pity. Each person has their own unique emotional triggers which then lead to the cravings to want to use mood-altering substances. Individuals likely have multiple triggers that they will need to realize so they can slow down their addiction cycles.
The ritual is how a person obtains their alcohol and/or drugs. These actions then lead to the using phase which is often followed by feelings of guilt which can then serve as an emotional trigger so that the cycle is repeated again.
An exciting part about recovery is that there is a lot of things that occur before people use their alcohol and/or drugs. Therefore individuals have the opportunity to “re-route” their addiction cycles so that using is no longer an option. See below for an example.
People can be “triggered” and experience cravings which is a normal part of recovery. The difference, however, is that these cravings do not have to lead to the use of alcohol/drugs. Instead, people can experience cravings and then implement a healthy habit instead of using mood-altering substances. A healthy habit may include calling a sponsor, attending a 12 step meeting, exercising, journaling, talking to a higher power, meditating, etc.
An important part of recovery is that people do not just wait until they experience cravings to engage in healthy habits. Instead, individuals will have a collection of healthy habits that they do each week which becomes part of a larger recovery program that they follow in order to stay sober.
While at SCHC, you will also learn a number of skills/tools so that you can handle emotional triggers and cravings without going into old, familiar patterns of using alcohol/drugs again.
Another important consideration is that there are many steps required before people actually physically relapse by using their mood-altering substances as well. Similar to “emotional triggers” in the addiction cycle, people will go into an emotional/mental relapse before they actually physically relapse by using alcohol and/or drugs. The difficulty with addictions, however, is that people may actually be in an emotional/mental relapse without knowing that they are progressing on into a physical relapse. This is why people need to really examine their old behaviours around the addiction. When individuals are in an emotional/mental relapse their old behaviours become intensified and they start behaving a lot like they did in the active phase of their addiction.
Some examples of emotional/mental relapse behaviours include:
- Withdrawal of interest in recovery activities ie.) going to meetings
- Withdrawal of interest in general activities ie.) an increased desire to sit for long periods of time on the couch
- Bargaining with the addiction ie.) denying that there really is even an addiction and that they can control their use of alcohol/drugs
- Easily upset/stressed with mood-swings
- Not taking responsibility and blaming others
- Wanting to take a vacation or rest from recovery activities
- Increased selfishness
Just like with “emotional triggers”, people can pull themselves out of an emotional/mental relapse so that they do not have to resort to physically using mood-altering substances. This is one reason why support groups are so valuable is because people can have others in their lives who notice when they are experiencing an emotional/mental relapse and can help them re-focus on their recovery programs.
People who stay in the emotional/mental relapse phase have all the behaviours associated with the addiction, but are not using alcohol/drugs. Therefore such individuals are commonly referred to as the “dry drunk” or “dry addict.” There is physical sobriety (abstinence from mood-altering substances) and then there is emotional sobriety (emotional wellness and sobriety or “wellbriety”). The ultimate goal of a recovery lifestyle is to achieve both physical sobriety and emotional sobriety so that individuals become better people as a result of their recovery. They no longer exhibit all of the same behaviours that they had while being in active addiction. Such old behaviours are part of engrained habits and individuals will need to get out of their “comfort zones” to consciously work on these old ways that can get in the way of progress in recovery. Let’s examine the difference between old behaviours related to the addiction and the new behaviours that people need to learn for a happy, healthy, and sustainable recovery.
- Not being completely truthful ie.) telling white lies
- Hiding my emotional self from people ie.) information about myself is viewed as a vulnerability that I will not share with others
- Using conflict, crisis, and drama as a distraction in life
- Substituting intensity for intimacy in relationships
- Focusing on the problems of life ie.) negativity as a justification to use/drink alcohol or drugs
- Having an inflated sense of entitlement so that my personal needs are more important than anyone else’s needs
- Viewing myself as a victim and feeling sorry for myself (self-pity)
- Using resentments as an excuse to create emotional distance from others
- Using outside sources to fill up the emptiness within myself ie.) instant gratification
- Having a licence to do whatever I want regardless of the impact of my actions on others
- Increased restlessness
- Gratitude and appreciation for what I have ie.) seeing the blessings in my life
- Reaching out and connecting to something greater than myself (spirituality)
- Humility (feeling honoured to be part of something larger than myself)
- Living in the solution of life
- Asking for help
- Giving back (You can’t keep what you are not prepared to give away)
- Unconditional acts of kindness
- Emotional availability (sharing who I really am with others)
While at SCHC, you can easily slip into “old behaviours”. In fact, you may even experience an emotional/mental relapse or two while in the program. Living according to old behaviours is a familiar place to be and as you develop inner serenity as well as an increased connection to others, you might feel uncomfortable. The result might be that you revert back to old behaviours to get back into your comfort zone.
It is not uncommon for people to progress well in recovery and then slip back into old behaviours from the addiction. Such individuals will develop a sense of increased restlessness and they become distracted by outside issues such as the way that SCHC as a business is managed, the quality of food provided, the number of rules, etc. Some individuals may “take on crusades” as they see other clients (in their opinion) being treated unfairly. As a result, they may then obsess about such issues and start to feel drained as they give up the positive energy that once fuelled their recovery. Now such individuals are intense, negative, blaming of others, and filled with chaos while they argue about rules or other aspects of SCHC. These behaviours are the same ones that are re-surfacing from the addiction and people now have the opportunity to use the new skills/tools they have learned in treatment to try a new way of dealing with such stress or irritations. Individuals do not have to go back into their old ways of dealing with issues and can instead bravely move out of their comfort zones to embrace the new behaviours that come with a healthy, happy, and satisfying recovery lifestyle.
The transition from old behaviours to new ways of being in life is a challenge that at times can be exhausting as well as very rewarding. Remember that you have a “tool box” of skills and now is the time to open up that tool box as you begin working your recovery program. Do not allow outside distractions to derail you from the recovery process. You can give up the old negative and chaotic behaviours of the past as you move forward to embrace a new lifestyle that is more reflective of who you really are in this world. You deserve recovery and SCHC will partner with you to give you the knowledge to transform these old behaviours!