Often we hear that relapse is part of recovery. More times than not this is true. However, relapse does not have to be part of recovery. Recovery is possible without experiencing the deep, dark discouragement and shame of relapse.
Often, relapse destroys. Many speak of self-hatred, extreme disappointment, greater anxiety, more problems, and worse hangovers and withdrawals after relapse. Those who began to trust you again, stopped. The naysayers point and say, “I told you he wasn’t gonna make it.” The life you thought you left behind is back and back with a vengeance. It’s always harder the next time around. Why? Because you returned to your old comfort and coping tools. Those old ways never disappear from the brain's complex system of neuropathways and data storage. They are there, stored in the back of your brain and mind, just awaiting a trigger or stray thought that you allow to hang around.
Therefore, you can never let your guard down. You can never stop preparing for war. How do you prevent relapse? The process is not complicated. God never complicates the processes we need for success. The challenge is having the will and discipline to follow through on a relapse plan. Here’s a simple approach to preventing relapse in your own life. I call it the CEASES plan (Commit, Examine, Accountability, Serve, Exercise, and Structure). Follow it and you will find great success.
1. Commit. You will not find and keep success if you are not committed to success. If you are still wavering back and forth between following God’s ways or following your old ways, you will relapse. You must be all in. You can’t be 95% committed. You can’t be 99.9% committed. You must be 100% committed. Commitment is not something you can just call up in the moment. Commitment means that you have made up your mind to stay the course and follow God’s ways of living life, no matter what. Commitment overrides convenience.
2. Examine. If you are going to succeed you must become your own worst critic. You must evaluate your every thought. Every action. Every word. Do they line up with success? Do they bring glory to God and good to you? Self-examination is a crucial part of success for anyone.
Jesus stated in Matthew 7:5, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Before you can help another person see his or her problems, we must know our problems and then do something about them. Don’t just acknowledge your problems. Fix your problems. This will not happen without daily examination.
3. Accountability. Just like commitment, accountability means you must remove the word “convenience” from your vocabulary. Recently, a young man who had been clean for a year asked me to hold him accountable in order to remain clean. Soon, he became angry with me because I called him out for associating with people who were drinking and using drugs. I told him that this was part of accountability. He then told me that he only wanted accountability when it was convenient for him. He stated that I was not going to keep him from hanging around his old friends. This young man did not understand accountability. He was not committed to true success. He still valued convenience and comfort over success. He began using again within a few days and lost everything.
The word “accountable” has its roots in a financial transaction. It means to maintain a record of financial transactions that show where and how money has been spent. Personal accountability is no different than financial accountability. You must be willing to allow others to maintain a record of your actions so you can grow and succeed. We all need accountability. You never outgrow accountability.
The richer a person becomes financially, the greater levels of financial accountability he or she needs. The more success you find in life remaining clean and sober, the more accountability you require. One of the main reasons people relapse after years of sobriety is because they begin to shed or reduce accountability. This is dangerous. Success invites more accountability—not less.
4. Serve. People who serve other people tend not to focus on their own selfish desires. Addiction is selfish. Serving others is not. The more you focus on you the more likely you are to fall into self-pity, discouragement, doubt, and destructive behaviors. Get busy serving others. A busy person is a successful person. You don’t need extra time on your hands. Find places and ways to serve. Priorities in serving should be as follows:
Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Your freedom is not for you. It is for others. Freedom that is used to indulge the flesh eventually returns us to bondage. Get busy serving others.
Serving others has both mental and physical benefits. Serving others reduces stress and depression. People who serve tend to be happier and healthier. People who serve have stronger friendships, marriages, and work relationships. Serving enriches your life and the lives of others. There’s an ancient quote that says, “if you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
People who serve others don’t relapse. They’re too busy to relapse.
5. Exercise. God has placed in each person the ability to “get high” on the chemicals He placed in our bodies. Exercise releases endorphins into the body. Endorphins enhance healthy brain development and produces a high in your body very similar to pain pills. Exercise actually helps your body feel less pain. People are not physically active experience greater levels of physical and mental pain.
“Endorphins act as analgesics, which means they diminish the perception of pain. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body's endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.” (https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression).
Exercise outdoors tends to be best. The blue color of the sky, green of the grass, and yellow, red, and purple of flowers and plants work together to stimulate brain activity toward happiness. Combining exercise and nature has a powerful impact on your ability to maintain a healthy and clean physical and mental life.
6. Structure. A structured life is a successful life. The key to living and experiencing unending success is to put as many things in your life on cruise control as possible. Establish routines, habits, and actions that are not negotiable. Getting up at the same time each day. Setting a time and place to read your Bible and pray. Scheduling time for daily exercise. Committing to small groups and church services. You should not have to decide if you’re going to do these things. Make them automatic.
You must decide that you will live a disciplined and structured life to avoid relapse and live a life of success.
Set goals, plan your time, live by a financial budget, and live each day with a purpose that is beyond yourself
No one gains success in anything without a few knock downs. It is certainly not God’s desire for relapse. If you will stay by God’s side, you don’t have to relapse. Relapse does not have to be part of recovery. Relapse does not have to occur.
Todd Robinson is the Executive Director of Next Step Recovery Ministries and has counseled those in addiction and other strongholds for more than 15 years. Todd has a Ph. D. in counseling, and holds certifications in Addiction Psychology, Parenting, and Leadership. He is a retired USAF combat aviator and has been married to his wife, Cecilia, for 31 years.