Getting some recovery – preventing relapse

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.
Photo courtesy of

How do you get this recovery thing?

Moving from being “in the problem” to being “recovered” is a process. Many of the things that will take you from the pain to the solution are simple. That does not mean they are easy. Sometimes healing from the past can be painful also.

In past posts, we have talked about Defining Recovery and how recovery is possible for anyone, and that recovery means having the best life possible not necessarily a cure for your condition.

In another post we looked at Why giving up the drugs and alcohol might not make you any happier. Just trying to not do the negative or dysfunctional behaviors will not be enough. Recovery literature talks a lot about using “recovery tools” (see: Getting your tools dirty) and things like internal and external triggers.

What may be missing are the blueprints for creating recovery.

Reader Sue made the following comment.

How exactly should one get their recovery tools dirty? Giving up something that is bad for one, you do expect to feel better but when you don’t you feel disheartened. What’s left is yourself and your problems. So you read all the self-help books and try and work on yourself but how do you connect the practice to the theory? All those learned responses and ways of coping are very hard to unlearn – is it about keeping a record, making new goals, or just trying to get through without going backward?

There are a lot of recovery processes in use today, 12 step models, CBT & REBT therapy, counseling, and so on. They all have their place and they all have some common elements. Here are some basic steps for transforming your life from being hopeless and suffering to having a healthy recovery.

1. What is the problem?

You don’t get chemotherapy for depression or a drinking problem. Drug and alcohol treatment is not very effective for cancer. Make sure you are treating the real problem.

For most people who come to treatment for an addiction problem, the drugs, and the alcohol is not the problem! The drugs and alcohol are their solutions. The real problem is that their coping method, drinking or drugging to ease the pain, is not working. The problem has become that they don’t know how to live without the drugs and alcohol.

Part of defining problems is to admit that your efforts to control the problem have not been working. This is sometimes referred to as “Powerlessness” which is not the same thing as being helpless. Applying this concept of powerlessness to ways to cope with family members who have the problem was the subject of another blog post.

Mental illnesses can play the same role. Depression, anxiety, and dissociation can all function to avoid a painful life experience. The current problem, the one you need to solve first is how to live life without drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, or any other negative coping mechanisms.

Most of the time we think the solution to drugs and alcohol is to just stop doing them. This rarely works. Once deprived of your coping mechanism people just suffer. The most effective treatment is to replace the substances with something positive. With clients that I work with we start by creating a Happy Emotional Life Plan (HELP). As a counselor, I believe I am in the happy life business.

With emotional issues, as with eating disorders, it is a little more difficult. You can’t just give up sadness or anxiety and you have to eat and stay healthy. You need to learn to feel feelings without having them control you.

2. Are you ready to change? What help will you need?

Self-help groups talk about recovery being a “we” program not an “I” program. You need to be willing to accept help and support from any source that is healthy. Counselors, Therapists, 12 step groups all can assist in your recovery.

3. Change requires moving through a process

Twelve-step programs refer to “working” the steps or “taking” the steps. Counseling involves some self-examination. To really change requires a lot of action steps. For a detailed description of the process see the series of posts on “Stages of Change”

Preparation or determination
Early Action
Late Action

4. Even after you have changed there is more work to do.

For change to be lasting you will need to do some sort of maintenance. Our old behavior patterns are deeply grooved into the structure of our life. It takes work to avoid falling back into the same old groove.

5. Progress, not perfection.

People in early recovery try to do everything now. They want to do recovery, get a job, find a new relationship, and generally create the perfect life all in one week. Learn to take things “one day at a time.”

Relapse, in my view, may not be a required “part of recovery, ” but it happens often enough that it is nothing to beat yourself up about. If you relapse on substance or depression, just get back into recovery as quickly as possible and move on.

The goal, as the old saying goes is “progress not perfection.” Keep your eyes on the gains you are making, give yourself credit for anything well done, and try to build on small successes until you create the bigger ones.

Life in recovery is a sort of experiment. We try things and learn from our efforts. Try to avoid experiments that result in a lot of pain or require time behind bars, but you will have to make choices and some of those choices will not work out the way you would have hoped.

This is a real-life, sometimes I like it sometimes I don’t. Learning to sit and feel bad and know this will pass, but I can tolerate this feeling without using my negative coping mechanism.

So, yes Sue, recovery is about trudging forward, trying on new behaviors and sometimes it is hard or painful and sometimes we fall back but always keep track of what works and what doesn’t and keep moving forward.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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4 thoughts on “Getting some recovery – preventing relapse

  1. Pingback: Why apologies can make things worse | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: What are the stages of change? | counselorssoapbox

  3. Pingback: What is a dry Drunk – putting down without really getting clean | counselorssoapbox

  4. Your columns are spot on. I, too, would love to add a link to your pieces on the resources tab of my website. It is really important to have this information available in different words, in different forms on different days. I myself don’t always “hear” (read) what I need from the same source each time; I need new framing to make it lively. Your framing of the issues is very useful. Thanks.


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