A sad cycle in the drug abuse culture keeps victims trapped in a loop of recovery and relapse. We know it well. Many of us have been stuck in this cycle for years or even decades. Many people with a substance abuse problem die “with the beautiful song” of life never expressed, never sung, marching endlessly to the heart-breaking ride on the merry-go-round of someday I will escape. Plenty try to quit but as self-determined resources run dry, all they need is an excuse, any old excuse will do. Excuses for relapse are always available because life is difficult.
The ill-fated beginning of addiction doesn’t matter once you are on the ride. People willingly and unwillingly become addicted to intoxicating substances. The choice isn’t to be an addiction but simple to use a forbidden substance; some to escape pain, other to express opposition to society, or many for the plain enjoyment to be a part of the carefree, party-loving crowd. But once the choice is made, like a freaking vacuum, we get sucked into a life on the fringes of society.
The “Hotel California” where all are invited, but none permitted to leave. We sacrificed life and join the entrapping cycle of addiction: Using, euphoria and (or) escape, talking about recovery, “Clean Time”, discomfort (emotions, challenges, failure), and relapse (back to the beginning).
Thoughts of Recovery
In hard-core drug circles, outmatched hapless discuss recovery—a popular topic. Recovery is a dim light of hope shining at the far end of a foreboding tunnel. Perhaps, the dream of sobriety creates a small division between the person with addiction’s current failings and a healthy sense of self, infusing energy to the wobbling self-image.
Most people with substance abuse problems see themselves different; not like the “righteous dope fiends.”. A small justifying narrative to sooth the fear. These excuses for relapse powerfully contribute to the continuing dependence and bondage to the unforgiving cycle.
Addiction is a self-supporting force that keeps victims stuck in sameness. The sphere of addiction spins fast, dragging those in recovery back to behaviors and escapes that offer only broken futures.
Recovery is a dim light of hope shining at the far end of a foreboding tunnel.~T. Franklin Murphy
Detox is Not Recovery
Detox is painful—physically and emotionally. We are programmed to avoid these painful episodes. Making a choice to feel the muscles aches, the haunting hallucinations, the chills and vomiting isn’t a simple choice. These choices demand iron willpower—something, by-the-way, that takes a beating from the neuronal changes in the addicted brain. Who willingly chooses to suffer? So, the dreadful first step is postponed—until tomorrow.
“Addiction is a tough illness, and recovery from it is a hard but noble path. Men and women who walk that path deserve our support, encouragement, and admiration.”~Sheldon Whitehouse
Making the actual choice to enter a detox center, or “just quit” almost always falls victim to “tomorrowism.” Tomorrow I’ll go to the Sheriff’s office and handle that warrant, tomorrow I will contact the detox program, tomorrow I’ll quit. I can’t today because…. Any old excuse will do.
“Clean time” often is initiated by forced detox—jail time, hospitalization. However, success can come from these forced beginnings. This is okay. Any force can initiate change, giving traction to longer sustained efforts.
Excuses are Easy to Find
When it’s time to choose, any old excuse will do. My girlfriend needs me; others don’t care, I need to clean my car. The staff was rude. The problem is we can always find something else to do, something to complain about, or something that interferes with the well-meaning plans, keeping them forever a day or week away, dangling in no-where land to boost our image but not to beginning the change. There’s never a shortage of reasons for putting something off for a later day.
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer puts in plainly, “The only thing an excuse gives you is an option out of the life that you’d like to live.” (Dyer, 2009). But the dagger that plunges into our resolve to change is unconscious interference. We organize escape plans with built in excuses for relapse to soften the impact when we fail. Planning fail almost always ensures it inevitability.
Programs and intense monitoring are distasteful because they force compliance. We prefer the self-administered plan—the ones discussed repeatedly during conversations with friends stuck in the same dreadful cycle: “I’m going to start methadone but continue to chip until they increase the dosage.” “I’m going to cop ‘bupe’ on the street while I get clean.” We create fanciful plans, ignore the science of recovery, and kindly leave the door wide open for relapse, giving us freedom to escape as soon as we face a challenge. And then to soften the impact of failure, we reach for any of the plentiful excuses available to blame for our relapse.
Recovery and Commitment
Effective recovery is an extended commitment to work through several stages of adjustments. A successful move from the dark cycle of addiction requires a completely different sequence of action, moving from hopeful talk, to proven action, then to detox, followed by assistance to attain psychological stability and healthy social connections, eventually leading to a well-adjusted life of resilience and continued growth. Our self devised plans gloss over the difficulties of re-integrating into life, especially back into societies that typically are more suspicious of our recovery than welcoming.
Life is a formidable foe. Jumping right back into the fray after missing years or even decades of development isn’t simple. When sober, we may remember why we ran, forced to confront old emotions, unresolved traumas, and fearful survival demands. We never resolved the complexity of living sober. And within the complexity of living we find countless excuses for relapse.
Life Sets the Stage for Relapse
These encounters with life set the stage for relapse. Here, in the panic of real life problems, excuses for relapse are every where, just pick one. When your NA chapter rejects your clean time because you chose the methadone maintenance path, or a manager’s bias is expressed through unfairness, or you are arrested for an old warrant, lingering from your previous chaotic life, or whatever, the setback becomes a sufficient excuse, and you begin to chip (just to cope) or dive back into full blown relapse.
I spoke with a kid in obvious distress, wailing in pain, sitting on a bus bench, hopeless, distraught and high. “I’m a failure.” He continued, “I wasted a year of clean time.” With encouragement and compassion, we spoke at length and I took him home. We never lose a year of clean time. During a year of sobriety we develop skills and feel experience that we can’t experience during addiction.
Many things can happen during a year that contribute to well-being and long-term sobriety. We regain balance, build healthy connections, and adopt new coping skills. We can define a relapse as a disastrous failure, using the relapse as an excuse; or a temporary setback that provides a wealth of pertinent information to assist us on our continuing journey of recovery.
Awareness of excuses for relapse invite better methods of response. A more educated approach. Our dreamy hopes of sobriety can become reality. We can successfully achieve these dreams, discovering the beauty of the sober life, free from that hurtful cycle that has kept us in bondage.
Dyer, W. W. (2009). Excuses Begone!: How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits. Hay House Inc.