Wouldn't it be great if you could just quit substance abuse one time and the decision was irreversible?
While that may be the case for someone out there, the vast majority of people will have to quit multiple times before they finally put down a substance for good.
Take tobacco, for example, I have been trying to quit almost since the day I started. At one point, I had two years clean. But, inevitably, I felt a moment of weakness one day and here I am years later, still feeding my nicotine habit.
I will try to quit again soon, but it never feels like the right time and there is always a stressful situation standing in the way of me making the final decision to stop for good.
Unfortunately, every time I start using nicotine again, I rebuild my body's physical addiction. That means that I've had to go through the frustrating first few days of quitting over and over again.
You would think that eventually I would learn my lesson. Perhaps I will soon. But, I never will if I don't forgive myself for moments of relapse and hold on to my reasons to quit.
Quitting anything is hard enough without beating yourself up every time you have a momentary blunder.
One of the things I dislike about the process of sobriety is that people get too focused on how many days they have clean. While the idea of running a streak without using can be motivating to some people, for others it makes them feel like they are starting from scratch and canceling out all of the progress they have made in that time.
The reality of the situation is that addictions are as much mental as they are physical and you have to do a lot of internal work in order to prepare yourself to quit and continue to say no.
That work is done in therapy, through journaling, by attending group meetings, by being honest with yourself, creating a support network, and by learning new techniques to deal with your cravings and manage stress.
Just because you have a moment of failure, doesn't mean that all of those lessons disappeared. If you beat yourself up about it, you're going to feel even more desire to keep using.
The best thing to do is to find a way to forgive yourself completely and get to a support meeting or schedule an appointment with your therapist to talk about the reason you decided to use and how you will handle situations like that in the future.
A moment of relapse is also a great time to review your reasons to quit. Although a craving may have won in the moment, if your reasons are strong and solid, it will be easy to get back on the right path.
Consider the health benefits, the financial savings, and the relationships that you will be able to restore and improve when you are no longer addicted to substances. There are tons of ways your life will improve if you continue to choose to be clean from one moment to the next.
Remember, it takes time for your brain to rewire itself and get its reward centers to start processing feel-good chemicals without the use of substances. The more clean time you are able to create, the more work your brain can do resetting itself. Things will get easier with time.
When you attend formal rehab programs, they often have you put a relapse prevention plan together before you check out. That way, you know what you should do when a moment of weakness hits.
If you haven't yet put together this kind of plan, take a moment to do so now.
Start by setting goals for your recovery. List out the plans you have for the future and the things you will be able to do once you are clean that would have been impossible while you were using.
Next, list out the triggers that make you want to use. For some this may be getting bad news, feeling physical or emotional pain, having tought conversations, dwelling on the past, or celebrating an accomplishment.
Now you have to create an offensive plan for how you will deal with these triggers instead. Will you hit the gym and help your body release some natural endorphins? Will you take a hot shower and light a candle? Or, will you reach out to someone from your support team to have a conversation?
With your plan complete, you are ready to resume your journey to sobriety. Remember, you can do this, one day at a time!