Relapse doesn’t just happen. There is no such thing as a “slip.” It drives me crazy when people in recovery talk about slips. That is the beginning of the lies that lead to relapse. Nobody is ever walking down the street and accidentally falls onto a needle filled with heroin. Nobody trips and swallows a handful of pills. Nobody stumbles, and finds a bottle of alcohol in their mouth. Relapse happens with a series of choices. These choices are excused and justified because we believe little lies that the voice inside our heads tell us.
The Little Voice that Lies to US
I was watching a movie the other day. In this movie Richard Gere was an alcoholic. He had just awakened to the start of a new day. You could tell he was feeling agitated, uneasy, and uncomfortable because he hadn’t had any alcohol for several hours. As he sat up in bed he turned and poured himself a glass of whiskey from the bottle on his nightstand. As he swallowed the whiskey, he closed his eyes, kinda leaned his head back, and this look of relief came over his face. This was a feeling i deeply related to in that one, poignant moment, during the movie.
This feeling was something i had discussed with my wife no more than 2 weeks before i saw this scene. I can remember going without pills for a couple of days. I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I would have diarrhea. I would hurt all over, be irritable, and have all kinds of other uncomfortable feelings and emotions. When i was able to acquire some pills again, i would swallow them, and immediately it was like a wave of relief ran all over my body. I was instantly better.
Here is the funny thing though. When drinking alcohol or swallowing pills, it takes somewhere between 20-30 minutes for the chemicals to actually get into your body through your digestive system, and to begin to have any actual impact. So why does that wave of relief roll over you the second you ingest them? It’s all about that little voice in our brain that lies to us.
That little voice tells us any lie it has to in order to get us to use. When you have completed the required task of ingesting whatever substance that is your drug of choice, that voice has accomplished its goal. It can now be quiet. It doesn’t need to argue for your submission to what it wants. It no longer needs to harass you. It might take a few minutes for the physical relief to actually show up, but that psychological tension has been relieved. And while the physical is bad, and the two are connected, the psychological is by far the worse partner in this duet.
There are Many Different Lies
The important thing about recovery is to be able to clearly distinguish the truth from a lie. It is even more important to be able to distinguish the truth from a half truth. That little voice prefers to work in half truths to bring us to using. It is much easier to believe a half truth. The addict part of our brain desperately wants justification to use. If the little voice can give us a reason why we should use that sounds good, we’re less likely to argue against it.
Now, my father used to tell me that a half-truth is a whole lie. That is absolutely true. But, if that little voice can tell us something that sounds true, then we are more likely to at least consider what it is telling us. And if we begin to consider the reasons why it’s ok to use, then we are more likely to use.
I’d like to use this blog to discuss some of the lies the little voice tells us.
Using Will Make this Difficult Situation Better
This is one of the most effective lies the little voice uses. We find ourselves in a painful, stressful, uncomfortable situation, and it is not at all pleasant. We suffer the death of a loved one. We experience a break-up. We lose our job. We fight with our spouse. You can all imagine a situation that was unpleasant and painful, when, in that moment, you felt the overwhelming urge to use. You heard that little voice tell you that this whole situation would be better if you just had a drink, or took a few pills. There is a half truth in there that needs to be unmasked.
In moments like these, i have always said to myself (in my head, not out loud because that would be crazy) “you are absolutely right. If i were to use, this entire situation would be better………….for about 10 minutes. But when the high wore off, the same exact problem will still be there, and i will have thrown away everything that God has restored to me in my sobriety.”
You see, there IS, in fact, a half truth there. There is some part of us that wants to believe that if we use in that moment, that the situation would be better. And it WOULD feel better. But it would only FEEL better. The situation wouldn’t actually BE better. It will actually be much worse in the end.
I Can Drink Alcohol Because it wasn’t My Drug of Choice
This is the most naive, short-sighted, and dangerous statement an addict can make. The entire purpose of consuming alcohol is to alter our moods and/or our mind. The goal is exactly the same, whether you believe it or not. I cannot tell you how many addicts in recovery, ended up in full blown relapse because they started giving themselves permission to drink alcohol. That justification is just as insane as believing one could try smoking meth, while in recovery from heroin, because meth wasn’t their drug of choice. In this ridiculous example, there is no difference between alcohol and meth. In both circumstances the addict in recovery has convinced themselves that using a different mind/mood altering substance is ok because it isn’t the one they preferred to use before.
You Deserve it
Addicts convince themselves that substitution is ok because they “deserve” it. They feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, or whatever, and they believe they have a right to unwind, or relax. Again, we have a half truth. They feel things they don’t want to feel. They want relief. That little voice takes the opportunity to tell them, “You work hard. You’re doing great. You deserve some relief. One beer won’t hurt you. You deserve it.” This is a lie the addict wants to believe, so they accept it. Rather than going through the work of processing these difficult emotions and moving past them, they want a quick fix. They want it NOW. They need to understand that what they DESERVE is a life of sobriety, not a life that has been numbed for the avoidance of any real feelings. But instead, they pick a different substance, convincing themselves it won’t be like it was with the other stuff. Taking just one drink won’t kill you. And this leads us to our next lie.
You Can Have Just One
It doesn’t really matter what your drug of choice is, we could never have just one. Like my friend Jon always says, “One is always too many and 99 is never enough.” One beer will quickly become a six pack, then a 12 pack, then an entire fifth of whatever. The lie is that we can do just one. With this argument, that little voice has given up on half truths. It has taken advantage of a difficult season in our lives to employ an outright lie. We want so badly to believe that we are stronger now than we were before. We want to believe that we are better. We want to believe that we don’t have that weakness of addiction any longer. We want to have relief. This is why so many addicts cross-addict to other substances or activities. We have to recognize that one will never be enough.
I am Strong Enough to Handle this on My Own
This is the greatest lie the little voice tells us. This is the lie that most often convinces an addict to willingly make choices that lead to relapse. This is also, often times, the very first bad choice that those in recovery make as they start down the path of relapse.
I was not able to get clean or stay clean by my own strength. I had the help of Jesus Christ. It is only by His grace, mercy, and strength that i was able to get clean. It is only by His grace, and fellowship i have within my Celebrate Recovery group, and with my accountability partners, that i have been able to stay clean. There have been days, when left to my own devices, that i would’ve used. I didn’t. But not because i was strong enough, but because in those moments of weakness i reached out to people that love me and asked for extra accountability. I have proven to myself over the course of my life that i cannot walk the road of sobriety by my own strength. I know, and have accepted, that i need accountability.
The addict wants to believe that they are strong enough to walk the road of sobriety on their own. We don’t like feeling weak, helpless, or needy, but we are. It is also a lot easier to justify bad choices to myself (because my addict brain wants to use) than it is to convince others that bad ideas are good. If i keep others in the loop, they may veto things i want to do. They might discourage me from things that i want. If i only have to seek my own approval it is much easier.
Others may convince me that a new job is not a good environment. They may try to tell me that this new romantic interest i have is bad for me. They may challenge me on a great many things. If i don’t tell them, then i can do what i want. I have to realize that my best efforts, intentions, and desires have always led me to use. I cannot be trusted alone. But with accountability, i make much better decisions. Isolation is the biggest red flag of all.
So What are We to DO?
To the families of addicts in recovery, i tell you these things so that might understand some of the lies your addict, has or will hear in their voice. You can help protect yourself, your family, and your addicts by speaking out when you see or hear these things. When you notice your addict acting in ways contrary to recovery, you have a right and a responsibility to call them on it, and to expect change. Not only do you deserve better, but so does your addict.