I was listening to a podcast recently and the speaker shared a quote from Chris Voss, an FBI hostage negotiator. “When the pressure is on, we do not rise to the occasion. We fall to the preparation.” Wow! I wish I could think of a saying like that. If you ever hear me say something that sounds really smart, I probably heard someone else say it. The speaker went on to explain that people aren’t born natural hostage negotiators. They study and they plan. Then they rehearse that plan repeatedly until the plan becomes second nature. When something happens, they don’t have to stop and think about what they need to do. They act, almost instinctually, based on the plan they have rehearsed.
Every now and then I will see a story on the news about a young child maybe seven or eight years old that’s being rewarded for heroism. They were at home with a family member that had a heart attack, choked or fell downstairs and the child immediately called 911 and maybe also administered CPR or some other first aide care. How did that child know to call 911 and apply first aide? They were taught a plan. They were prepared when the emergency happened. This same process is important for those of us in recovery.
If we have experienced addiction or compulsive behavior, sooner or later a test and a trigger is coming. The trigger will probably result from an emotion like fear, anger, anxiety, loneliness or shame and we have learned a plan in the past that led us to self-medicate through a substance or a behavior that has led us down a path of destruction. The good news is that we can learn a new plan. Here are some keys that I have found to be important to a solid relapse prevention plan.
1. I need a reason to change my behavior. I suggest that your reason be personal and not based on someone else. If I am getting sober for my wife then anytime we aren’t getting along my reason for change is at best, weak. My personal reason is that I don’t ever want to experience the fear of being exposed. I hated working to hide my addiction.
2. Make a list of warning signs and relapse factors. This can include people, places, things and especially emotions or feelings that could lead to a relapse.
3. Make a list of safe people you can reach out to if you find yourself entering a relapse cycle. I suggest at least four.
4. What are ways that these people can help me when I reach out? Early in recovery, I remember picking up my phone and calling a friend when I was struggling. I didn’t know what I needed and they didn’t know what to do so we sat on the phone in silence for a few minutes and then I hung up and relapsed anyway. Today I have a list of things that I know from experience can often help me. Sometimes I need to be reminded of the damage my addiction has caused in the past. Sometimes I need someone to listen to me vent. Sometimes I need someone to offer to meet me and talk. I share these things with the people that are on my call list so they know what may help when I reach out.
5. I put up some guardrails. This might be things like people or places I need to avoid. If my struggle is alcohol this might look like not going anywhere that serves alcohol to hang out with friends I used to drink with. I have a specific neighborhood I avoid because of memories that I have from there. Some of these guardrails may need to be permanent but I have also found that over time some of these guardrails can be removed as I work through trauma and other issues involved with my story.
6. I end with a list of tools that I have developed that help me to soothe myself and are beneficial to my recovery. This can be things like group meetings, meditation and mindfulness, purposeful community, and healthy reading material.
Do you have a plan? If so, I’d like to hear about what you have found helpful. If you have questions about a plan, fell free to shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.