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Living With Mental Illness: Relapse And Recovery

Living With Mental Illness: Relapse And Recovery


The origin of the word relapse comes from the Latin word relaps - "slipped back", from the verb relabi, from re- "back" + labi "to slip". The word is a noun, referring to a sick or injured person that deteriorates after a period of improvement.  

Relapses are not just falling back into using or drinking. Relapses are a process not an event. It occurs in three stages: emotional, mental and physical. It happens days, weeks or months before you pick up a drink, a drug or any self-harm behaviour such as cutting, sexual deviancy/offending, overeating, or emotional dependence on another person, place or thing.

The First Stage Of Relapse Is Emotional
It begins when one starts to harbour guilt, pain, and suffering. When one stops communicating how he or she feels, when one falls back into patterns of self-destructive behaviour, by not sharing what it is that is consuming the person from the inside out and when one stops going to meetings, group or individual therapy. The telltale signs are an attitude of indifference towards people through anger, a defensive nature, and rapid mood swings. Also loss spiritual principles: honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. As well as an utter lack of self-care like: isolation, not asking for help, poor eating and sleeping habits. 

How can a person prevent an emotional relapse?

The first step is to recognize that you are in an emotional relapse and to take steps to change your behaviour.

The second step is to recognize you are isolating, to swallow your pride and say those three hard words to another person "I NEED HELP!". Communication and expression of feelings are one of the most important parts of recovery for you cannot only help yourself but also someone else.

The third is to recognize that you are anxious and to practice techniques such as mindful and/or relaxed breathing, placing a rubber band around your wrist and playing with it, and the best.... EXERCISE.

The fourth is to recognize you have declined into poor eating and sleep habits, and start to practice self-care. By changing eating habits, starting to exercise, even just brushing your teeth and flossing helps (even though flossing hurts sometimes...hey BE THANKFUL that you can floss!)

The Second Stage Of Relapse Is Mental 
The signs and symptoms may vary from one person to the next but the typical signs include: neglecting to take medication, unusual dressing, excessive or lack of eating and/or sleeping, suspicious and hostile behaviour, irrational or inappropriate ideas, thinking about people places or things one used to hang around with, glamorizing past use, lying, fantasizing about using, thinking about using or self-harm, and planning your relapse around other peoples schedules. It is very hard to make the right choices and ones addiction/mental illness gets stronger. But there are the tools of and in recovery to help us move forward.

How can a person prevent mental relapse?

The first step is to PLAY THE TAPE THROUGH. When you think about using, hurting yourself or others, remember play the tape to the end. One drink/cut/drug leads to another, the next day you will wake up worse than you were before and you may not be able to return to recovery; ONE IS TOO MANY AND A THOUSAND IS NEVER ENOUGH. Think of how you felt the last time you self-harmed, used or drank, how did you feel? What was the outcome? Probably your depression and the cycle of self hate only become worse. As if you were Dante guided by the poet Virgil (being your addiction or mental illness) through the nine circles of your own personal Inferno. 

This brings me to the second point, which is to COMMUNICATE your urges to self-harm or to use. We are not alone in our walk to recovery that is why it is very important to maintain conscious contact with God, your family, your friends and your fellowships. There is a beauty is sharing what we feel, it may not be an instant relief of our urges, but hearing another persons voice and having them walk your through the pain you are suffering at that moment will help you realize that: one, these feelings will pass and two your urges and problems will not be perceived as behemoth mountains of struggle.

The third is to GO INTO ACTION. How? By distracting ourselves. As I mentioned in a previous article having a "go-to list" for when one is having cravings to (AB)use, self harm or fall into an obsessive-compulsive behaviour trap. This is a list of at least thirty things to occupy yourself with when you have a craving/urge; the goal is to go through at least ten of these each time. Given if you just sit there with your cravings or urges you are allowing your mental relapse space to fester and grow.

The fourth tip is to WAIT. An urge or craving is only going to last a short time, although it may feel like a very long time. Plan to do something for thirty minutes. Keep busy, and do the things you are supposed to not what your addiction/mental illness tells you to do. The feeling will quickly subside. Remember this too shall pass.

The fifth and most important is to take it ONE DAY AT A TIME (ODAAT). What does this mean? Recovery from anything is just for today by the strength of God or your higher power as you perceive him/her, this higher power can be even found in a group of people who are like us: survivors. Recovery is not easy but breaking it down into little portions is way easier that thinking, "I AM DOING THIS FOREVER." Forever never comes, what is though, is HERE AND NOW, so BE in this moment, be in today. Appreciate, talk, share, laugh and be present in this present. 

The Third Stage Of Relapse Is Physical
Those who have found a good support group, therapist or fellowship of people that can provide one with the help that is needed to maintain recovery. If one does not follow the tips aforementioned the path to physical relapse is more than well paved; for example driving to the liquor store or super-market, intentionally walking down the alcohol aisle, calling and chasing a dealer, falling into an unhealthy sexual activity, leaving an exercise plan, or any bad habit you have previously dropped, one may fall into a physical relapse. 

How can one prevent physical relapse?

Once one has gotten to this point it is very hard to prevent a physical relapse, BUT it is not impossible. For this reason it is quite important to catch the symptoms of mental and emotional relapse, go into action by working to change how we see ourselves with countering thoughts, actions and emotions. 

For example:

Your mind says: “I am never going to recover from ______________.”
Replace this thought with something positive: “I can and will recover from __________, by working one day at a time. By caring for myself”

Look in the mirror and tell yourself positive things: I am smart, I am beautiful, I am strong, I can do anything, I will achieve, I will succeed. 

Go into action and do something good for yourself, it could be anything from exercise, family time or even having some chocolate.

In my personal view, I now see that I am not a victim of circumstances; I am blessed and thankful to be a grateful recovering addict and bipolar girl with PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, and OCD. Yes, I made a plethora of mistakes throughout my life, and I know I will continue to make more, yet I am human and I am flawed. I a not perfect but now I have a little more common sense, a few chips on my shoulder and a long road of experiences behind me that I have only learned from. I must never forget where I came from, I know my conditions do not define me and I am more than just labeled by a few mental diseases but they have showed me that I am a fighter and a lover, I'm a student and a teacher but most if all I am alive, breathing and clean, grateful, just for today. 

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