Posts Tagged ‘relapse’

by applyingmybeliefs

Relapse for an addict is relatively easy to understand.  It is a reversion to the old coping mechanisms such as drinking, drugging, or otherwise acting out.  This reversion is usually preceded by some form of negative mental state, painful emotions, or difficulty in a life situation.

Relapse for a codependent is the same.  They experience a hard time in life, a negative thought life or emotional pain, and they start to act out.  However their acting out looks somewhat different to an alcoholic or drug addict, because they revert back to behaviors that are sometimes difficult to spot.  They re-indulge in controlling others and neglecting their own needs for example.

For a codependent that lives with an addict, the relapse of their addict is highly likely to trigger a relapse.  Both partners are then caught in a spiral downward.  This is one reason that it is smart for addicts and codependents to both be part of a larger recovery group or program.

We have already said that it is hard for a person, let alone the codependent, to see when they are slipping back into their old ways.  How can a codependent identify when this might be happening?  Here is a list of “I” statements that are helpful in becoming aware of a slide that is in place; or one that is coming.

  • I’ve started saying bad things again about my partner behind their back.
  • I’ve stopped giving my partner the benefit of the doubt.
  • I’ve lost interest in doing the things I know make my partner happy.
  • I’ve stopped hugging my partner goodbye in the morning.
  • I’ve stopped using my recovery tools.
  • I’ve stopped feeling grateful for my partner.
  • I’ve gone back to indifference in my attitude to my partner.
  • I’ve become rude toward my partner.
  • I’ve reverted back to trying to control everything my partner does.
  • I’ve stopped taking care of myself.
  • I’ve started to break promises I made to my partner.

If a codependent finds themselves in agreement with say 3 or more of these statements an orange warning light ought to go off in their head, 7 or more ought to result in a trip back to the therapist.

This kind of list, if honestly worked through on a frequent basis, can help a codependent identify when something is going wrong.  The list is a tool, it is a “symptom identifier”, a way of discovering that something is happening inside that is not easily seen.  It uses affirmative answers to ask the question, “Am I being triggered toward a relapse by something?”

As a topic today, let’s talk about our own emotional relapses as codependents and answer the question, “What else can a codependent do to protect themselves from going back to their self-centered and relationship destructive ways?”

by Maria Marballi


Stumbling interferes with the sanctification of our hearts.

Darkness can cause us to fall, but Christ is able to keep us.  We cannot forget that it is to Him we send our prayers; He will turn darkness to light, and the the Holy Spirit will help us walk.

When our child’s Internet misuse feels like a despairing cycle, we bow our heads in prayer; He is able.

When the eye lusts and addictions to impurity take hold of the mind and body, we bow our heads in prayer; He will keep us from stumbling.

When we feel like there is no escape from a sinful cycle, we bow our heads in prayerHe can make us stand.

Yet we are quick to become disheartened and overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and hopelessness when bombarded by the images and attitudes of our sexualized culture, and paralyzed by the unholy desire to fix our own problems…or worse, hide them in secrecy.

Surely the Word of God sings a new song.  If we take a moment to consider the power and majesty of the God we serve, we must also acknowledge His awe-inspiring ability and will to protect our hearts and minds from evil.  He can make us blameless.

He desires contrition and the renewal of our hearts in purity, and when we pray for Him to heal and protect, He responds with an overwhelming “Yes.”

Depression and discouragement can spin into an endless cycle of sin, but through the love and faithfulness of Christ Jesus, He fills us with the joy that is our strength.

What verses sustain you during times of trial or temptation?

screen-shot-2012-07-03-at-9-00-00-am1Maria Marballi attends The Ohio State University and was a 2012 pureJUSTICE intern.
Relapse and the Brain by Michael Dye

In very simplistic terms, we have two parts to our brains. The first part is the neocortex. It is located in the front of the head and receives and stores information for decision making and remembering. The other part is called the limbic system, which controls all the automatic systems of the body and the emotions. Most importantly, the limbic system controls the survival responses, i.e., fight or flight and freeze. When you feel threatened, these protective responses tell you either to defend yourself or to run away or go numb. The limbic system doesn¹t have a memory like the neocortex. It doesn’t know the difference between yesterday and 30 years ago, which explains why some of our childhood traumas still trigger us so powerfully today. It is the limbic system that is most affected by our beliefs, behaviors and addictions. The limbic system can be negatively programmed through traumatic experiences such as growing up in a stressful or” dysfunctional family”. Basically the limbic systems encourages us to repeat things that give us pleasure and take away pain and avoid things that hurt or have to do with fear. Drugs, alcohol and other compulsive behaviors have programmed the limbic system to avoid the awareness of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings instead of making healthy responses to resolve fear.

Events come through our senses and are fed into various parts of the brain. The limbic system colors or tags these events with degrees of response as either safe or dangerous. If tagged dangerous because of past trauma, either real or imagined, it reacts by creating anxiety or depression. If the event is tagged having to do with survival, the limbic system can create a focused craving for behavior that has been associated with survival in the past. The craving focuses our attention on that behavior until we feel safe or normal again. Thus an addiction is created. Addiction is not about getting high but [it provides] a way to feel normal (free of stress). The conscious mind learns to cooperate with the survival behavior (addiction) and protects it from being challenged by a filtering process called denial. The result is the addictive brain.

The limbic system may have learned that having needs in a dysfunctional family resulted in vulnerability, hurt, abandonment, and isolation. In order to survive day after day in a dysfunctional/threatening atmosphere, a person has to find a system of thought that will allow for survival by removing stress. One way they may have done this is by thinking “I don¹t need anybody”. If I don¹t need anybody, I’m not vulnerable. If I’m not vulnerable, I don¹t get hurt.

(this is what Genesis calls a survival lie.)

Every time a feeling of vulnerability is experienced, fear creeps in and warns, Danger! Feelings of fear and panic signal you to fight, flee, or freeze to avoid possible hurt.

This limbic process responds automatically and subconsciously. Even after the painful or traumatic situation is over, the subconscious still believes that If I have needs and trust other people, I’m going to get hurt and I won’t survive. When trust issues come up today, the limbic system can react with strong emotions as it was programmed . This fear can be expressed in anger/rage, self-gratification and mistrust which creates a survival personality. Your protective personality makes you feel in control (free of fear and stress) by pushing people away. This false sense of control is often achieved through self-gratification or compulsive/addictive behaviors which temporarily removes the awareness of the unwanted thoughts and feelings… The Limbic System controls basically three areas, food, sex and safety. Which is why all our compulsives / addictive behaviors are in these three areas.

To change, you must reprogram your brain by first discovering these false beliefs and then replacing them with the truth. You will realize, for example, why you have been sabotaging relationships by believing that you don¹t need anybody. The truth is you need to trust God and others. The Limbic System will make it very difficult for you to make changes that involve risk (like recovery) unless it feels it is safe. And it’s not safe to take risk alone. Personal change always involves risk.

Even though you’ve discovered false beliefs, uncovered the lies and know a new truth, there is a time lag between what your limbic system believes and what your neocortex has learned. This is called limbic lag, a process that can be anywhere from a couple of months to years, but it will get shorter as you continue to uncover and challenge the false beliefs (lies produced from traumatic experiences) and risk trusting again. You may have fear and panic attacks, but once you go through them without doing the old behavior, your limbic system will say, “Oh, we went through that and actually survived.” The next time you experience the fear it will be less, and you will be able to make a good choice rather than overreacting with a fight , flight or freeze response. Old automatic habits aren’t changed quickly or easily, and are stronger when we’re tired. Many recovering addicts and trauma survivors have programmed the survival part of their brains with thousands and thousands of instances of avoiding unwanted thoughts or emotions choosing not to resolve with their issues, but to take “flight” into their addiction. Over time, this flight pattern becomes an automatic reaction. With a new identity based on new beliefs, you can change that flight pattern and reprogram their limbic system.

Changes happens one decision at a time. No matter what your emotions tell you would feel good to do (drugs, alcohol, sex, food), listen to what your mind knows, and do what is best or right. If you continue to apply this key thought, you will begin to break the limbic patterns, and decrease the time of the limbic lag process.

Drugs and alcohol are anesthetics. They do one thing: they kill pain. It is reasonable to assume that when you give up the anesthetic, you will feel the pain, discomfort and uneasiness. Knowing what to do when this occurs is a critical skill in relapse prevention. Relapse prevention is finding new appropriate ways to respond to painful situations. In order to learn appropriate responses to pain, people with addictions have to allow themselves to feel. The two most common responses to pain are anger and anxiety.

Anger is one of the most common responses to pain. This kind of response becomes normal in dysfunctional families where no one can admit problems or fears. Anger helps us cope with pain by physically making us tense, which causes excitement, releasing adrenaline and endorphins, diverting our attention from the pain. An angry response produces a neurochemical response similar to taking cocaine. Neurochemically speaking the main role of anger is to anesthetize fear.

Most people say that anger makes them feel bad afterwards, but in the moment anger itself makes us feel big, right, strong, aggressive and powerful. Anger is a powerful physical and emotional anesthetic. Heroin is a powerful pain killer. When I ask heroin-addicted clients, How much heroin would you have to do for you not to feel it if I hit you in the face as hard as I could? their answer is always the same, right on the verge of overdosing and dying. Similarly, when a person is really angry, he can be hit in the face and not feel it.

Consciously or subconsciously, we have learned to use emotions such as anger to kill pain and to avoid subconscious, unwanted thoughts, feelings, and memories. Many addicts have an addiction to anger as well as drugs, especially if their role models were rageaholics. Healthy people move towards their pain and face it courageously. Although risk is uncomfortable, we all enjoy the feeling that comes through conflict resolution and a clear conscience. Controlling anger and avoiding things that need to be dealt with takes a tremendous amount of energy. Repressing the awareness of unresolved conflicts leads to exhaustion and resentment.

Anxiety is equally used as an anesthetic to cope with feelings. Though uncomfortable, this emotion releases neurochemicals that cause the body to speed up and avoid depression. Dr. Stiles in his book Thorns in the Heart states that:

Besides making us alert in crisis situations, anxiety has an additional function. It serves as an antidote to emotional and physical pain. Since anxiety is commonly thought of in connection with pain and distress, its pain-masking function may come as a surprise. If anxiety causes emotional pain, how does it also stop it? In modest amounts, anxiety is an effective smoke screen Here¹s where the trouble begins. When we find anxiety has served us well in a particular situation, such as masking pain, we may deliberately use it again. At this point our lower brain begins to record our response. Soon, an imprint, or habit, develops and we have learned anxiety. In time, anything triggering these learned patterns, or imprints, will produce the anxiety responses.

If a person holds on to two, small unresolved resentments which produce anxiety each day, in a year they would add up to 730! How many resentments do you think a person can hold inside as unresolved problems before that person relapses? What we know is this: resentment relapses alcoholics and addicts. As it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: Resentment is the Number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics then anything else; from it stem all forms of spiritual disease.

Relapse is a predictable process. It has identifiable stages, each of which has a distinctive neurochemical basis. The FASTER SCALE in the Genesis Process is a neurochemical model of relapse that identifies specific high risk behaviors for each stage of the relapse process. Before relapse happens, many biological, psychological and social changes affect our neurochemistry. Addicts speed up their avoidance behaviors, increasing anxiety and anger to mask pain. This depletes endorphins, causing hopelessness and exhaustion. In this state of exhaustion, addicts isolate and feel they cannot cope without chemicals.

Every letter in the word FASTER stands for one of the steps in the relapse scale. This scale reflects a progression of strong emotions that mask pain. It explains neurochemically what almost every addict goes through in his descent to relapse. Remember, anger and anxiety release adrenaline and norepinephrine, which speed up the body. After speeding up we get ticked off and then exhausted.

All the steps in the relapse process have one thing in common: procrastination. A problem that was never dealt with begins each state. As you fail to deal with problems, you move down the FASTER scale. Crisis comes at a time when you are least able to deal with it emotionally. The short version of the Faster Scale is speed up> anger > tired > use.
The Faster Scale is a tool that can effectively see a relapse coming a minimum of two weeks before it happens.

1.) Stiles, S. Thorns in the Heart: A Christians Guide to Dealing with Pain.  Washington: Gospel Publishing House, 1994

2.) Anonymous, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, AA

Reprinted with permission, from The Genesis Process: A Relapse Prevention Workbook for Addictive/Compulsive Behaviors by Michael Dye and Patricia Fancher.

ADMIT YOUR PROBLEM The most important, and difficult step is to go back to square one (or step-1 in AA) and admit that you have a problem and are powerless to deal with on their own. Getting back into recovery after a slip is tough enough, but after a relapse it is very difficult and painful.  You have to realize and admit how much you have deceived everyone you had worked so hard to build trust with, especially your spouse! In many cases, the spouse’s initial anger and sense of betrayal when they first found out is exponentially greater when they find out that the addict has relapsed.

BE COURAGEOUS The addict needs a great amount of courage to come forward with his situation and be transparent again.  Recovery is not possible without that step.  It helps if the addict comes forward on his own, rather than being caught.  Then the recovery process can begin on a better footing. Getting caught is not usually a good motivator for real recovery.

True freedom from addiction can only come when the motive for the addict to be completely free from the bondage and the things that caused the addiction in the first place. This can only come  when they get beyond the fear of punishment and truly move into the desire to live for Christ at all costs.

ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES The addict also needs to accept that he has let everyone around him down. He has lied to them, deceived them, abused their trust, and manipulated them for his own ends. That is going to result in some level of hurt feelings and anger, some of it unrecoverable. If the addict only wants to be sober so that he can save his marriage, he is going to fail in both goals. He must want to be free so that he can live a real life.  His marriage, job, family, friends, etc. have to take a backseat to that goal.

Go back to your accountability partner, group, counselor, etc. and disclose all of what you have been involved in. Let them guide you in how to break this to your spouse but understand that they are likely to respond very negatively to this news. Break all ties to your addictive lifestyle, regardless of the cost. Too many times we addicts will justify keeping an addictive relationship open because of concern for the other person. This is a lie and needs to be seen for what it is. Break it off completely and be done with it forever!

Breaking a relapse may mean some drastic steps…getting rid of computers, canceling Facebook accounts, even getting rid of your cell phone. It could mean changing jobs if that is a major trigger for you. I know these things sound over the top but you are either committed to getting set free or you are not. Holding onto these things is a way of keeping that door open just a little.

You need to be willing to close it, lock it, and throw away the key!

by Jeff Fisher on September 4, 2013


One of the worst things, but also the most common, is to berate the addict for lying to them or not being open with them. The last thing the addict needs is to have even more guilt and shame flung on him. He has enough of his own already and if he is married he will likely be hit with more than he can handle. Restoration is the job of the group/accountability partners. Getting him  back on track in recovery and helping him get rid of the things he has built up to facilitate acting out is essential. Grace and compassion are needed regardless of how hurt we may feel as accountability partners. We have been wounded by the addict but we MUST put our own hurts aside and show them the love and mercy that in Christ, God has shown us.


Once we have helped the addict get back into recovery we have to work on getting him out of the addictive lifestyle that he has rebuilt. This is a difficult stage as the addict has very strong emotional ties to these things and may be angry at any attempt to disrupt his carefully planned rituals but it MUST happen for him to be free. A greater level of accountability is necessary after a relapse. The addict should be willing to meet with someone (AP, group, counselor) at least 3 times a week but 4-5 is even better. Getting them into a lifestyle of accountability will help them get out of the addictive lifestyle.

As an AP you should be aware that just because an addict has come forward and been open with his acting out/relapse it does not mean that he is free from it. He has spent a lot of time building up his addictive life and is very protective of it. Wisdom and insight are required as well as a firm, loving hand. Don’t be fooled and don’t be harsh. Also, don’t let your own feelings get in the way.


Discouragement and a sense of failure are huge for someone who has been in recovery for a long time and then slips. Having been in this very situation in my own recovery more than once I can say that the most effective thing someone did for me was encourage me. Addicts already feel inadequate and rejection only helps feed the addiction. Acceptance and encouragement make a world of difference.

Spending time with him afterwards and talking about what setup the slip and what triggers were present will help him be aware of them next time he is tempted.

Be available for the addict to contact you when he is feeling tempted. Let him know that he can call or e-mail you whenever he feels weak. Pray for him regularly and encourage him.

Continuing the theme of “300: Rise of an Empire” I found another subtheme in this movie.  Although not really impressed with the movie as a whole and how Hollywood has distorted history and also added a completely fabricated and unnecessary sexual scene to this movie, I thought it had some deeper recovery-related gems.  For those that don’t know much about this movie (and I don’t expect those early in their recovery to watch the entire movie) here is a summary from Wikipedia:

Based on Frank Miller’s latest graphic novel Xerxes, and told in the breathtaking visual style of the blockbuster “300,” this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh battlefield-on the sea-as Greek general Themistocles attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war. This film pits Themistocles against the massive invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes, and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.

Nevertheless, in watching this movie, I did pick up on  the recovery-related themes.  Maybe it was me trying to find some sort of redemptive quality in a poorly made movie, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit saying to me, “use this material, men will ‘listen’ when you speak to them through these films.”  I don’t know which one it was, but I’m hoping it was the latter.  The second subtheme I saw in this movie is that of a man falling into unhealthy behaviors, admitting his mess, being redeemed as he reenters recovery, and having victory over his addiction (at least for one day). In 300: Rise of an Empire, the leader of the Greek forces, Themistocles, falls into sexual sin with the Persian Naval Commander, Artemisia. He lies about his personal life in order to continue with the acting out (as I did in my former life) and then suffers the consequences of his sexually immoral actions by angering Artemisia and having most of his men killed in battle.  Nevertheless, Themistocles admits that he messed up, rallies his troops for one final battle, and “re-enters recovery” by fighting against the “addiction” (portrayed by Artemisia) once again.  This movie should be a good reminder to those in recovery that no matter how bad you have messed up, that God can redeem you, but you need to practice rigorous honesty, risking everything, to re-enter recovery.  If you slip or relapse, it is important that you are honest about this and not keep it secret.  Secrets are what make the addiction thrive, confession is the only way through.

Disclaimer: Although tempted to watch the original movie from where this clip was taken, a person new to recovery should consult their therapist, sponsor, and/or accountability partner on whether to watch this film.  It has a sex scene with some partial nudity that could sexually trigger the individual. Also, the excessive violence (some of which I removed from this clip) can be harmful to your recovery if you are like I was early on; prone to medicate the viewing of violence and associated guilt.
As always, take what you like and leave the rest.
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