Relapses do not come out of nowhere and neither does the discomfort, irritation, anger, or distress that almost always precedes them. One of the skills most important to a sustained recovery is to be able to identify the signs that cravings or the urge to relapse might be looming. With awareness comes the power to make changes and to choose how to respond to immediately begin the process of repair before relapse can occur.
For many people, a generalized bad mood that feels unshakeable is the first sign. You may not know why or where the feelings are coming from at first, but if you are irritable when dealing with people or have an underlying sense of depression as well as a lack of energy, it’s time to take action.
Here are some things you can do to get started:
- Talk to a substance abuse treatment professional. Your very first action should be to involve a treatment professional you trust who understands the risks associated with your recovery when you are unable to shake off a bad mood. Not only should this person be able to offer you immediate actionable advice but they should also provide a level of oversight and accountability over the next few days or weeks as you move out of the danger zone.
- Do a complete inventory. Take the time to walk through your day from beginning to end and think about all the characteristics of your life: where you live, where you work, the people you spend time, the people you want to spend time with but don’t, the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, how much you sleep, what and how much you eat, and more. Avoid paragraphs and stream-of-consciousness writing, and try instead to keep each item on the list to a phrase or sentence.
- Don’t overlook the big things. Take a good look at your list. What jumps out at you right away as problematic? Are you unhappy where you live? Are you in a relationship that causes you stress? Are you grieving the loss of addiction or the loss of a loved one? Large issues that impact your life every day and even all day are not insurmountable, even if many of them seem to be working together to cause you problems.
- Don’t overlook the little things. Are you getting enough sleep at night? Are you trying to sleep in a room that is noisy or too brightly lit? Do you avoid vegetables, overly indulge in fried foods, or try to skip eating altogether? Do you listen to music that has an angry or violent message? Do you wear clothes that make you feel more like lounging than getting things done? The littlest things can have a significant impact on your sense of balance in recovery, and often, these are the quickest changes you can make as you work to find relief from a bad mood.
- Ask for ideas. If you go to 12-Step meetings, share what you are working on. Though people aren’t supposed to “cross-talk,” or directly address something you said by raising their hand and speaking to the group, you will get many people who respond to you during the break or after the meeting. Listen to what people have to say and file it away for later. Some advice may be well-meaning but not right for your situation, and other suggestions may not serve your best interest. But you might also hear something that really resonates with you and becomes a part of your process as you move forward.
- Reconnect with a substance abuse treatment professional. Throughout this process and certainly before you make any big decisions about how to handle any of the big issues that may be at play, check in with a substance abuse treatment professional (e.g., a therapist or a counselor) regularly. Get their input on the different options you are considering so you have an objective opinion on the pros and cons.
How do you handle a negative mood when it feels like it is dragging you down in recovery? What changes do you make when you realize that you need to get back on track and focused on building a positive life in recovery? Which people do you reach out to when you are worried that you might relapse?