Category Archives: Relapse

Psychosocial stress

We all have days where we feel stressed or low and what is important is to learn to recognise what is your normal ‘ups and downs’ and the early warning signs.  For me if I notice a change that goes on for longer than a week then I would become more watchful and mindful.  These changes might be in my:

  • Mood/feelings
  • Thoughts/beliefs
  • Sleep pattern
  • Eating habits
  • Personal care
  • Socialising/relationships

There are some life events that we cannot control and we have to learn to live with them without falling prey to the drinker’s reflex of picking up a drink to cope.  This is not always easy but the longer time goes on the easier I find it to not resort to this old coping strategy.

Things to consider would include:

  • New job/promotion/redundancy
  • Moving house/leaving home
  • Relationship/friendships/family – loss/divorce/death
  • Holidays/social events/outings
  • Birthdays/anniversaries/Christmas/New Year
  • Health issues
  • Major news events

You can reduce your risk of relapse by:

  1. Changing the things you can change
  2. Learning to recognise your sources of stress
  3. Learning better ways of coping with the things you can’t change

Are there any other life events that are stressful that I’ve forgotten that I need to watch out for too?


Coping Strategy Enhancement

We all have ways of coping when things aren’t going well in our lives or when we feel stressed.  For me one of those coping strategies was I used to drink.  I used to do other things too like run, read, escape into a film or music, talk to friends and I still do all of those things now – except the drinking 🙂

I didn’t realise that drinking was an unhelpful coping strategy, in fact it had a habit of making the situation feel worse, but it was a habit that I had got used to and I had never tried to find a more helpful way of managing my stress.

So for me getting drunk in the short term was helpful because I was able to forget about the problem and it would allow me to feel relaxed and confident.  But if I overdid it I would feel sick and dizzy, I would do things that would embarrass myself, I might feel more angry or depressed and that would lead to me getting what my friend would call ‘tired and emotional’ i.e. crying, or getting into fights.  I would have a hangover and spend too much money that I could ill afford to spend.

And long term it became an over used coping strategy leading to dependence, it created minor health problems, I offended friends and family, fortunately I never got in trouble with the police (but more by luck than judgement) and it caused money troubles.

So what I needed to do was ‘beef up’ my non-drinking strategies to counter-balance the choice of not drinking!

So I developed new strategies, such as this here – my sober blog.  I also connected with other sober people both real and virtual, I focused my attention on other activities that didn’t revolve around drinking, like the cinema, going for walks, meeting for tea not beers.  You need to think creatively about how you spend your time and where you focus your energies and attention.  You can look at each of your coping strategies and create a decision table to help you decide if what you are doing is positive and helpful or negative and unhelpful, both in the short term and long term.

When you are feeling negative about not drinking I found I had to work really hard at it, and at times it felt like a slog, but ‘faking it till you make it’ does work!  Connect when you don’t really feel like it, reach out when you don’t want to.  My wanting to withdraw was ALWAYS a sign of a relapse in the making.

What coping strategies have you used that I could benefit from? 🙂

Relapse signature

Working on our early warning signs is one way of avoiding a complete relapse.  They are a set of symptoms that can occur in a specific order, over a particular period of time, that indicate a relapse is possible and impending.

You need to think about what changes that you experience in your thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviour prior to your last bout of drinking, whether you were moderating already, or had stopped completely .  It is also helpful to identify events which might trigger these sorts of changes and I’ll cover those in more detail in another post

The early warning signs can take place over a period of several weeks or months and are usually noticeable between four weeks and two days before a relapse and include:

  • Subtle changes in thinking – in terms of the way you think and what you think about.  For me this is getting wistful about drinking, the cravings being rekindled and becoming preoccupied with the thought  of drinking again.
  • Change in the way you feel.  So I get this sense of ‘f*ck it’ that gets stronger and stronger.  I can almost taste the booze in my mouth.
  • Changes in the way you behave.  So I start to look for, or provoke, reasons to drink or I withdraw.
  • Changes in relationships with other people.  I might pick a fight to enable me to storm off to the off-license because I’m upset and I deserve a drink now.  I might stop reaching out to the communities that would challenge these thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

If you were to look back you could almost pin-point the moment when you went from happily not drinking to unhappily not drinking, from happy sober person to dry drunk.

So if you find yourself experiencing what feels like early warning signs you can practice asking yourself questions such as:

  1. “What am I thinking about?”
  2. “How am I feeling?”
  3. “Is this my usual way of thinking/feeling?”

I usually out myself to Mr HOF or you guys 😉  What was your relapse signature?

Relapse Prevention

This series of posts is drawn from my day job experience and has been reworked from information to do with a relapse in mental health specifically.  However I perceive alcohol dependence, or substance misuse, as a mental health issue so it is as relevant as any other information I have come across.

Relapse prevention is a practical approach designed to help you learn a wide range of strategies to help reduce the risk of having a relapse, so for me, that means drinking again.

Before a person relapses there is a period of time when a number of different things may start to go wrong and if you can alter the way you think and behave during this time you can prevent a relapse.  By enhancing coping strategies you can do more of what you know that already helps and less of what doesn’t.  This in combination with learning new relapse prevention skills usually works best.

What I’m going to do is talk about my:

  1. Early warning signs or ‘relapse signatures’
  2. Coping strategy enhancement
  3. Life events that might trigger a relapse
  4. Relapse prevention plan

Why is a relapse prevention approach important?

  • To help you understand and feel more in control
  • To help to reduce the risk of you relapsing in the future
  • To help you feel less depressed and more hopeful about what the future may hold

The impact of a relapse is not to be underestimated as it may:

  • Leave you feeling demoralised, thinking ‘is it worth it?’
  • You may feel stigmatised – that the people around you think less of you
  • You may think it means that you have ‘failed’
  • It may stop you taking part in, or you may withdraw from, the activities and communities that you would usually use to help you
  • It may leave you feeling distressed
  • It may also impact on your relationships with family and friends

I would regularly make deals and ‘rules’ with myself about how and when I would and would not drink.  I would then feel, think and do many of the things listed above when I broke my own ‘rules’.  How ’bout you?

Mother’s Day Mutterings

It started on Thursday.  Colleagues at work asking what treat was in store for me this Sunday.  I answered I didn’t know and the conversation moved on.

Until I was lying in the bath that night and the voice in my head piped up.  Those premeditated resentments started to form and it went something like this “well birthday’s used to be a big deal because you could celebrate with a drink and Christmas isn’t what it used to be now that you don’t drink.  And newly sober you must be a better parent so the day that should really be celebrated is now Mother’s Day.  And if they don’t spoil me rotten that day then why did I bother giving up drink and that would be a really bloody good reason to drink, to reward yourself for being such a good parent if they can’t be bothered” harumph  Uh oh, then I realised wolfie was there dressed like grandma in the little red riding hood story lurking under the bedclothes in disguise ready to gobble me up!

In my drinking days I would have nursed these expectations over the following days and when the day failed to match the picture I had built up in my head I would have sulked, probably picked an argument and drank – justifying it with I’m feeling sorry for myself so I’m going to drink more.  This time I outed myself – first to Mr HOF (who made noises that suggested he understood my warped logic) and now to you (although I don’t feel very proud of admitting this line of thinking).

I’m going to write some posts soon about relapse and warning signs as to me this was a big flashing neon warning sign of a relapse in the making.  Maybe with six months under my belt I have become complacent, bored, frustrated and am maybe having a few post 6 month sober-versary blues.  The memories of drinking don’t seem quite so hideous as they used to either and this rattles me.  I can feel wolfie’s breath down my neck again in a way that I haven’t done for a while.  Maybe I need to treat myself today irrespective of what my family do? 😉


Waterloo Road

I had a text from a friend of mine asking me if I had watched this programme the night before last as it had a story line about a recovering alcoholic who had relapsed .  I don’t really watch much TV and wasn’t a regular viewer of this show but my interest was peaked so I watched it last night.

Waterloo Road is a British television drama series set in a Scottish comprehensive school of the same name broadcast on BBC1.

The story line for this character in the summary reads:

Christine’s alcoholism continues to be a recurring storyline in this series as she struggles with being in the demanding role of Head Teacher. With George, a friend and former drinking partner, being around once more old habits appear to be remembered by them both. Christine comes close to downing a whole bottle of vodka during the first episode but declines, proving herself to be stronger than she once was. In the last episode, Christine struggles at Simon and Sue’s wedding reception with the alcoholic drinks that surround her.

The summary of this week’s episode:

Christine wakes up with a horrific hangover. In a massive error of judgement, she gets into her car while still under the influence and drives to school.

From that moment on, Christine’s day descends from bad to worse until her whole future hangs in the balance…

You can watch it here:

To me this felt like watching what would have happened to me if I played the tape forward to the very end of not stopping drinking.  How her error’s of judgement multiple under the influence of either a hangover or drinking.  How rationality and stability is replaced with her increasingly labile emotional state and reactions.  It also showed how unforgiving people can be and how misunderstood addiction to alcohol remains.

Also, as my friend pointed out, there were no telephone support or advice lines offered at the end of the show to help people who had been affected by the storyline, which is both unusual and disappointing of the BBC.  The BBC should be commended however for tackling this as an issue in a popular TV show that is watched by 4-5 million people.  If I had been watching it with a drink in my hand it would have made very uncomfortable viewing.

(Apologies to those reading this outside of the UK who will not be able to view the episode but there is a clip on Youtube)

Loaded Gun

Reflecting on Friday night and my work Xmas do I think I hadn’t actually given it much head space – I think I was in denial and thinking ‘oh it’ll be ok, I’m almost 11 weeks without a drink’.  How wrong could I be?

I should of realised it was going to be really hard, thinking about it now.  The celebration was in a city that I spent many years in my late teens and early twenties partying hard.  Driving in and walking to the venue I passed so many old drinking haunts and the ghost of drinking past stirred.  These were happy drinking memories of a time when I hadn’t become a dependent drinker and I was young and naive and having a very good time.  To make it worse the dining venue was in the building of an old bar that I frequented 🙁

I had got the time wrong and arrived half an hour early so had to go sit at the bar.  I thought I can do this and ordered my San Pellegrino and just people watched trying not to look at the rows of bottles in front of me.  Most of my colleagues were drinking and the table was crowded with glasses of fizz and wine but that was okay.  Although my new colleagues were warm and friendly I was having an excruciatingly difficult time of it.  Alcohol had always been my social lubricant and without it I felt lost and incapable.  I wasn’t me and I didn’t know who ‘me’ was without alcohol in this situation.

This morning with a little distance between myself and that night I can now see how well I did and how glad I am that I didn’t drink.  In hindsight this event was a loaded gun but fortunately and thankfully I didn’t pull the trigger 🙂

Day 78