Resisting Relapse When it Rains on Your Parade
“Into each life some rain must fall,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Those who recently lived through Hurricane Matthew are probably thinking right now that they’ve had enough metaphorical and literal rain for one lifetime.
Whether your “flood of rain” comes in the form of a literal deluge, a personal tragedy, or one everyday frustration too many, it may put you in danger of chemical relapse. When self-pity and disappointment are at their height, nothing feels better than a “comfort substance” (even non-addicts console themselves with various forms of instant gratification). Sure, you know that “one drink” is likely to trigger a disastrous flood of its own, but what does that matter when you’re already in a “nothing’s any use” mood?
It’s true you can’t keep all “rain” out of your life, but you can keep it from drowning your sobriety resolve. Here’s a top-ten list of hints for “floodproofing” your inner self:
- Don’t plan your “parades” too elaborately. Most of us tend to count things as “guaranteed” once they’re officially on our schedules—and to feel betrayed when something doesn’t come off as planned. Even if you’re fairly easygoing about such things, it takes less emotional energy to keep excess “stuff” out of your plans than to remove it later.
- Have a rain date or rain venue ready. In the past ten months, I’ve seen three major events either cancelled altogether, or “rescheduled” in the form of thrown-together alternatives, because it stormed (or threatened to) on the intended date. If experienced event planners will bet eight months of preparation on one day’s being immune from unfortunate circumstances, it’s not surprising that individual lives often lack Plan B options. It’s also an invitation to trouble if, when our regular commute road is closed or the coffee shop is out of our favorite flavor, the only alternative that comes to mind is total meltdown. Try to have a second option ready for every plan and detail that’s important to you.
- Watch the weather forecast. Of course, weather forecasts are often wrong, even about what will happen just six hours ahead. But in weather and in life, seeing and accepting the first warning signs can help us make course corrections before getting in too deep, or at least to be emotionally prepared for possible changes of plans. (This advice assumes you are prepared to “accept what I cannot change and change what I can”; if you try to will away every possible problem through obsessive worry, it creates an even worse relapse risk whether other problems happen or not.)
- Stock up. In hurricane-prone areas, you can count on a mass “storming of the stores” whenever a “Matthew” turns in that direction. The wisest people, however, have their first-aid kits, nonperishable foods, and evacuation packages standing by before hurricane/tornado/wildfire season. Likewise, relapse risk during emotional “storms” is considerably less for those who prepare their non-chemical stress relievers far in advance. Whether your healthier passion is books, crossword puzzles, or jumping rope, keep the proper equipment where you can find it whenever you feel put-upon.
- Give the clouds the benefit of the doubt—then give yourself credit for doing the best you knew how. As noted above, many cancellations and evacuations prove unnecessary in the actual event. That doesn’t mean that those who ordered “just in case” precautions were stupid—just that, like everyone else, they lacked 20/20 foresight. When seriously inconvenienced for the sake of a problem that ultimately fails to materialize, it’s tempting to berate yourself (or whoever was in charge of the plans) for “not knowing better.” Bitterness is another common accomplice of relapse, so don’t let it take over your thinking. Accept what’s past, credit yourself for being wise enough for sensible concern, and move on.
- Expect the unexpected. Most Generation Xers and their elders remember the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989—the one that broke out literally in the middle of the World Series. While major rainstorms rarely catch the public that off-guard, other “wettings,” metaphorical and literal, still bring unpleasant surprises that couldn’t have been predicted. We’re less likely to feel driven to chemical consolation if we remind ourselves that we have final say only in our own attitudes and actions—and if we resolve daily to be okay with whatever happens and not waste energy trying to will it away.
- Turn around, don’t drown. That slogan, trademarked by the National Weather Service, is heard frequently in flood-prone areas during rainy seasons. Post-heavy-rain news invariably includes reports of vehicles that were in up to their door handles before the driver acknowledged this might not have been such a good idea. The “keep going at all costs” approach is equally dangerous on the emotional plane; any refusal to cut losses at an obvious dead end makes you a potential risk for boredom, despair, and stress-fueled relapse.
- Share an umbrella. If it’s not always possible to avoid the rainy days of the soul, it’s rarely necessary to endure them alone. All members of Alcoholics Anonymous and similar organizations know how to call on human support when tempted to indulge “just this once.” You don’t have to be at the edge of relapse, though. Calling a friend just to socialize can be a big help in killing urges before they surface.
- Make a hot cup of cocoa. Rainy, even blustery, days can be extremely enjoyable when spent indoors surrounded by warm, non-addictive comforts. The cup of cocoa is mentioned because some people find it almost as guilty a pleasure as a hot toddy: too fattening, too much sugar, etc. Okay, but the point is, give yourself permission to take in a little self-indulgence—in any edible or non-edible form—without always worrying about whether the health perfectionists approve. Sobriety has its necessary restrictions, but for the sake of not tempting yourself into relapse through a life gone bleak, stick to the truly necessary ones.
- Sing in the rain. Sometimes, when all is said and done, the best thing you can do is stop cursing unwanted circumstances and start rejoicing in them. You may not be able to smile through real disaster (even Job did his share of grousing), but why make a disaster out of a mere inconvenience? If your smartphone goes dead, life may be telling you it’s time to enjoy some face-to-face company. Real life brims with too-often-ignored joys and opportunities. Be grateful for what’s in front of you right now!