Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Addiction and Recovery: Plan Your Vacation, Not Your Relapse!

When facing the loss of most of one’s structure in situations like vacation or business trips, relapsive thinking can return, even in established, stable recovery. The relapse thoughts can include some of the ones below, but this is not an all inclusive lists. When planning a vacation or business trip that takes you out of your established routine and structure, listen to your own “self-talk”. Pay close attention to those ideas that may place you in slippery places, around slippery people, or in slippery activities.

"No one will know if I drink."
"It’s nobody’s business but my own."
"This is a one-time only event".
"It won’t hurt anybody."
"I work hard; I deserve it."
"No one can blame me if I “mistakenly” take an alcoholic beverage someone gives me."

All of these relapse justifications assume things about addiction and recovery that are wrong. They make the following assumptions:

l. Once you take that first drink or drug, you can stop. You may believe that it has been a long enough time since you have used, that you can practice control this one time. This idea rests on a couple of notions that are inconsistent with the nature of addiction.

A) One notion is that control can be re-established or return through abstinence over time. One of the hallmarks of alcoholism or other drug addiction is loss of control. Once you are addicted you cannot regain control. You cannot go back to not being alcoholic or otherwise addicted. Alcoholics and addicts often believe they still have control long after they have lost it. This distorted thinking enables people to continue to drink or use despite the obvious negative consequences. Alcoholics and addicts typically “chase an illusion of control” for a very long time before the truth smacks them in the face. If your use was out of control in the past, it will be in the future. You cannot go back to controlled use (if you ever had it) and not being alcoholic/addicted.

B) Another mistaken notion is that the addiction cycle will not be re-established by a short term relapse. You may be out of control in this slip or you might not have obvious negative consequences from drinking “this one time”. And some of the negative consequences of drinking or using may not be so obvious. An example is that a “slip” can trigger a return to cravings, which of course increases the probability of continued drinking and sustained relapse. One of the consequences of taking the first drink is that it may not be “this one time”. Some people who relapse are not able to make it back to recovery.

3. The idea that “no one will know” is part of the addictive thinking that kept the disease active all those years. Remember when you made promises that you wouldn’t drink, found yourself unable to keep those promises, and believed that you could hide it from your loved one(s). Even if you could keep it a secret, you would know. You would be carrying around a secret about your addiction. You would return deception back to your recovery, after all the work you have done to dump those secrets, get honest, find your “true self” and to stay real in your new life.

4. The idea that your recovery is nobody’s business but your own is completely wrong. Think about the people who love you and their investment in your recovery. Recall how many hours they waited up for you, prayed for you, consulted with experts for you, and worried about you when your recovery was not going so smoothly. Recall the anguish, the tears, and the look of fear on their faces. Think about the people who have invested in you and believed in you—your friends, the people you work with, people in recovery, your extended family. Your recovery is everyone’s business who love you and who count on you.

5. The idea that drinking or use of drugs is a reward for good behavior is completely backward. Sobriety and recovery is the reward for hard work at resisting the urge to use, at replacing the chemical with healthy living skills, at managing your emotions, problems, and even celebrations in a new life-enhancing way. What you deserve for all your hard work is firmness in the ability to maintain your recovery, regardless of where you may go, even in the face of reduced external structure and less obvious accountability. Drinking or using “for reward” is actually a negative consequence of not appropriately managing your recovery.

6. Blame or excuses for relapse are stop-gap justifications. You are responsible for your own recovery. You have responsibility for the choices you make. Excuses for bad choices may temporarily get you off the hook with someone who is basing their decisions on your behavior, but ultimately those excuses will be revealed for what they are—excuses. Family members in recovery have been taught to ignore the words and observe the behavior in such circumstances. They should be able to tell the difference by now, between what you say and what you do and to base their choices on behavior.

One of the best ways to combat relapsive thinking is to tell yourself the truth each time one of the justifications for relapse occurs. The list above is only an example of the kinds of things you can use to remind yourself of truths about addiction and recovery. When going on vacation or a business trip, have a great time, and remember that you have learned how to have fun sober. You deserve to come home with your recovery intact. You might even make it a point to go to some meetings while on your trip.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Addiction as Disease Does Not Equal Get Out of Jail Free

Sometimes family members have a hard time with the idea that addiction is a disease. When this is the case, it often has to do with the issue of responsibility. Sometimes family members believe that "disease" is equated with a "get out of jail free card" or not being held responsible. This is not the case.

An addict has responsibility for choosing recovery over choosing to stay in the illness. They have responsibility to do whatever is necessary to maintain sobriety after they have interrupted the addiction cycle by quitting drinking, using, or engaging in addictive behaviors like gambling addiction or sexual addiction. They also have responsibility for the inappropriate and devastating behavior that they engaged in during the active addiction.

One of the overarching tasks and goals of early recovery is to take responsibility for that recovery and for the devastation caused by the addiction. This is important in order to gain insight distorted by denial and other defense mechanisms, to gain a new direction in life, and in developing the living skills that are needed to recover.

Family members are naturally "irked" by the idea that the addict gets off the hook for their behavior because they have an illness. The truth is that they are not being held not responsible. They are responsible for their behavior. Family members are equally responsible for their own behavior, in the maladaptive family dynamics that occur in the addiction context.

Spouses and parents often try to solve the problem of the addict's addiction for a very long time before the addiction is correctly identified. They often end up enabling the addict, by their very problem solving attempts. These family members usually tolerate intolerable behavior and situations over a long period of time, lose themselves in the process, and yet depend on the addict to step up and make it all alright.

Even sober or abstinent, the addict cannot make it all alright. The family member has often invested all their time, energy, and other resources in the development, nuturance, or reclamation of the addict, and has neglected themselves in the process.

In reality, family members are responsible for their own choices, decisions, and behavior in the addiction process--just like the addict.

One of the things that happens in the family dynamics of addiction is the circular blaming that each engages in. The addict often blames the family members for the problems that occur in the family, in their lives, and the family member often believes them. The family member typically feels compelled to engage in inappropriate caretaking or coercion of the addict, trying to get them to straighten up. There is a direct parallel between the compulsion to fix the addict and the addict's compulsion to "use". The family member often gets to the point where they blame the addict for their own choices, saying "I had to do ____ because he did _______".

The reality is that both had choices and responsibility for those choices each step of the way. Addiction negatively affects everyone in the family. No one escapes unscathed.

The good news is that each person involved in the scenario can recover, regardless of whether the other does. This, again, is based on choices and responsibility for one's own choices.

There is no doubt that the inappropriate behavior of the addict hurts the family members. The dishonesty, the inability to be emotionally present, or the inability to engage in adult responsibilities with emotional maturity is often part and parcel of addicts in their addictions. Family members are justifiably angry about the addict's behavior. If they have much insight into addiction, they are understandably concerned about the continuation of that behavior.

Recovery is a process that occurs over a long period of time. When the addict enters recovery by stopping the compulsive consumption of their drug of choice, things can begin to get better. However, abstinence is only the very, very, very beginning of recovery. There is much work to be done.

Family members also need their own recovery process. Family members do not recover by being a non-involved bystander or by continuing to invest in the addict's vs. their own recovery. Any person's recovery is contingent upon their taking responsibility for that recovery. Relationships can recover as each works on their own issues.

Spouses get to choose whether or not they are willing to remain in a relationship with uncertain recovery outcomes. Relapse is a common symptom of all addictions, and all chronic illnesses. Sometimes spouses decide that they have had enough and choose not to remain in the relationship. In some cases that could be the most responsible action they can take in caring for themselves.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Welcome to My Blog


My Name is Peggy Ferguson. Welcome to my Blog. I have been counseling with people who have addiction problems for over twenty years. My specialty is "Addiction in the Family Context". In the last few years, I have felt compelled to teach on a wider scale than either my practice or an academic position would have afforded me. It finally dawned on me that the web was the perfect vehicle for my efforts. My intent is to provide quality information and insight to people at various points along a continuum of recovery and to the family members who try so hard to keep them alive long enough for them to find recovery.

I hope that you will find my blogs timely, pertinent, and useful. It is important to note that my blogs and any other informational/educational opportunities are NOT intended as substitution for professional help and that any correspondence does NOT imply a professional or counseling relationship, and does NOT constitute professional services. Readers are entirely responsible for what they do with the information presented.

Surviving Your First Sober Fourth of July

The fourth of July is significant for alcoholics and addicts in several ways. The Declaration of Independence was a statement of separation from a tyrannical ruler. With separating from the past they embarked on a new way of life.

Many people come into treatment just after the Fourth of July, after having had a "close call", a DUI, a wife who left, or after totally embarrassing or humiliating themselves in drunken or drugged stupor. Once someone identifies that his life has been controlled by something other than himself (the disease), he declares his independence by quitting drinking/drugging and embarks on a new way of life in recovery.

If this is the first sober Fourth of July, it can mark a vulnerability to relapse. There are several holidays that are strongly associated with drinking. The Fourth of July is one.

Many, if not most alcoholics and addicts grow up in families of origin where drinking was a part of the family culture and holidays were a golden opportunity to drink. Regardless of whether it was outdoor barbeques, community firework events, boating on the lake, the beer coolers were out in full force.

Many people in recovery find themselves expected to attend family functions where the alcohol is still flowing freely. Those who are newly recovering should take extra care to not endanger their fragile sobriety in these family or other social circle events. The Fourth of July can be one's holiday of Independence. With planning ahead, recovery can be safeguarded by the pro-active decisions made.

Some suggestions for proactive decision making would involve identifying historical family or social patterns in Fourth of July events before the invitation is accepted. It is helpful to keep in mind that it is possible to say no to invitations that could endanger your recovery. It is also permissible to request that alcohol not be served.

Many people feel too self-conscious to request that alcohol not be served, for fear of it being an imposition, or appearing inferior in the eyes of others. Such a request would only be viewed as a grave imposition if others in the social circle also have alcohol problems. It is very important to stay away from exposure to alcohol in early recovery.

This Fourth of July can be the beginning of a new life for the newly recovering alcoholic and family. New family traditions can start now. There are many different kinds of celebrations that you can do for the Fourth of July that do not involve alcohol.

Consider some of these:
  • Going to an AA/NA sponsored event.
  • Have your picnic, cookout, fireworks with all kinds of other beverages, without alcohol.
  • Have a movie marathon in your living room.
  • Have a get together with recovering friends and family.
  • Do a fifth step in your 12 step program.
  • Go to a community celebration where there no alcohol is served or permitted.

Peggy's note:

This article was previously published on and on my website, A Range of other original articles can be found on my website and have been categorized to the left where you can see "Sex Addiction Articles". When you run your mouse up and down that side, the other article categories appear.

I wanted to make this article more available since it IS the 4th of July.