By Andrew B – Former Refocus Client
Updated: August 2021
Reading Time: 7 Minutes
It wasn’t so long ago that I felt completely hopeless. I had tried to stop using drugs and alcohol many times on my own, but was unsuccessful. Even once I found 12 step programs, rehabs and therapy, I still couldn’t stay clean. I knew about relapse prevention strategies, but I found them extremely difficult to put into practice in my own life. It felt like I couldn’t stay away from drugs or alcohol for any significant period of time, which just manifested into more guilt and shame and perpetuated the repetitive cycle of addiction for me. This spiralled into poor mental health and eventually I hit rock bottom. I needed to find a new path.
As I write this article I’m exactly 1,000 days drug and alcohol free. That’s 2 years and 9 months. It’s crazy to think that I’ve made it this far when I remember the trouble I had staying clean before I really consolidated my recovery efforts. I want to share some of the relapse prevention activities and strategies that I put in place after years trying to stay clean and failing.
I didn’t know what to expect before going to my first rehab. I remember talking to the person doing my assessment over the phone and asking her for stats on how many people stay clean after the 3 week program. I remember being adamant that a 3 week investment of my time had to have perfect results. And by the end of that stint, I remember feeling 100% confident that I would never use drugs again. I was wrong. I got around 80 days up and then relapsed. I was devastated.
From there on I spent a couple more years relapsing pretty regularly. For most of that time I was still trying to recover, and was staying clean for 30 days here, 60 days there. But it reached a point where the consistent failure really started to affect me mentally. So I stopped trying altogether.
In 2018 I hit rock bottom and so I booked myself into a 4 week rehab. Once again I came out confident. And once again I failed and this time ended up in hospital.
I was readmitted to the same rehab for another 4 weeks. But this time something started to shift. I knew at that point, after all the effort, and all the confidence, and all the failure, that I was totally powerless over drugs. When I asked my counsellor at that rehab to “tell me what to do”, he said “you need longer term rehab”.
Whilst I do know people who have managed to stay clean after a short detox or a 4 week stay at rehab, they are few and far between, and that definitely wasn’t my story. I needed more. And I was ready to try anything to stay off drugs and alcohol.
If I knew then what I know now about how longer term rehab can help with relapse prevention, I probably would have tried it sooner.
I went straight from that second 4 week stint to the place I would call home for the next 3 months – Refocus Rehab Melbourne. It was a daunting transition, but it was all planned out and I felt so incredibly supported.
For me, that 4 months of consistent therapy in a safe and supportive environment was just what I needed to finally make some solid progress in my recovery.
It wasn’t just the time away from triggers and temptations that made longer term rehab so effective in my relapse prevention strategy, it was the continuous reinforcement of what I was learning about myself that really started to help.
28 days just wasn’t long enough for me to really start feeling relief. The first half of that period was spent coming down and feeling terrible. Nothing sunk in for me during that time. The extra time in longer term rehab provided the repetitive reinforcement I needed, and showed me the things that I really had to work on if I wanted a life free from drugs.
I was 37 years old when I entered longer term rehab. That’s a lot of years of reinforced behaviour and bad habits to break. Whilst the therapy I got at rehab was undoubtedly the catalyst to everything that’s happened since then, it’s the ongoing therapy that I committed to which helped to further consolidate my recovery.
When I left Refocus I paid for 52 weeks of therapy in advance with a trained psychotherapist who specialised in a field that was relevant for me. This is the commitment I made to continuing my therapy once I left rehab. I knew that if I had already paid for the sessions, I was much more likely to use them and not let them drop off. And I was right.
Over the next 18 months I used all of those sessions. I did a lot of work on myself, my family of origin, my traumas, my triggers, my relationships and so much more. This therapy was invaluable in giving me regular support out of rehab and there were many times where I believe it saved me from relapse. It was so important for me to continue exploring the different layers of my personality.
All 3 of the rehabs I’ve been to have been 12-step rehabs. This means that they combine one on one therapy, group therapy, education therapy and an introduction to 12 step fellowships.
12 step fellowships aren’t for everyone. But they’ve been instrumental for me to develop a network of like-minded people outside of rehab. People who know what I’m going through and allow me to be myself without judgement. For the first year or so of my recovery I did a meeting nearly every day. Over time I reduced that commitment and now I do at least 1 meeting a week. I hold service positions and I help others who are just starting out on this journey.
For me, 12 step fellowship has been an important part of my relapse prevention journey and I think I will always remain connected to that program.
They say that regularly practicing gratitude helps us to get out of our own heads and see all the amazing things going on around us. This is something that really resonates with me.
At the start of my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, I used to send daily gratitude lists to a bunch of my friends in recovery, and I used to get a bunch back from them too. I have some friends that still send me a list every single day, and they are great to read. I still send the occasional list, but these days I generally practice gratitude in other ways. Whether it’s cooking a lovely meal for friends who mean the world to me, or laying with my cats and just thinking of all the great things in my life, I always find time to feel grateful.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about mindfulness and meditation being important in their recovery and in relapse prevention. And it is. But I have learnt over the years that this can take different forms and doesn’t have to necessarily constitute sitting with my legs crossed and my eyes closed.
One of my favourite ways to practice mindfulness is cooking. I love to put some great chillout music on, open up a recipe and lose myself in the experience of cooking. For some, cooking is stressful. But for me it helps me to get out of my head and focus on something that I really enjoy, which I think is the primary point of mindfulness.
I recently moved to a place with a big bath tub too, and I’ve found myself laying in the bath thinking about all of the things I’m grateful for in my life these days. This is my meditation.
I could talk for hours about the things that have helped me in my recovery from drug addiction. There are plenty of them. But ultimately what it came down to for me was willingness, open mindedness and acceptance. I reached a point, a rock bottom, where I was so desperate to change that I was willing to do whatever I was told to get recovery. Many people call this the “gift of desperation”.
Relapse prevention is different for different people. I found my strategy after a lot of trial and error, and probably wasted a couple of years in the process. But by eventually listening to my trusted advisors, and following the advice given to me through this round of recovery, I have achieved a life free of drugs and alcohol, just for today.
If you’d like to talk to someone about relapse prevention plans and strategies, get in touch with Refocus. They changed my life and maybe they could change yours or your loved one’s life too.