Developing an early warning system to prevent relapse
I had one of the ‘aha’ moments today in counselling. I didn’t see the pop band Aha, but I had a clarity of thought of what it is like to fight your addiction. My client is a porn addict and was talking about their relapse. He described that this other person who he does not recognize seems to just take over his mind and he ends up acting out. This other person then disappears, and he is left feeling shell shocked, awash with shame and wondering how that happened again.
We looked at his triggers and after describing events leading up to the acting out, he came to realise there were clues that triggered the ‘other’ person coming out and helping him to self soothe from his feelings.
I was struck in that moment that triggers are a bit like the tremors before of an earthquake. Technical term for this is ‘foreshocks’. Foreshocks can happen within minutes, days, months or even years before the actual earthquake. Foreshocks are a warning that an earthquake is likely. Similarly, we have developed systems under the sea to warn when a tsunami is going to strike. In my counselling session today, we used the analogy of foreshocks and being hit with by a tsunami. My client was able to see that the foreshocks started happening about two weeks before he acted out. Our work now is to help him develop an early warning system, so he won’t be hit by a tsunami and left dazed on a beach wondering what on earth happened to him.
Here are some tips if you want to start to develop your own warning system:
- Review – if you have just acted out – write down every action you can remember that got you to the point of acting out – it did not ‘just happen’
- Take stock – review how calm things are (or not) in your life, how are your relationships, friendships, family, work, health, eating habits, sleep pattern, general mood?
- Be honest – how is your recovery going? Are you seeing a sex addiction counsellor? Are you going to a 12-step group such as SA, SAA or SLAA? Do you have a sponsor or an accountability partner?
- Act – now you have reviewed how your relapse happened, what is going on in life at the moment and how much do you want to stop acting out, you are now in a position to write an action plan. This can either be done by yourself, with your sponsor or with your counsellor.
- Be kind to yourself – my final point, be kind to yourself. Slips and relapses do happen. They can be turned around for good and be useful tools to preventing another relapse. You can learn to ride the tsunami wave rather than be swallowed up by it.