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Relapsing on the Sinclair Method: My Experience

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Claudia Christian discusses her own struggles with compliance on the Sinclair Method, and the importance of self-care over the long term.

In my desire to help others navigate the realities of recovery, I’ve always tried to be transparent about my mistakes, relapses, and non-compliance issues. That said, it hasn’t always been easy. Here I am, a person who’s devoted her life to advocacy for medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), and yet I too haven’t always done the method correctly.

At the beginning of my recovery, I swung dramatically to the side of science. I believed that if you could fix the biological aspects of addiction, that would be that. I was so impressed by the impact of the medication on my physical addiction that I swept the psychological aspects of recovery aside, and focused 100 percent on spreading the word about the miracle of naltrexone. In hindsight, however, I can really see that I was learning on my feet.

My own experience with relapsing on the Sinclair Method (TSM) has taught me a lot about the value of self-care in recovery. It’s also given me an even stronger appreciation for everything naltrexone has done for me. And in a sense, I am thankful to not have a flawless record, and to be in a position of public advocacy where I can be open about my ups and downs. By relating my own compliance struggles, I hope I can make it easier for others to look after their whole selves, and stick with TSM for the long haul.

Relapsing on TSM

relapsing on the sinclair methodMy first three years on the Sinclair Method (TSM) were pretty damned amazing. I traveled and went to parties and lived my life—all while being able to have a drink or two without binging. About four years in I got a bit lazy about compliance and began overdrinking on occasion, but I was able to get back on track. Then, during year seven, I had the granddaddy of all non-compliance events when my beloved mentor, Dr. John David Sinclair, died.

Dr. Sinclair was a kind, gentle, incredibly curious man. His work in alcohol addiction recovery essentially saved my life, and it was an honor to get to know him and spend time with him. At the time of my last phone conversation with him, I was in the UK. He had terminal cancer, and when we spoke he basically told me “goodbye.”

I was already having a hard day: jetlagged, overworked, and emotionally exhausted. Something in me snapped, and I did the one thing he would most not want me to do—I went down to the hotel bar and drank without taking my medication.

The subsequent binge was a disaster, both physically and emotionally. I felt like a failure, and I quickly relearned my compulsive drinking behaviors. When your brain finally gets a taste of alcohol with no blocking effect, it can be like unleashing a dragon. In my case, the dragon took over for a few weeks. Then I regained control, detoxed, stayed abstinent for a few months, and started TSM again.

One great thing about the Sinclair Method is that you can always start over. But honestly, why put yourself through that? I can tell you from experience how frustrating it is to have to redo all of that work. I spent years rewiring my brain and achieving extinction, and here I was seemingly back at square one.

How to Avoid Relapsing on The Sinclair Method

So how do you prevent it from happening to you? By working on your mental health. Learn what your triggers are and how to deal with them. Develop a mindfulness practice, and put it to use when you experience the urge to drink without your medication. Find a good support system of caring people, and allow yourself to ask for help when you need it. I had none of these things in place, and in hindsight I can see how this created the “perfect storm.”

It’s also essential that you honor your compliance. Looking back, I can see where I started to go wrong: Not always waiting the full hour before drinking after taking my naltrexone. Taking it way too early in the day to avoid sleeplessness. It can be easy to take the medication for granted once you feel secure in your recovery. But I urge everyone reading this not to. Remember to respect everything the medication has given you, and everything you’ve been through personally. Think of naltrexone as your life-saving medication, because it actually is.

My own experience relapsing after seven years is a good example of why it’s important to take care of yourself, and never let your guard down. Recovery is complex. Understand that your old addiction will rear its ugly head and try to trick you sometimes. You can beat it so long as you have the right support systems in place, and you can stay compliant. Never forget the gift you’ve been given with these life-saving medications: the choice to treat your AUD successfully and humanely with science. Care for yourself, and no matter what, don’t give up!

Claudia Christian is a successful film and television actress, and founder of the C Three Foundation which advocates for the Sinclair Method to treat alcohol dependence. She is also a member of Ria Health‘s Advisory Board.

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